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Rest in Peace, Lance Sergeant Dan Collins
The Afghanistan hero who could bear the horrors of war no longer
Lance Sergeant Dan Collins lived for the Welsh Guards. He joined up at 16 and served for more than 13 years. He loved being a soldier - part of his email address was 'ArmyDan' - and he was immensely proud of his service in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Helmand in 2009, Collins should have died several times but miraculously
survived being shot in the back, his leg being grazed by a bullet and
being caught in two bomb blasts. He was a joker but also a leader. He
witnessed some things no human being should see but never wavered under
On New Year's Day, Collins telephoned the police from the Preseli Mountains just outside the village of Rosebush in Pembrokeshire in west Wales and told them he was going to hang himself. Helicopters were scrambled and a search was launched but it was several hours before his body was found at an old slate quarry in the mountains.
Lance Corporal Dane Elson (left) and Lance Sergeant Dan Collins in Afghanistan on the eve of Operation Panther's Claw in 2009
Dan Collins was 29 years old. A
native of Cardigan, he was a son, a brother and a father. He was a
Guardsman and a hero, though he would never have used the term to
describe himself. While his name is unlikely ever to be carved on a
memorial to the fallen his comrades will always remember him as a victim
of the war in Afghanistan even though the Taliban never quite managed
to kill him.
first met Collins in Aldershot a few months after he had returned from
Helmand. Although I had been with the Welsh Guards Battle Group during
their 2009 tour, researching what would become my book Dead Men Risen,
our paths had not crossed because he had been part of the 22-strong Fire
Support Group Three - FSG-3 - which had been detached from its parent
battalion and instead part of the Light Dragoons Battle Group.
he talked to me, it became clear that he was haunted by what he had
been through. When he first got back he was, as one friend described,
'full of beans' and tales of being in battle and eager to show hours of
'helmet cam' footage taken during firefights.
blast had badly wounded the company commander. The company sergeant
major had gone into battle shock - wide-eyed and falling over as he
barked out orders. It took more than five minutes for Collins to find
the lance corporal, who was lying in an irrigation ditch and had lost
both legs and an arm.
For nearly 15 minutes , Collins and others fought to save the lance corporal's life. Collins told me:
was unconscious but one thing that stuck in my mind and I'll never
forget it. As I was doing compressions, I looked at his face and I could
see his eyes opening. I don’t think he knew anything about what was
going on but it was like he was looking at me.'
The lance corporal was pronounced dead on the helicopter.
day later, Collins and his comrades had advanced further when there was
another large explosion as the Welsh Guards were about to clear the
track ahead. Collins screamed over the radio at the two soldiers he knew
were doing the clearing with metal detectors. One replied but the
other, Lance Corporal Dane Elson, a close friend, did not.
shouted: 'Dane! Dane Dane! Can you hear us? If you can hear, do
anything, just click and blow, just do anything.' But Elson had suffered
catastrophic injuries similar to those of the Light Dragoons lance
corporal the day before. Perhaps mercifully, he had been killed
Talking about it months later, Collins described this as 'one of the lowest moments of my life'.
'We just all sat there and we had our own little cry. Everyone had their own little moment. It was pretty hard to deal with. The next day we just picked it up and everything we'd done then was for Dane. We took the fight to the Taliban and we were fighting on for Dane.'
Earlier in the tour, Collins had been hit in the base of his body armour during a Taliban ambush. The impact, he told me, was 'like a full swing of hammer straight into your spine'. He could feel a burning sensation and excruciating pain but there was no blood - just severe bruising.
Lance Sergeant Dan Collins in February 2010
'After that, it was a bit of a mixed emotion. I went into a bit of shock then I started laughing because I'd been shot but I was sort of all right. I was in agony but was laughing. Then it went to crying because my partner was pregnant with my little girl. It was like 'I could have just died'.
daughter Scarlet was born in July 2009, shortly after Elson's death. By
that time, Collins had broken up with the mother but he was delighted
to be a father.
the day his body armour stopped the bullet in his back, Collins was
unshaven. After that, he never shaved before a patrol, adding that to
his superstitious ritual of listening to Linkin Park on his iPod before
going out. Underneath his body armour he wore a wooden cross, one of
those blessed in Bangor Cathedral and distributed by the chaplain before
was elated to have survived the bullet that should have killed him and
remarked to an Army press officer: 'If I ever meet the person who
designed our body armour, I'll buy them a pint.' True to his word, he
later met a representative of the firm NP Aerospace, which made the body
armour, at a pub in Cardiff.
laughed as he told me about the telephone call to his mother, while he
was still high on morphine and ketamine, after he had been shot in the
rung my Mum and I said, 'Mum, don't panic. I'm in the hospital. I've
been shot'. And she was like, 'What? What?!' I said, 'Look, I'm fine. I
obviously wouldn't be talking to you if I was in a bad way'. Mothers do
was carried to a helicopter and evacuated back to Camp Bastion a second
time after a bullet grazed his shin. Twice he was blown off his feet by
IED blasts. Of all the Welsh Guardsmen on that bloody tour, Collins had
probably come close to death more times than any of those who returned.
In Dead Men Risen, I wrote of how post-traumatic stress seemed to affect NCOs like Collins more than the ordinary guardsmen:
Helmand, they were the ones holding everyone else together and they
were often heavily involved in treating casualties. One NCO tried to
kill himself shortly after getting back but was saved when his wife
found him hanging in the kitchen and cut the rope. Lance Sergeant Dan
Collins, who was shot twice and survived two IED blasts, could not sleep
when he returned and had recurrent nightmares.
one, he kept seeing the face of the mortally wounded lance corporal .
His girlfriend would be woken up by his shouting ‘Medic!’ or ‘Man down!’
The death of Dane Elson continued to haunt him. Sometimes he would call
out ‘Dane!’ in his sleep. Collins first realised he needed help when he
heard a loud noise in Tesco and flung himself to the ground.
a number of his colleagues, Collins received counselling for Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was placed in the care of a
psychiatric nurse. He spent a period off sick at home but when he
returned to work he panicked during a live-firing exercise in Wiltshire.
There was more psychiatric treatment and there seemed to be an
improvement but he did not go back to the battalion.
was unable to see his daughter for long periods but told friends he was
looking forward to having custody and access arrangements worked out in
2012. On Christmas Day, he wrote on Facebook:
Xmas to u all gotta love the Xmas flu. to my gorgeous daughter daddy
loves u and hopefully will see u in the nr future wherever you are will
have lots of bday and Xmas presents for you xx'
to stop feeling sorry for my self shower and do something with the day
maybe a long walk over the mountains me thinks or a stroll down the
has been an outpouring of grief from comrades and friends of Dan
Collins. He is due to receive a full military funeral that will
doubtless match those of the Welsh Guardsmen killed in 2009 - Lance
Sergeant Tobie Fasfous (whose coffin Collins shouldered at his
repatriation service in Camp Bastion), Lieutenant Mark Evison, Major
Sean Birchall, Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe and Lance Corporal
the coming months and years there will be many questions about why he
took his own life. Alas, there will probably be fewer answers.
soldiers back from Afghanistan find themselves in a very dark place.
Dan Collins, it seems, could not envision a way out of the darkness.
leaves behind his mother Deana, his younger sister Megan, his
girlfriend Vicky and his daughter Scarlet, two, as well as many, many
friends. Starting next month, the Welsh Guards will be returning to
Rest in Peace, Army Dan.