Born in 1925, John Collingwood was a man of many layers. He was a British sailor with a distinguished war record, recently acknowledged by the French state with the award of Chevalier de Legion d’Honneur for his part in the minesweeping of the coastal area prior to the August 1944 Allied landing in the South of France. The honour was due to be presented to him at the Victory in Europe service of May 8th. He was a pillar of the French community in Draguignan and helped those Brits in the Var who had run into difficulties.
John Collingwood at the 2005 VE Day Remembrance Ceremony in Draguignan.
Post-war, John started a successful engineering business in London and came to southern France in the 1970s. Before moving to the Var in 1997, John lived in Menton with his third wife, Patricia Burke, who he had met when living in Monaco, and he was working as a maritime insurance assessor. Pat, who had been a star of stage and screen, sadly suffered a stroke soon after moving to Ampus and John cared for her in every way, using his engineering skills to adapt their camping car to accommodate her wheelchair. Pat had two children and died in 2004.
John’s naval service left an indelible mark on him. He once told me of his anguish when he rescued from a torpedoed tanker a young sailor, who shortly afterwards died in his arms. Those who never came back from the sea were never far from his thoughts. He was thrilled to be taken to visit the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle at Toulon where he met President Holland as part of the 70th commemoration of the Frejus landings of 1944.
In the French community of the Var, he was an enthusiastic member of two choirs, and worked for the Croix Rouge and the Secours Catholique. Until a few years ago, he was a helper at the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes.
Helping others was a theme of John’s life and so when I met him through assisting one of the British Association’s first welfare cases in 1999, he was a natural for aiding successive welfare officers in the association. His knowledge of the French Social Security system was encyclopaedic and he was on first name terms with its officials. Likewise, a staunch supporter of the Royal British Legion, he hardly ever missed the Remembrance parade in Draguignan, where he was well known to the other ancient combatants.
John spent most of the last twelve months in hospital but he never once complained about his problems. His passing on March 29th, 2016, leaves a void in the community of the Var.