William Ernest Collins

CMG, CB, DSO, Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (France), Croix de Guerre belge, Ordre de Leopold, mentioned in despatches six times.

Picture from The South African Forces in France, by John Buchan

Born at Fort Jackson, Cape Province, on the 16th November 1875.

Died at Elgin, Cape Province, on the 29th September 1943.

Educated at Hilton College and at the Pietermaritzburg College, Tanner joined the Natal Carabineers in 1893, representing them at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Lieutenant in September 1899, he served with his Regiment in the Boer War and was present at the siege of Ladysmith. He then took part in operations in Transvaal and on the Zululand Border with the Scottish Horse. In 1906, he served as Captain in the Natal Militia during the Zulu Rebellion. In 1909, he married Isabel Erskine and had two sons (one of them, Flying Officer Erskine Tanner, RAF, will be killed in a flying accident in 1934). He attended the Royal Staff College, and, member of the Permanent Staff of the Natal Militia, he was a founder member of the Union defence Forces in 1912.

Serving as Major in the German South-West Africa campaign, he was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel, Officer Commanding of the 2nd S.A.I.  in Egypt then in Europe. On the 15th July 1916, he took charge of the three regiments of the South African Brigade that attacked Delville Wood. Wounded at his thigh on the 17th July, he was evacuated despite his protests. Awarded the CMG for his leadership at Delville Wood, he led the 2nd S.A.I. at Arras in April 1917 and Ypres in September 1917 . Promoted Brigadier-General, he left the S.A. Brigade in October 1917 to took the command of the 8th Brigade (3rd Division). In April 1918, he returned to the S.A. Brigade, leading them at the Battle of the Lys. Returning in France in October at the command of the re-formed S.A. Brigade in the 66th East Lancashire Division, he fought with them in the advance and capture of Le Cateau then in the advance to the Victory as the forefront of the British armies in France.

Between 1919 and 1933, Tanner held several important post in the Union Defence Forces. Present at the unveiling of the Delville Wood Memorial in 1926, he retired in October 1933 and developed a fruit farm at Elgin Valley.

Tanner was recalled for WWII and served as Commanding Officer in several districts in South Africa. He retired in April 1942 as Major-General.


Sources : Delville Wood and SA Military Who's Who by Ian Uys.