Major Brett Collier

Lincolnshire rambler who was underwater off Nagasaki when the bomb fell
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The Independent Online

Henry Brett Collier, rambler, soldier and writer: born Widnes, Cheshire 14 November 1920; MBE 2005; twice married (two daughters); died Lincoln 15 March 2005.

Brett Collier, soldier, walker and writer, was a legendary figure in rural Lincolnshire. He published some eight books promoting walking in the county, including Lincolnshire Rambles (1993, with historical notes), Waterside Walks in Lincolnshire (1999) and Pub Strolls in Lincolnshire (2001). As Secretary of the Lincolnshire Fieldpaths Society and President of the Lincolnshire Ramblers' Association, as well as local correspondent for the Open Spaces Society, he was an avid leader of walks and scourge of path-blocking farmers, developers and ineffectual councils.

He sat on the county's Commons Advisory Board and he celebrated his 80th birthday by donating and, with the help of 50 army cadets, planting 80 oak trees for a new conservation woodland at Aubourn. The route of the walk described in his last book, The Danelaw Way, still in process of publication, passes through it.

Collier was born in 1920 at Widnes in Cheshire. He trained as a teacher, but saw distinguished military service in the Far East before his capture by the Japanese when Singapore fell to them in February 1942. Because of his officer status they singled him out for beheading; but, providentially, the executioner became unnerved (the location is now a nature reserve; Collier visited it last year). From Singapore, his unit was sent in captivity to Korea, where Collier was set to work as a ship- riveter; he next found himself sold to a mining company, who put him to work below the sea off Nagasaki.

Below the sea off Nagasaki he was at 11.02am on 9 August 1945, when the atomic bomb fell there killing 150,000. It blew in and destroyed the entrance to his mine, leaving Collier and his comrades trapped by what they supposed was an earthquake; they dug themselves out to emerge aghast and unbelieving at the sight of the sea boiling and the indescribable devastation. The sun, he said, remained invisible for days.

In support of his comrades mentally scarred or physically sickened by the effects of the detonation, Collier spent the rest of his life fund-raising, sometimes by lecturing about his experiences, which he termed his "Far Eastern Odyssey" (apart from this, he never talked about the subject). He also fund-raised for research into the treatment of tropical diseases.

After the Second World War he was head of a school at Ipoh in Malaya. It was in 1960, when he moved to Lincolnshire to lecture at Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln that he took up the pastime of walking.

His health in recent years was not helped by a fall from his garage roof at the age of 81; but he remained full of energy, swimming most days and leading his last walk in November 2004.

Eugene Suggett

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