Posted on November 20, 2018
John Collinson was the first person to record Waltzing Matilda, the unofficial Australian national anthem. But the British soldier’s singing talent was only discovered by chance. The nurses were astonished. Their patient, who was coming round from an operation and still under the influence of chloroform, had just burst into song. Collinson was in England recovering from the horror of the Battle of the Somme, where both of his arms had been shattered by shrapnel and bullets. There was no way he could know it, but his semi-comatose singing had just set the the soldier from Tyneside on the path to stardom. Collinson, whose early life was spent in Wallsend in the shadow of the shipyards, moved from the north-east of England to Australia just as war was breaking out in 1914. He enlisted in the Australian army at the age of 22 and served in Gallipoli before his unit moved to France. The soldier was first hospitalised with a thumb injury, but recovered in time to return to the trenches for the Somme – one of the bloodiest battles in history. Within days he was on his way back to England and a bed at the Australian Auxiliary Hospital in Harefield, Middlesex. His injuries would cause him to miss the rest of war – but they would also help unearth his hidden talent. He underwent 27 operations and it was while coming round from one of these that his fine tenor voice was noted.