Col. Collins admits to a life filled with joy

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 16, 2003

After nearly six years of fighting extradition to India, Lt.Col. Charles Glen Collins lost his final appeal to the U.S. SupremeCourt. He sailed for England on June 13, 1923, in custody ofInspector George Miles of Scotland Yard. After an attempt to appealto his old friend, King George V, was unsuccessful, he sailed toBombay. Denied bail, Collins had to endure an Indian jail celluntil his first trial on Dec. 2.

With Collins and his attorneys and his family pulling everystring conceivable, he managed to get a jury of half Britishers andhalf natives. A deposition from his friend, W. H. Smith, wasaccepted into evidence and corroborated Collins’ story of the oildeal that went sour and prevented him from having funds to pay forthe jewelry as planned. His war record and his family backgroundgave him credibility before the jury, and he was acquitted Dec.10.

He had to endure a second trial on a charge from the othermerchant, but again he was acquitted Feb. 12, 1924.

The heavy burden he had borne for six years was finally lifted.He took a leisurely voyage back, via Shanghai, Singapore and HongKong, sailed to Seattle and arrived back in New Orleans on April 2to the joyous welcome of his friends and generous news stories inthe New Orleans papers.

Collins’ current wife, Elsie Benn-Muntz Collins, had fled fromhim when he had to spend a lot of time in confinement, and Collinsfiled suit for divorce on grounds of adultery. She had returned toEurope, and when she received the divorce summons, she answered hischarges of adultery by casually admitting in glowing detail herliving with Captain Eric McGunning in London as man and wife,providing details of their life.

Her paramour was also being sued by his spouse for “restitutionof conjugal rights,” and Elsie curiously detailed what she waswearing when Gunning was served with his papers, “I was wearing asilk jacket and silk Persian trousers.” Collins was granted hisdivorce, but it did not become final until Aug. 1926.

During Collins’ long stay in the Crescent City, he had becomevery close to Mr. and Mrs. John W. McGrath. Mr. McGrath died inOct. 1922, and Collins and Mrs. McGrath married on the fifthanniversary of Mr. McGrath’s death. They were apparently a goodmatch, although she was eight years older.

Collins had established a rice brokerage business with officeson Decatur Street, known as “Rice ‘O Lay.” When he and Mrs. McGrathmarried, he sold Rice O’ Lay and concentrated on real estate,buying rental properties in the Garden District and renovating orremodeling them.

When the Depression struck, the fortunes of the new couple werehit rather hard. Property was difficult to rent, and rent hard tocollect and taxes were severe. Mrs. Collins’ fortune in securitiessuffered greatly as the stock market plummeted.

The couple decided they could do better moving to Brookhavenwhere her son, Jay, operated McGrath’s Department Store. Col. andMrs. Collins, moved in with Mr. and Mrs. Jay McGrath in an upstairsapartment in the old Butterfield home on Storm Avenue.

The Colonel became active in the community life of the smalltown. He wrote a weekly column for The SEMI-WEEKLY Leader under thepseudonym “Sancho Panza.” He joined with other golfers in workingto construct a golf course. Until a course was built, the golferswould go to a pasture of a friendly farmer and create a makeshiftcourse. Later with the aid of the WPA, a nine-hole course wasconstructed at the site of the present country club.

Collins had never been around small children before, and when hejoined the McGrath family, he became enthralled with the shy,charming little pre-schooler, Jayne McGrath, daughter of Mr. andMrs. Jay McGrath. He would do anything she wanted. Collins couldnot abide any discipline that her parents meted out, no matter howmerited it was.

Once after Jayne was sentenced to some harsh punishment, such asa light switching, Collins secretly told his pet “granddaughter”that he was not going to put up with such cruel and unusualpunishment, that he was taking her right away to New Orleans whereshe could live happily. The two got in the Colonel’s Cadillac andheaded south. When Jayne’s father learned of the escape, he calledthe authorities and had the police at Magnolia put up a road blockand capture the fugitives. This was easily accomplished withoutincident, and Collins meekly returned to Brookhaven. How far hewould have taken the caper no one knows.

Collins had time on his hands in Brookhaven. He was not the typeto be idle. He began writing his memoirs. His early life and careeras a soldier in the Sudan and Boer conflicts were fully covered.The Gallipoli campaign was written as though it were fiction, andhe was depicted as “Colen Glendon,” but all other characters werereal people, i.e. Winston Churchill, Sir Kitchener, Ian Hamilton,and Charles Kennedy- Craufurd-Stuart.

TIMEOUT: Craufurd-Stuart is an involved story also. He is thecaptain despised by Collins for his apparent cowardice at Gallipoliand for then obtaining a medal by deceit. Collins’ feelings towardhim weren’t helped when Stuart married Collins’ estranged secondwife, “Winkie.” Then, in 1918, he was the subject of a scandal inWashington when he secretly accused a female worker of spying forthe Germans. A tap was put on her telephone and although nothingincriminating to her was found, there were some juicy conversationsbetween her and her illicit lover, none other than Bernard Baruch.Later Stuart, as an aide to the British ambassador, thoughtlesslymade an insulting remark at a party about President Wilson that wasreported to the President. Wilson demanded that Stuart be recalledas a persona-non-gratis, but the British ambassador would not doso. This came in the midst of the negotiations over theestablishment of the League of Nations. The bitterness over thisescalated and helped result in the failure of the United States tojoin the League. Later authorities researching Craufurd-Stuartsuspected that during WWI he had been an agent for BritishIntelligence which might explain that he was ordered to avoid themurderous charge at Gallipoli in order to keep him alive as anagent. It has never been proved. NOW BACK TO COL. COLLINS:

He also wrote an account of a swindle perpetrated on himself andanother by a Mrs. Studebaker, a widow of one of the Studebakerbrothers.

However, the creation in which he took most pride was theaccount of Gallipoli. He dearly wanted to get it published. A callwas made to his old friend, William Faulkner, in Oxford, invitinghim to come to Brookhaven for a weekend — he had something for himto read.

Faulkner, who really enjoyed the company of the Scot, acceptedand came down on the train. The McGraths entertained the greatwriter with a sumptuous dinner, wine and conversation. As Faulknerprepared to retire to his room for the evening, Collins thrust uponhim the manuscript of Gallipoli. He said, “Bill, scan this overtonight and let me know what you think of it in the morning.”

At breakfast an extra fine meal was laid out. Collins had urgedthe ladies of the house to go all out. After the juice, eggs,sausage, bacon, etc., and finally the cup of fine, strong coffee,the conversation had covered everything from the Depression toRoosevelt, the price of cotton, Ole Miss football, and the latestmovies, but not one word about the manuscript. Collins could standit no longer. He said, “Damn it, Bill, what did you think about themanuscript?”

Faulkner thoughtfully put down his coffee and took a slow drawfrom his pipe. With great restraint, he earnestly looked atCollins, “Charlie, if it weren’t about you, would you read it?” andthen returned to his pipe.

Collins never attempted to publish the book.

To the end, Collins was financially crippled by his early lifemistakes. He had been thrown into bankruptcy as a result of theco-signing of the many notes for Innis Kerr. His inheritances fromhis grandmother, mother and an aunt were all fought over by thebankruptcy trustees. In the last year of his life, he was stilldesperately trying to get a share of these estates, but withoutsuccess.

Collins was a typical Britisher who had a deep lifetime respectand love for his kings and queens. When his old friend, King GeorgeV, died, he promoted a simultaneous commemorative service at theBrookhaven Episcopal Church, timed to coincide with the services inEngland. The Colonel made a moving tribute to the deceasedsovereign. Afterwards, he sent the widow, Queen Mary, a clipping ofthe newspaper account and a kind letter of condolence. Apparentlyhe had no ill will from the King’s failure to help him in histroubles earlier in India.

A reply from Marlborough House arrived two weeks later.




Aug. 17th 1937

Dear Colonel Collins,

I have had the honour of submitting to Queen Mary yourletter of August 6th, together with its enclosures.

In reply I am commanded to convey to you an expression ofQueen Mary’s warm thanks for your letter & photograph, togetherwith the cutting, which Her Majesty has read with much interest.The words spoken by you on the occasion of the Memorial Service forHis Late Majesty King George V greatly touched The Queen and HerMajesty thinks the wording on the Memorial Tablet in the AmericanEpiscopal Church at Brookhaven very Charming.

I am to assure you that Queen Mary much appreciates yourkind thought in sending the particulars of this Memorial Servicefor her information.

Her Majesty does hope that you found your mother’s healthbetter than you anticipated.

Believe me,

Yours very truly,

Gerald Chichester

Private Secretary”

One year later, Collins developed a lung infection that worsenedrapidly. He was sent to the Vicksburg Sanatorium and continued towrite his column as long as possible. When his physicians informedhim there was no more hope, he commented, “Life owes me nothing. Ihave tasted all of its joys.” He died quietly in his sleep Sept.21, 1939, and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Brookhaven. He was59 years old.