War hero was a real ‘Houdini’

Allan Collier
Allan Collier

A former Berkhamsted town councillor who ‘cheated death’ twice has now passed away at the age of 91.

Lifelong town resident Allan Collier died just days before his 92nd birthday earlier this month.

Allan Collier PNL-141118-132147001

Allan Collier PNL-141118-132147001

The accomplished sportsman and former wartime RAF serviceman had lived a rich and full life, even escaping a terrible fate on more than one occasion.

Daughter Lesley Morffew said: “He was a bit of a Houdini – his life was fascinating. He was so well respected as a figure in the community.”

She explained how, when taken ill with a stomach ulcer, he was sent to hospital in Yorkshire. During his stay, his Air Force crew the Lancaster Bombers went missing and were killed.

Later he was to escape death again when, on one day only, he missed his usual 7.56am train to a railway job in Euston, on which he always travelled with two friends.

After hopping on a later service, he discovered his usual train had been involved in the Harrow rail disaster – and both of his pals were among the 112 killed in the 1952 accident.

During the Second World War Allan obtained his wings and commission as Pilot Officer in May 1943. He was promoted to Flying Officer in the November, then to Flight Lieutenant in 1945.

He trained on Tiger Moths and Wellingtons, and flew on Ansons, Oxfords, Halifaxes and Lancasters. Allan – who attended Park View and Berkhamsted Boys’ Schools and later went on to play cricket and bowls for Potten End – was engaged to Sylvia Kempster in July 1942 but they were unable to marry the following year as planned. This was due to he hospital stay which had unwittingly saved his life. After his operation, Allan was sent to the family home of Mary, Princess Royal at Harewood House near Leeds.

Allan spent his 21st birthday there and was even invited to accompany the Princess to a concert in Leeds Town Hall.

He became an independent town councillor in 1956 and was chairman of Berkhamsted District Council from 1967 to 1969. In 1971 he hosted Margaret Thatcher, then Secretary of State for Education, at the opening of Augustus Smith Middle School in Berkhamsted.

In 1974, he was elected first Chairman of the new Berkhamsted Parish Council.

Daughter Lesley said: “He was a bit of a Houdini – his life was fascinating. He was so well respected as a figure in the community.”