NOT many little boys are christened Percy these days, but you don’t need a fashionable name to be a hero. Because when the chips were down and the bullets were flying, Private Percival William Collett stood tall.

No matter the 21-year-old from the village of Stoulton, just south of Worcester, achieved only D Grades at school, was continually in trouble in the army and was actually under military arrest when he took part in the WW2 Battle of Arnhem in 1944, he proved himself among the bravest of the brave.

 Pte Collett died and was buried in that foreign field, but after the war a memorial service was held in his home parish church.

His platoon commander Lieutenant Alan Barker couldn’t be there, but the officer’s tribute was read by the vicar, the Rev. T Morgan: “Percy was at all times a good and loyal soldier and eventually died to save my life.

"After a considerable pounding at Arnhem, when all our nerves were badly shaken, he volunteered to come with me and attempt to destroy a tank.

“The ammunition for the gun was some yards away and without thought for his personal safety, he moved forward to get it. He was very badly injured while doing so and died shortly afterwards.

"Only those who were at Arnhem can know what it was like to go forward alone in such terrible fire and I have no hesitation in saying that Percy was as brave as any man who gave his life that day.

"I would be grateful if you could make clear his bravery to those who knew him.”

 The courage of Percy Collett and several other Worcestershire soldiers who fought at Arnhem – an action immortalised in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far – is told in a comprehensive new book by Worcester’s renowned military historian Dilip Sarkar.

He explained: “This year marks the 75th anniversary of the battle and the aim of ‘Arnhem 1944: The Human Tragedy of the Bridge Too Far’ is a new narration shaped by the stories of casualties, all killed with different units and at varying junctures in the fighting.

"The book includes a chapter on the Germans and also the suffering of the Dutch civilians.”

As with the author’s considerable catalogue of previous books, work which led to him being made an MBE, the latest has been forensically researched to look behind the names on the war memorials.

Hence we learn that Percy Collett, son of William and Janet, achieved “Educational Grade D” at what is now Pershore High School and was working as a general labourer before enlisting in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in Worcester on April 15, 1941.

He was only 18 and was soon in trouble. 

Dilip said: “Only a week after enlisting, Private Collett was punished at Gosport with 168 hours detention in the Unit Detention Room for misconduct, failing to comply with an order given by his superior officer and using abusive language.”

It was a rocky start to the young man’s military career. 

In June, 1942, Percy Collett was transferred to the  2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, part of the newly formed 1st British Airborne Division.

But by November found himself confined to barracks for 14 days following “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline”.

In May, 1943, the 2nd Battalion was despatched to North Africa and in July took part in the battle to take Syracuse and the Ponte Grande Bridge.

Troops were landed by gliders and the fighting was fearsome. Of the 48 officers and 768 men of the South Staffords taking part, only 19 of the former and 269 other ranks survived.

Private Collett celebrated by getting drunk. He was awarded a “field punishment”, but who could blame him. 

Back in England, he married his sweetheart Edna May Brookes on December 17, 1943 in Stoulton Parish Church.

While waiting for the D-Day invasion of Europe to begin, Percy was punished four times for going AWOL (absent without leave).

“The 1st Airborne was in the second wave of the invasion,” said Dilip, “and with operations being cancelled and the battle raging on the continent frustration throughout the division was high, the maintenance of good order and discipline being an increasing problem with some highly-strung troops.”

In fact Pte Collett was still officially under “open arrest” when he climbed on board a Horsa glider on September 18, 1944 and set off for Arnhem.

The disaster of the battle has been well documented, but as far as Percy Collett’s fate was concerned, it owed much to the chance arrival of Sturgeschutze-Brigade 280, a heavily armoured German unit which had been refitted after fighting in Russia. It was on its way to Aachen when it was diverted to Arnhem, where it significantly tipped the balance.

Dying so bravely, young Collett was one of its victims. He was first buried in the Moscowa General Cemetery in Arnhem, but later reinterred to the Arhhem-Oosterbeek War Cemetery. It would be many months before his parents and new wife received confirmation of his fate.

 Among the other Worcestershire soldiers to die at Arnhem was Private Gordon Matthews, a former pupil of Samuel Southall Secondary School, who was working as a gents’ hairdresser at Skan’s in Worcester before the war.

Pte Matthews was a member of the 3rd Parachute Battalion, which was in the first drop on Arnhem.

He was killed by fire from a German tank, but not before his patrol had achieved distinction by destroying a German staff car and its occupants which crossed their path. On board was the top Nazi general at Arhhem, Arnhem Kommandant General Friedrich Kussin. Probably the first, and last, time a Worcester hairdresser and a German general have met in battle.

*To pre-order Dilip Sarkar’s book

Arnhem 1944: The Human Tragedy of the Bridge Too Far: (published in May introductory price £20) go to: