Clive Franklyn Collett was the second son of Captain Horace Edwin Collett, Stock Inspector for the Bay of Plenty, late of a London Artillery Company, Tauranga Mounted Rifles, and promoter of the Marlborough Hussars, in which he held a Lieutenant's commission.
On the early death of his father in 1902, at Auckland, Clive Collett took an engineering course with Wm. Cables at Wellington. The outbreak of war found him representing Turnbull & Jones Ltd. in the South Island, promoting electrical machinery. Collett immediately set sail for England on the transport SS Limerick, arriving in London on 23 December 1914. On arrival in England, he enrolled at the London and Provincial (L and P) Aviation Company, one of five flying schools, the others being Grahame, White, Beatty, and Hall and Ruffy-Baumann, located at Hendon. Was taught to fly by one (or both) of two instructors: W.T. Warren (RAeC No. 537, 1 July 1913), and M.G. Smiles (RAeC No. 783, 14 May 1914).
An extracted record of his advancement through the course in January 1915 is as follows:
Monday, 4 January: Pupils Abel, Collett, Derwin, England, Laidler and Moore. Collett 'rolling'.
Tuesday, 5 January: Collett 'rolling'.
Wednesday, 6 January: Collett 'rolling'.
Saturday, 9 January: Collett 'rolling'.
Sunday, 10 January to Sunday, 17 January: Unfavourable weather all week.
Monday, 18 January: Collett 'straights'.
Tuesday, 19 January: Collett 'half-circuits'.
Wednesday, 20 January: Collett 'half-circuits'.
Monday, 25 January: Collett 'straights'.
Tuesday, 26 January: Collett 'circuits and eights on No 1, making good landings.'
Friday, 29 January: Collett gained his certificate (RAeC No. 1058, 29 January 1915) in an L and P biplane – probably a single-seater brevet model (35 hp Anzani) – after only 3 3/4 hours tuition!
On 17 February 1915, he reported to Brooklands military aerodrome and joined the RFC in March.
Granted a commission as a Second Lieutenant on probation in the Royal Flying Corps, Special Reserve on 25 March 1915.
After three months at Brooklands he left for Netheravon, Salisbury Plain, where he joined No. 11 Squadron and flew the Vickers FB. 5 'Gunbus' (100 hp Gnome).
Was injured in an aeroplane accident at Hendon (details unknown) on 6 July 1915, and posted to No. 8 Reserve Squadron at Netheravon on 30 July, several weeks later. During this time it is likely he flew the BE. 2, BE. 8, DH. 1, and Voisin.
Toward the latter part of 1915 he left No. 8 Reserve Squadron and joined No. 18 Squadron. It is known that he was operational with No. 18 Squadron in France in March, 1916, and so may have left with it when it crossed to France in November, 1915.
Promoted to Lieutenant on 1 April 1916.
From 11 March to 16 April 1916, the Squadron Record Book contained 30 references to him on various patrols and flights, mostly photographic, mapping and artillery sorties in the FB. 5 Gunbus (usually serial 5466, but also 1619, 5481 and 5488). During this time he did not fly with a regular observer but flew with Second Lieutenants Slater, Buller and Pruen, Sergeant J. Mitchell, and 1 AMs Whitman and Rodgers.
In a letter written from his farm billet behind the lines in early 1916 to his elder brother, Mr Horace Claude Collett, he reports the following: "on offensive patrols over the hottest patch opposing our First Army, getting vital photographs. Total weight about 2000 lbs. Machine gun and ammunition, Observer, camera and plates, wireless gear to report to our gunners, up to 11 000 feet to avoid some accurate Archie fire. A burst under our machine sent us out of control, but managed to level out at a low altitude with burst engine valve and gun stoppage in face of very heavy ground fire, riddling our plane. The photos of this special mission caused the cancellation of a planned offensive which, had it proceeded, would have been a disastrous exercise for our troops, with heavy casualties." For this Captain Collett was awarded his first Military Cross.
Although the exact date isn't known, it appears he was involved in a serious flying accident in April, 1916, that required a lengthy period of recuperation.
Promoted to temporary rank of Captain on 1 August 1916.
Posted to Armament Experimental Station (AES), later to be known as the Experimental Armament Squadron (EAS), Orfordness, East Suffolk, England, in the latter part of 1916. He was believed to have been the only New Zealander involved in this work. The EAS was comprised of three flights: 'A' Flight (reconnaissance) commanded by Captain Collett, 'B' Flight (Bombers) commanded by Captain Gribble, and 'C' Flight commanded by Captain Vernon Brown.
Carried out the first parachute descent using the 'Guardian Angel' parachute from a military aeroplane on 13 January 1917 [after twenty dummy drops, made a descent from 600 feet].
Likely to have flown the unusual Armstrong Whitworth FK. 10 two-seater quadruplane (130 hp Clerget).
Posted to Nos 2, 43 and 59 (Reserve) Squadrons sometime in mid-1917. By 21 July 1917 he had recorded a total flying time of 1069 hrs 45 mins.
Made the first night flight in France in a Sopwith Camel on the night of 3/4 September 1917 (Note: A similar flight was taking place that same night in England by three pilots from No. 44 Squadron, also in Camels).
Joined No. 70 Squadron in the last week of July, 1917, flying a total of 64 hrs 38mins with it until being wounded in an aerial combat on September 9th. These were the days of the big aerial dogfights with large-scale actions, casualties on both sides. Collett chalked up four victories in three days, his best day being 9 September 1917, gaining his well-deserved treble. His Pilot's Official Signed Reports (supplied by the late Rev. P.E. Collett, of Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand) on this patrol deserves mention:
"We patrolled as instructed between GHELUVELT and HOUTHOULST FOREST. When over GHELUVELT at 5.10 p.m. we attacked 3 2-seater E.A. and after a short exchange of shots 2 made off f [sic] in an Easterly direction. The formation engaged this remaining machine hotly, and I got off a good burst at him. Lt. Saward also fired on thismachine [sic] and it went down entirely out of control. We did not see this machine crash as it disappeared in the haze.
The formation then patrolled up to HOUTHOULST where 3 more 2-seater E.A.were [sic] engaged at 5.25 p.m. I got on to th e [sic] tail of one of these, and drove him down from 10,000 to 4000 feet. The machine was entirely out of control with smoke coming from the fuselage and from 4000 feet I saw this machine crash N.E.of [sic] HOUTHOULST FOREST.
I crossed the lines at 4000 feet and climbed to rejoin my formation. I picked up the remainder of the formation at 5.40 and we then patrolled again towards HOUTHOULST FOREST. I saw 2 E.A. beyond HOUTHOULST towards ROULERS.
I heard a machine firing on my tail and turned round and saw the rest of the formation engaged with a large number of E.A. I got on to th e [sic] tail of one and emptied one gun into fuselage at short range. I followed this machine down and saw it turn over and crash. The machine was not entirely out of control as the pilot made an effort to land it, so I shut off my engine and then flew straight at him, putting a long burst into him as he lay on the ground; the machine burst into flames.
I was then attacked by three E.A.and [sic] flew along at about 30 feet above HOUTHOULST FOREST so the machine gunners could not place me. The E.A.sat [sic] on my tail and continued firing at me though I manoeuvred as much as possible.
I crossed the trenches at 40 feet and returned home as I was wounded in the hand by one of the E.A."
This last encounter proved to be the Bavarian ace, Maxmillian Ritter Von Muller, of 36 victories - Collett being his 27th combat. Born in 1887, Von Muller's career was ended by Lt. Summerville M.C., on an R.E.8 in January 1918. He in turn met his own end in March of that year. Von Muller was awarded his Blue Max posthumously 10 months later.
Captain Collett was awarded the bar to his M.C. for these events, in two months having destroyed 15 enemy machines.
Returned to the Testing Squadron at Martlesham, England, some time in September/October 1917, evaluating captured enemy aircraft [including hair-raising stunts with the heavy F.E.2b bomber, and the tiny 'Kitten' V.P.8, designed as a Zepplin-buster].
On 24 October 1917 he began a demonstration tour using a captured German Albatross DV around the Training and Reserve Squadrons in the UK. As an engineer he liaised with, and gave demonstrations with top figures, including an exhibition flight before the King and Queen and HRH Princess Mary, being presented to and congratulated by the King.
Collett was killed on 23 December 1917, while performing aerobatics in the Albatross over the Firth of Forth. He was killed three years to the day since his arrival in England and was buried on December 28th, at Comely Bank Cemetery, Edinburgh, Scotland. AWMM