Collings Defied Death Often in Flying Career
Pioneer Pilot and Soldier of Fortune Wrote Book About Many Adventures.
Herald Tribune, Wednesday, May 7, 1941
Kenneth Brown Collings, forty-one years old, listed yesterday as among the eleven American ‘ferry pilots' missing in the torpedoing of a British transport somewhere in the Atlantic, was one of America's pioneer flyers and had lived a life of adventure which fitted neatly into the soldier of fortune category.
At 40 Stevens Street, Oceanside, L. I., lives his wife, Katherine, and a fouirteen-year-old son, Kirby, an enthusiastic model airplane builder, who hopes some day to fly as his father did. Last night, however, Mrs Collings said no. ‘I will never let him fly,' she said.
Mr Collings was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was a graduate of Washington and Lee University. He was a Marine Corps flyer overseas during the World War and in Haiti during the 1919 insurrection. A man who could not stay put, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1921 and took up barnstorming, doing dare-devil stunts all over the country and a few years later joining the Pan American Airways. For ten years he wrote fiction and aviation articles, which he sold to numerous magazines.
In 1935, Liberty Magazine sent him to Ethiopia to cover the Italian invasion, and he may be remembered there even now as the man who introduced the American-type scooter to Ethiopian children. After the way he visited Palestine and later collaborated with Lowell Thomas in writing the book, With Allenby in the Holy Land.
In 1938 he was in Czechoslavakia when the Nazis marched in, and he followed the Germans when they invaded Poland a year later, an experience which almost ended his career then. Inadvertently he crossed the German frontier of East Prussia with two other Americans, and the party was immediately arrested aas spies by Soviet guards. A firing squad already had been ordered when a Russian officer who understood English came by and helped release Mr Collings and his friends.
He returned to America in 1940, just after his book These Things I Saw, was published by Dodd Mead and Company, and for the last year he stayed at his Oceanside home. It was his longest period of domesticity she can remember, Mrs Collings said. He passed his nights writing in the cellar, but the rumble of war overseas and prospect of action in the air was too much for him. Six months ago he volunteered his services to Canada. After a brush-up course in the latest flying methods, he gave up his job as his instructor at the safair Flying School, at Roosevelt Field, L.I., which had held only a few months, and was off.
Mrs Collings last night held little hope that her husband might still be alive, perhaps on a lifeboat somewhere in the Atlantic.
"Every other time when he went away," she said, "I had no fears about his returning. I never knew where his next letter would come from or when he'd be back, but I knew he'd be back. This time I feel he is gone."
The flyer's father, Franklin W. Collings, is editor and publisher of the San Marino, California Tribune.
Sea Gives Up Lost Writer
Collings' Body Washed Ashore in Scotland.
– Long Island Daily Press, Wednesday, August 13, 1943.
In a little morgue somewhere along the Scottish coast today lies the body of Kenneth Brown Collings, 41-year-old reporter, lecturer and soldier of fortune, whose home was at 40 Stevens street, Oceanside.
And the tide that cast it ashore yesterday extinguished the last spark of hope in the mind of his wife, Mrs Katherine Dovel Collings, that somehow, somewhere, Kenneth Collings was alive.
At the news of his death in the sinking of a Canadian troop transport, May 6, she had sobbed: "I won't believe he is dead ... He was too lucky ... Danger was his meat and drink ..."
A terse cablegram from London yesterday told Mrs Collings her faith was a delusion: "Body of Kenneth Brown Collings washed ashore," it said. "Identified by watch."
She and her son, Kirby, 12, had bid Collings goodbye at North Beach Airport in mid-April. Their dog, Patty McGee, was on hand, too. Collings kissed his wife and son, patted the dog, and clambered aboard a big airliner on his way – or so he told them – to a flying job in Chile.
Ten days later he wrote home from Canada disclosing that he had volunteered as a bomber ferry pilot delivering planes to the British and within a week came the cryptic telegram from the Canadian government, telling his wife: "Your husband is missing at sea. Details later."
Collings and ten other American fliers were en route to Britain and went down on an unidentified troop transport with 111 other persons when the ship was torpedoed in the North Atlantic.
He was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, served with the Marine Corps as a flyer in the World War and rose to the rank of captain. He fought against the Italians in Ethiopia in 1935, reporting his adventures for the Liberty Magazine.
Three weeks before his death, Collings quit his job with the Safair Flying Service, Roosevelt Field, and informed his wife that he was taking a commercial flying job at Santiago for fear of worrying her.
Faced with the perils of war, he apparently decided ten days later to make the truth known.
Collings was one of the first correspondents in Czechoslovakia when the Germans invaded it.
In 1928 he recounted his adventures in twenty-three countries in a book, Just For the Hell of It.
with special thanks to
Veralyn Hill Cook