SCORES of mourners have paid their last respects to a former SAS soldier who 32 years ago survived being shot in the head.
David Patrick Collins, 56, was put to rest yesterday after losing his seven-month battle with pancreatic cancer on Christmas Eve last year.
Dubbed The Man Who Came Back From The Dead, Mr Collins astonished the medical profession by surviving three days alone in the African bush after terrorists shot him in October 1977.
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He went on to make an almost full recovery.
His extraordinary story was documented in a book by Barbara Cole, called The Elite: Rhodesian Special Air Service.
Yesterday, about 80 mourners paid tribute to Mr Collins at St Andrew’s Church, in Haughton, Darlington. His coffin was covered with the Union flag and Mr Collins was given a guard of honour outside the church.
Military flags, including that of the 4th Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve of the Parachute Regiment, with which Mr Collins served after his injury, were also paraded.
The Reverend David Bryant told how Mr Collins was from an Army family and lived all over the world before his father settled in Bishop Auckland.
Leaving school at 16, Mr Collins began a butchery apprenticeship, but also joined 4th Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve of the Parachute Regiment, as well as the Air Cadets.
Unable to join the regular Army because he failed a medical due to previous contact with TB, he saw an advert for volunteers to join the Army in Rhodesia and signed up, later being selected for the SAS.
Aged 23, Mr Collins was left blinded and unable to walk, talk, read or write after being shot in the back of the head in Rhodesia. The learning part of Mr Collins’ brain was affected, meaning he had to relearn all these skills again, Mr Bryant said.
After making almost a full recovery, Mr Collins returned to Darlington – where he was originally from – and in 1986 met Diane, who was to become his second wife, at a singles’ night.
The couple married two years later and Mr Collins became stepfather to Elizabeth and Christopher.
He returned to work as a slaughterman, and took up photography and filming, as well as going on long runs every week and jumping with the Red Devils.
Due to ongoing complications as a result of his head injury, Mr Collins was admitted to West Park Hospital three years ago.
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year.
The Rev Bryant said: “Diane told me she always felt safe with Dave, and he did his best to be a good father and grandfather.
His amazing courage and tenacity are an inspiration to us all.”
A bugler played The Last Post before Mr Collins’ coffin was taken from the church to a private ceremony at Darlington Crematorium.
Mr Collins is survived by his wife, stepchildren Elizabeth and Christopher and six step-grandchildren.