On Wednesday 7th December Mrs McCord, the English Department and the school were privileged to welcome Tim Collins back to RBAI. Collins, whose illustrious military career culminated in him being awarded an OBE in 2003, garnered praise from Prince Charles and President Bush for his 'Eve of Battle' speech, which is said to hang in the Oval Office. So celebrated has his speech become that it is now widely perceived as a model of rhetoric and is considered particularly impressive owing to the spontaneous nature of its delivery. Further commendation of its worth is that it is studied as a GCSE text alongside Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech, the most famous speech of the twenty-first century.
Mrs McCord, then, staged quite a coup in persuading Mr Collins to take time out of his extremely busy schedule to come back to his old school to address Year 11; he last returned as the distinguished Visitor of the Day at Prize Day 2004, when the assembled pupils, parents, staff and governors had the opportunity to hear him speak. Year 11 thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to meet Mr Collins, as did one or two of the older boys who had already studied the 'Eve of Battle' address. One such student was Year 13 English Literature student Jack Lyons whose account is below.
I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to attend Tim Collin’s talk to the Year 11 pupils regarding his historical speech, delivered in Kuwait on the border of Iraq to his troops before the invasion on March 19th 2003. Collins gained his education at R.B.A.I. (1971-78), then Queen's University Belfast before being accepted into the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, where he was promoted to lieutenant and transferred to the Royal Irish Rangers in 1982. He proceeded through the ranks and achieved commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment in 2001.
John Keegan described Colonel Tim Collins as “A thinking soldier” and this couldn’t be more appropriate; he spoke to the boys in a way that displayed his experience not only a soldier, but also as a leader. He believes that how someone presents and expresses themselves is important in leadership, and in many other aspects of life, emphasising, “You can’t teach someone to be a leader, you have to learn to be a leader.”
Collins highlighted the importance of discovering people’s natural aptitudes and individual qualities, and highlighted his own preference toward the art of rhetoric and speech. With reference to 'Eve of Battle', he commented that he was very aware of the fact that many of his soldiers had come from “happy Irish homes” and that some were likely to die in the conflict to follow. As such, he had to be careful and very precise in his choice of words and use of rhetoric; “Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send.” He reinforced that he “was trying to prepare them for the totally unnatural business of killing and being killed”.
Lastly, Collins reflected on his time in the military and shared some of his insights such as: “If you’re not scared, you’re stupid”, as well as his recollection of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Frost, as he pushed onwards in battle, comparing his own experience to that of the speaker in the poem.
Collins' insight on a speech many of us have studied and are extremely familiar with was truly interesting and informative, as were his observations surrounding his time in the military. I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to hear him speak.
J Lyons 13D