Herbert George Columbine (1893 – 1918)
Private Herbert George Columbine was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously at the age of twenty-four.
Born in Penge, on the 28 November,1893, he lost his father at the age of six in the Boer War. His mother moved away from London when he was twelve and settled by the sea at Walton- on-Naze and brought him up as a single parent. As a child, life in the coastal town was idyllic.
At the age of seventeen, he enlisted in the army as a private in the 19th Hussars. He had longed to follow the example of his father and find his life’s meaning in the armed forces. He was posted to Aldershot where he received his military training. He became involved in the outbreak of the First World War and was sent to France as a member of the 9th squadron, Machine Gun Corps. He took part in many battles, including Mons and Ypres, surviving each one of them.
At Hervilly Wood, on 22 March, 1918, Private Columbine found himself taking command of a Vickers gun and holding off the enemy for four hours in an isolated position. His last words were ‘Save yourselves. I’ll carry on’. The two remaining men were able to escape. Enemy aircraft bombed the hill relentlessly and Private Columbine was blown up with his gun but not before inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. His heroic action enabled the gaining of valuable ground for the allied forces.
His mother always regretted that her only son had gone to war, fearing she would lose him as she had lost her husband who had himself received medals for gallantry. Receiving the letter of notification of her son’s death was devastating but grief turned to pride when she was presented with his Victoria Cross from King George V on the 22nd June, 1918, at Buckingham Palace.
This extraordinary story of the trajectory of one man’s life provides much food for thought. A statue has been erected at Walton-on-Naze, facing the sea, as has a sculpted bust.
There is no grave for Private Columbine, VC, but his name is engraved on the Pozieres Memorial, three miles north east of Albert, in France. His medals are on display in the Essex Regiment Museum, Chelmsford.
Outside the war memorial on Penge High Street an inscribed pavement plaque has been installed in his memory.
On March 22, 2018, a service commemorating the centenary of his heroic sacrifice was held at the Penge War Memorial in which the plaque was unveiled. The service was attended by Kathy Bance, the Mayor of Bromley, and various dignitaries.
For further information and reading, see:
Carol McEntee-Taylor, Herbert Columbine VC (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 2013).