Herbert George Columbine VC (28 November 1893 – 22 March 1918) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
Columbine was 24 years old, and a private in the 9th Squadron, Machine Gun Corps, British Army during the First World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.
On 22 March 1918 at Hervilly Wood, France, Private Columbine took over command of a gun and kept firing it from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in an isolated position with no wire in front. During this time wave after wave of the enemy failed to get up to him, but at last with the help of a low-flying aircraft the enemy managed to gain a strong foothold in the trench. As the position was now untenable, Private Columbine told the two remaining men to get away, and although he was being bombed on either side, he kept his gun firing, inflicting losses, until he was killed by a bomb which blew him up along with his gun.
The local leisure centre at Walton-on-the-Naze has now been named after him.
The Columbine Statue Fund
The Columbine Statue Fund, whose Patron is Dame Judi Dench, was set up to raise money for a statue to Herbert Columbine VC in Walton on the Naze. The statue is being created by John Doubleday, the international sculptor and will be erected on 2 August 2014 in Walton on the Naze.
The statue to Herbert Columbine VC was unveiled by Field Marshal Lord Guthrie on Friday August 1st 2014 on the seafront on Walton on the Naze. In attendance was: the Bishop of Chelmsford who Dedicated the statue. The Royal Signals band were there as were The Light Dragoons, Lord Peter and the High Sheriff of Essex. It was a beautiful day and a lovely ceremony.
The project to raise a statue in memory of Private Herbert Columbine VC is also in recognition of his mother, Emma Columbine, who presented her late son’s medals, including the Victoria Cross, to the town of Walton in October 1921. She also donated medals won by her late husband who was killed in the Boer War. These medals were to be displayed for the people of Walton in the council chamber. After the amalgamation of the districts of Walton and Frinton in 1934 the council resolved that the medals should be handed to the British Legion to be displayed in their Club. Due to their increasing commercial value the medals were later deposited in a bank vault and only replicas were displayed in the British Legion Club. The original Victoria Cross and other medals had not been on view to the general public since 1934 but are now on display in the Essex Regiment Museum in Chelmsford Essex.
‘We hope a statue that can be viewed by the community of Walton on the Naze and visitors to the town will be a fitting tribute to Walton’s WW1 hero. We will hopefully have the statue erected by the centennial anniversary of the First World War in 1914.’ Michael Turner.
Available NOW published by Pen & Sword, all author royalties donated to the Columbine Statue Fund
‘Save Yourselves, I’ll carry on’. These were the last known words of Herbert Columbine, shouted at his two companions on the afternoon of 22nd March 1918. At 9am that morning, in Hervilly Woods, France, 9 Squadron Machine Gun Corps had come under intense attack from a heavy force of German infantry. Private Columbine took command of an isolated gun, with no wire in front and began firing. As the German onslaught grew and casualties mounted, Herbert and two others eventually became separated from the rest of their Squadron. After several hours it became clear their position would soon be overrun so Herbert told them to escape while they could. Now on his own, Herbert hung on tenaciously, repelling several attacks, each one deadlier than the last. He was only defeated after the Germans bought up air support and dropped a bomb on his position. Herbert Columbine has no known grave. His death is commemorated on Panels 93 and 94 at the Pozieres Memorial to those missing in the Somme Sector 1918.
I feel very honoured to write a book about such a brave man as my contribution to this very worthwhile project.
Reviews for Herbert Columbine VC
The obvious entry point for gaining an understanding of a conflict such as the First World War is some sort of reference or profile of an individual soldier. This is a great example of just such a biographical account. The research is sound and well presented and the narrative easy to follow and linked with facts, maps and photographs.
Major Mike Peters AAC, Soldier Magazine
Well Carole certainly knows her subject, so much so that I firmly believe that this book will become the template for the other war books which will be published in the future. It is not a gung-ho ‘Share this amongst you Fritz’ type of book nor is it a ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ story. What it is, in my opinion, is a “who do you think you are” study as we obtain information of Herbert’s family who originally came from North London. His fathers’ life and death in the Boer War and his mothers strain being at the home front with food and news shortages. We are even told what the weather was like rain soaking through Puttees and through boots, frosts that turned greatcoats in to stiff sheets of ply but the upside was that the freezing conditions removed the smell of the rotten corpses that pervaded everything in the forward trenches.
We learn how the gun crews had to keep the ammunition belts dry at all costs because wet belts jammed in the guns, as did muddy ones of course. Carole worked out that a .303 round for the Vickers Machine Gun weighed approximately one ounce. The maximum rate of fire was 600rpm which meant it could fire 33lbs of ammunition per minute. The normal rate of fire for the Vickers was around 250 rpm or one belt a minute, this meant the 6 guns of a Machine Gun Corps section could fire five tons of ammo per hour! All this had to be hand delivered to the forward lines after being dropped of at the supply depots about a mile or so in the rear.
We are given details of low stocks of ammunition, the number of days lost in strikes etc, not in a cold book keeping way but in a detailed fly on the wall style. However for me the most poignant part of the book was Carol’s interpretation of how Herbert’s mother must have felt when she received the death notice telegram and letters from his unit. Not so much a war story more the family history of a War, a Battle, a Corps and Unit. I heartily recommend this ground breaking book.
Dame Judi Dench is the Patron of the Columbine Statue Fund and has written a Foreword to the book
Monday 4th November 2013. It is with deep regret and sadness that I have to report the sudden death of Michael Turner, founder and driving force behind the Columbine Statue Fund. Without Michael’s dedication and tenacity there would never have been a statue to Herbert. It is very cruel that he will not be there at the unveiling ceremony on the seafront 2nd August 2014. RIP Michael. You will be very much missed but never forgotten.
And finally, a special thanks goes to ‘A Clarke Memorials’ , who very kindly donated the QR Code and website to The Columbine Fund, as well as producing the grand granite plinth on which the bronze statue stands. A Clarke Memorials can be found at www.aclarkememorials.com. They are delighted to offer all service personnel a discount. Just contact them and quote “service”.