Recent controversy over the future of the Victoria Cross Medal which was donated to the town of Walton-on-the-Naze led to me being asked about the recipient of the medal, Private Herbert George Columbine.
I must confess that although Columbine was known to me as a bronze bust which stood in the Marine gardens throughout my childhood, I knew very little about the real man. I therefore wondered how many other Waltonians or friends of Walton were equally poorly informed.
I have done my research and hope that the following is both correct and of interest.
Herbert Columbine was born in the Penge area of London in 1893. He and his family were regular visitors to Walton where Herbert would often ride on the horse and cart owned by John William Hipkin, a cartage agent for the Great Eastern Railway.
As a 24-year-old Private serving with the 9th Squadron Machine Gun Corps during the 1914-18 war, Herbert Columbine was in action at Hervilly Wood
in France as the Germans made their last-ditch offensives in the Spring of 1918. On 22nd March, Columbine took over the command of a gun and held back the enemy by firing from 9.00a.m. until 1.00p.m. The gun was in an isolated position with no wire in front to hamper the enemy’s advance but wave after wave of German soldiers failed to reach him. Eventually with the help of a low flying aircraft the enemy managed to close in on him. At this point Columbine told his two remaining colleagues to get away to safety. He continued to fire his gun regardless of being bombed on either side of his position. Eventually a direct hit by a bomb blew up him and his gun.
For his gallantry Herbert George Columbine was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. In 1921 his mother gave the medal to be displayed in Walton’s Town Hall. When Walton & Frinton councils amalgamated in 1934 the medal was given to The Royal British Legion where it was displayed. After a series of break-ins at the Legion Club the medal was placed in a local bank vault for safety.
Columbine is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial but because of the nature of his demise he has no known grave. More recently the Columbine Centre on the Bath House Meadow in Walton has been named after him.