Memorial stone laid for Lieutenant Robert Grierson Combe VC
A commemorative stone was laid in Aberdeen today (Wednesday 3 May) to mark the centenary of the death of First World War Victoria Cross recipient Robert Grierson Combe.
The Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Aberdeen Andrew Lawtie unveiled the stone at the city’s Bon Accord Terrace Gardens (off Willowbank Road) with primary seven pupils from Ferryhill School.
Born on Holburn Road, Aberdeen in 1880, Robert Combe attended Ferryhill School and Aberdeen Grammar School before taking up an apprenticeship as a pharmacist. He emigrated to Canada in 1906 where he opened his own pharmacy business in Melville, Saskatchewan before enlisting in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
He was promoted to the rank of Major away from combat duty but requested to revert to Lieutenant in order to fight on the front line.
Lt Combe found himself in heavy fighting around the area of Vimy in France with the 27th Battalion (City of Winnipeg). On 3rd May 1917 he was killed during an assault on German trenches near the town of Acheville. Lt Combe was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery which saved the lives of many other soldiers.
His Victoria Cross citation reads: “For most conspicuous bravery and example. He steadied his Company under intense fire, and led them through the enemy barrage, reaching the objective with only five men. With great coolness and courage Lt Combe proceeded to bomb the enemy, and inflicted heavy casualties. He collected small groups of men and succeeded in capturing the Company objective, together with eighty prisoners. He repeatedly charged the enemy, driving them before him, and, whilst personally leading his bombers, was killed by an enemy sniper. His conduct inspired all ranks, and it was entirely due to his magnificent courage that the position was carried, secured and held.”
Mr Lawtie said “This stone is a lasting reminder of Lt Combe’s actions that day one hundred years ago. He faced the most terrifying of situations, yet managed to find the courage to keep on going. It is very fitting that his bravery so far away from his home in Canada is remembered here in the community where he lived as a boy.”
The Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan, Vaughn Solomon Schofield has said: "I am grateful to the City of Aberdeen and the Government of the United Kingdom for honouring Victoria Cross recipient Lieutenant Robert Grierson Combe. Lieutenant Combe's extraordinary actions on May 3, 1917 not only contributed to the Allied victory and ultimately the end of the war, they forged a lasting bond between Aberdeen and Saskatchewan as we unite in commemorating this remarkable man. It is gratifying to know that his calm leadership under fire, his courage, and his sacrifice will not be forgotten."
Speaking from on behalf of Lt Combe’s family, from her home in the USA, his great grand-niece Alison Love said: “Robert Combe's family are proud 100 years later, to honour him. We remember his superb bravery in appalling battle conditions - overcoming hostile fire, and leading his small surviving troop of men, while capturing a large number of enemy prisoners.
“Fearlessness was part of who he was – as a young man, when horses were still in use on city streets a runaway horse was endangering bystanders on Union Street. Robert stepped right in front of the horse's path, stopping it and returning it to its owner.
“He learned pharmacy and moved to Canada, an early adventure which was characteristic of the initiative he showed throughout his life. Each later generation of his family has named a son Robert in his honour.
“His widow lived in Saskatchewan until 1963. We would like to offer our profound thanks to the City of Aberdeen for commemorating his courageous sacrifice.”
Lt Combe’s name is inscribed on the Vimy Memorial in France and on a family memorial in Allenvale Cemetery, Aberdeen. A lake in North Saskatchewan is named in his honour as is the Melville branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.