Robert Grierson Combe VC

b. 05/08/1880 St Machar, Aberdeen, Scotland. d. 03/05/1917 Acheville, France.

Robert Grierson Combe (1880-1917) was born on 5th August 1880 at St Machar, Aberdeen, Scotland. His father, James, was a butler at Elm Hall, Wavertree, near Liverpool, and later a hotel waiter. He was later the keeper of the Central Hotel in Holburn, near Aberdeen. James married Elizabeth “Betsey” Jardine on 21st September 1869 in Liverpool, though she too was also from Scotland. They had six children with Robert as the youngest.

Robert G Combe VC

Robert was educated at Ferryhill School, Aberdeen and Aberdeen Grammar School from 1894-1897. He was an apprentice pharmacist with William E Hay of Aberdeen and London. He served for about a year in 1st Volunteer Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, in London. In April 1906 he emigrated to Canada, sailing on SS Pretorian from Liverpool, and settled at Moosomin, Saskatchewan, where he found employment in a drugstore. He opened his own drugstore at Melville, Saskatchewan in 1908 and a second later in Dubuc. He was a prominent member of the local community, including being a member of the Union Church, Director of Melville Hockey Club, and a Member of the Order of Knights of Pythias, a secret society founded in Washington DC in 1864.

On 18th August 1909, he married Jean Traquair Donald at Melville. She was a teacher who worked at Coverdale, New Brunswick and Moosomin. They had no children. Robert enlisted on 1st April 1915 and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 53rd Battalion at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He was also stationed at Camp Sewell, Western Manitoba. He sailed to Britain in September 1915 and joined 30th Reserve Battalion. He also appears to have been in 32nd Battalion for a short time. He completed 5th Officers’ Course between January and March 1916 and sailed for France on 27th March, joining 27th Battalion in the field on 29th March.

On 31st May, he was evacuated to 5th Canadian Field Ambulance with lumbago and moved to a Casualty Clearing Station next day. He returned to the Battalion on 5th June, but was admitted to No 10 Casualty Clearing Station on 13th June with the same problem and No 14 General Hospital at Wimereux the following day. He was evacuated to England where a Medical Board deemed he needed a month for recovery and recuperation. He was treated at Bath Officers’ Hospital until 6th August then went on leave to Aboyne, Aberdeenshire. He was found fit for Home Service in September and was attached to 11th Reserve Battalion at Shorncliffe, Kent. On 13th November he transferred to the permanent cadre of 11th Reserve Battalion. He was attached to 31 Rifle Party at the School of Musketry, Hythe, Kent.

A Medical Board on 19th March 1917 found him medically fit for General Service, and sailed for France on 20th April, arriving at the Canadian Base Depot on 22nd April and rejoined the Battalion on 25th April.

On 3rd May 1917, south of Acheville, France, Lieutenant Combe steadied his company under intense fire and leading them through the enemy barrage reached the objective with only five men. He proceeded to bomb the enemy, inflicting heavy casualties and then, collecting small groups of men, succeeded in capturing the objective, together with 80 prisoners. He repeatedly charged the enemy, driving them before him, but while personally leading his bombers he was killed by a sniper.

Sadly, his body was not recovered, and is commemorated on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, France. His wife had followed him to Britain and trained with the British Red Cross for a year before being posted to Aboyne Castle Hospital, where she was Quartermaster. She was invited to investitures on two occasions at Buckingham Palace but declined on ill health. The VC was eventually presented to her by the Prince of Wales at the Legislative Building, Regina, Saskatchewan on 4th October 1919.

She returned to Canada after Robert’s death and trained as a physiotherapist at Hart House, Toronto. She attended the VC Centenary Celebrations in 1956, before dying in 1963. In addition to the VC, Robert was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His next of kin is eligible to receive the Canadian Memorial Cross. His medals are held by the Provincial Archives, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.