Harold Linklater Colville was the youngest of three children born to George and Mary Colville, who were both natives of Egremont, Cumberland; but by the time of Harold’s birth on 8 May 1894 were living in Stroud Green, Middlesex. In the 1901 census George Colville is listed as a Russia Merchant. The family clearly prospered, and in 1908 Harold was enrolled in King’s College, Taunton, one of ten schools established by Canon Nathaniel Woodard in the late Nineteenth Century. At King’s College Harold was a member of the Debating Society and a Lance Corporal in the Officers’ Training Corps. He was also appointed Sacristan, which would have been an important role in a school with such a deeply held Christian ethos. The school’s Book of Remembrance records that Harold came to Durham with the intention of taking up holy orders.
After leaving King’s College in 1910 Harold became a book clerk for an oil company and lived with his elder brother, Cecil, then a furrier in London. He gave this up to study at Durham and matriculated for admission into St Chad’s Hall in Michaelmas term of 1914. The college's archives records that there he served as Sacristan, keeping the register of services, for the Epiphany term of 1915. However he had already taken advantage of the postponement of these examinations to volunteer to serve his country: Colville was one of the first three ex-Cadets of King’s College’s Officers’ Training Corps to be given a Regular Army commission, in the 9th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry. The 9th (Reserve) Battalion was formed in Plymouth in October 1914 and was based at various camps in Dorset until the summer of 1916 when they were sent abroad. Colville did not join them until Michaelmas 1915, and so spent only a year as an Arts student at Durham University studying for a B.A. in litteris antiquis, passing his first-year exams. He also joined the Durham University O.T.C., and spent much time in drill work, field work (on the golf course), and in lectures concerning “general knowledge required by a junior officer”: an account of the Hall’s O.T.C. activities was published in The Stag students’ magazine Michaelmas 1914 issue. His last known address is 48 Conway Road, Southgate in Middlesex.
Harold last action was the Battle of Albert, which opened the Battle of the Somme, fighting with 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, to which he had been transferred. The Allies had bombarded the enemy with artillery fire for a week before they launched their attack, but while the shells changed the landscape making it difficult to pinpoint locations it did little to weaken the German lines or forces. Major V. H. B. Majendie in A History of the 1st Battalion, the Somerset Light Infantry reports,
“July 1st was fine and warm. After an intense bombardment a large mine was exploded under the Hawthorn Redoubt at 7.20 a.m. Fortunately the Battalion had very few casualties while waiting in the assembly trenches, and all ranks were in the highest spirits, eagerly looking forward to zero hour.”
A History of the 1st Battalion, the Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert's), July 1st, 1916, to the end of the war, by Major V.H.B. Majendie D.S.O. (Taunton, 1921)
The attack at Beaumont Hamel was launched at 07:30 and quickly met with heavy rifle, machine gun and grenade fire. The events of that day are well known. By 22:00 what remained of the Somerset Light Infantry was ordered to leave the few German trenches they had taken and return to their Divisional Reserve at Mailly-Maillet. When dawn broke on 2 July the front was exactly where it had been 24 hours before, but only one officer of those who had assembled in the trenches remained, 26 officers and 438 men had been killed. Major Majendie sums up:
“There is little more to add about this attack, which was a complete, but a glorious, failure, and in many ways as creditable to those, who took part in it,- as many subsequent successes. By the light of experience gained later, there is little doubt that the lack of a creeping barrage, which at the time had not been evolved, allowed the Germans to make full use of their numerous machine guns, and accounted to a great extent for our lack of success. The importance of systematically dealing with the German dug-outs as the advance proceeded was not at the time thoroughly realised: there were several instances of Germans emerging from their dug-outs after the British had passed, and firing into their backs.”
Harold Colville was wounded during this action and died of his wounds on 6 July, aged 22 in one of the hospitals around Rouen. The Bath Chronicle & Weekly Gazette reports that his Memorial Service took place on Tuesday 11 July 1916 at All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London. As well as relatives, the large congregation included the Duke of Newcastle and other notable people. Harold left his entire estate to his brother Cecil.
Harold Colville is buried at St Sever Cemetery, Rouen, and remembered on the war memorial at St Martin’s Church, Fivehead, Somerset, and in the King’s College Roll of Honour and Book of Remembrance. At Durham University he is commemorated on the reredos in the chapel at St Chad’s College.