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    Francis Octavius GRENFELL VC


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    During my research I came upon the name of Francis Grenfell of whom I remember reading in a Boys Own Annual long ago in my formative years. It is a sadly fascinating account of one family's sacrifice...........................

    Francis Octavius Grenfell 1880-1915

    Francis Octavius Grenfell, and his twin brother Riversdale (Rivy) Nonus Grenfell, were born at Hatchlands, near Guildford, on 5th September 1880. Sons of Pascoe du Pre Grenfell and his wife Sophia they both followed family tradition by going to Eton School at the age of fourteen. Young Francis was a keen sportsman, in 1899 he scored 80 runs at Lords in a cricket match against Harrow School.

    In 1898 Francis became ?Master of the Beagles? with the local hunt. He also joined the Army Special Reserve and in 1899 Francis was called up and joined the British Army.

    After serving with the 3rd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders in Egypt he was commissioned into the King's Royal Rifle Corps. With whom in 1901 he went to South Africa and fought in the Boer War.

    At the end of the war Francis stayed in the Army and joined the crack cavalry regiment, the 9th (Royal) Lancers in India, soon being promoted to the rank of Captain.

    On the outbreak of the First World War Captain Grenfell and the 9th Lancers were sent to France with the BEF. Francis made this now famous record in his diary.

    ?15th August. We entrained today at 1pm and
    hope to reach France tonight. We leave very
    quietly as if marching to manoeuvres, but a
    more magnificent Regiment never moved out
    of Barracks for War. Everyone is full of
    enthusiasm??.. So far I have been the luckiest
    man alive. I have had the happiest possible life
    and have always been working for War, and
    have just got into the biggest in the prime of
    life for a soldier???.?

    His twin brother, Rivy who had joined the Buckinghamshire Hussars had by now managed to join him with the 9th as an attached Officer

    On 16th August, Francis Grenfell and the men under his command were sent out to carry out reconnaissance in the Harmignies area of Belgium returning in time to take part in the Battle of Mons.

    During that battle a Squadron of the 9th Lancers including Captain Riversdale Grenfell were ordered to charge the German gun positions. Hit by a hail of machine-gun fire, shelling and rifle fire, casualties were heavy. When they reassembled on the outskirts of Elouges they discovered that than had suffered over 80 casualties.

    Later that day Captain Francis Grenfell and a small group of his men volunteered to try and rescue the men of the 119 Field Battery who were in danger of being captured by the Germans. The operation was successful but Grenfell was badly wounded and was taken by his friend, the Duke of Westminster, in his Rolls Royce to the nearby town of Bavai where he was treated by French nuns in a convent hospital.

    Grenfell recovered from his wounds and was awarded the Victoria Cross for the role he played in saving the 119 Field Battery. But while Francis was in hospital he heard that his twin brother, Rivy Grenfell, had been Killed in Action on the 16th. He was buried in Vendresse Churchyard the following day.

    In October 1914, Francis Grenfell returned to France as Squadron Commander of the 9th Lancers. He was seriously wounded again few weeks later and was shipped back to England for treatment. By the spring of 1915 he had recovered and on 7th April he had a farewell dinner with his close friends, Winston Churchill and John Buchan.

    Francis Grenfell was sent to the Ypres Salient and on 23rd May 1915 endured the first German chlorine gas attack on the Western Front. The following day he received gunshot wounds in the chest on the Menin road. He died where he fell, the last words of this courageous and gallant Officer were ?I die happy. Tell the men I love my squadron?.

    Francis Grenfell was one of the 208 casualties out of the 350 men in the 9th Lancers who had taken part in the action that day.

    An American journalist, Frederic Coleman, was with the 9th Lancers on 24th May 1915 and he attended Francis Grenfell?s Battlefield burial.He was very moved and wrote:

    ?As the sun went down that evening their comrades of the 9th Lancers buried the bodies of Francis Grenfell and Algy Court in Vlamertinge Military Cemetery. Court's face wore a smile, as though he was quietly sleeping. Grenfell, shot through the heart at the height of the battle, bore, too, a look of deep peace, as if at last he had cheerfully gone to a better country, to join his beloved Rivy, from the shock of whose death, on the Aisne, Francis had never recovered?.

    Francis and Rivy had a famous younger sister, Joyce Grenfell the famed comedienne and ?St. Trinians? actress.

    They had two cousins also serving with the BEF.

    Captain Julian Henry Francis Grenfell DSO and his brother Second Lieutenant the Hon. Gerald William Grenfell sons of Lord and Lady Desborough of Taplow Court in Buckinghamshire.

    Julian Grenfell was one of the War Poets and author of ?Into Battle?. He won the DSO serving with 1st Royal Dragoons in 1914. He died of wounds on 26th May 1915 aged 27yrs and was buried in a Military Cemetery in Boulogne.

    Gerald Grenfell served with the 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade and was Killed in Action in the ?Liquid Fire? attacks at Hooge just outside Ypres on 30 July 1915. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.

    All in all a great sacrifice by one Family

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    Yes one of the 634 VC's awarded in WW1. It makes it all the more poignant when there is a story behind the name and makes you realise the sacrifice that these men made.

    It also brings home the tragedy that many families suffered with multiple casualties from the same family. Class also seems not to have been a discriminator in this war, with privileged young officers dying in their droves along side their working class men.

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    Guest John Sukey

    speaking of multiple casualties, The Pals battalions may have been good for recruiting, but resulted in entire villages of widows after a heavy action.

    By the way, though I suppose a lot of folks already know about this website, some may not
    Which lists all the V.C.'s ever awarded, the citations, and other information on the people.

    Edited by John Sukey
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    Yes I think I am right in saying that due to this tragic decimation of whole communities, such units were not created again, with recruitment especially in WW2 being mixed regionally over large catchments areas.

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