b. 04/09/1880 Guildford, Surrey. d. 24/05/1915 Hooge, Belgium.
Francis Octavius Grenfell (1880-1915) was born at Hatchlands, Guildford, Surrey on 4th September 1880, a twin with Riversdale. His father was Pascoe du Pre Grenfell JP, DL, a partner in Morton, Rose & Co, financiers specialising in the American railroads. His mother was also his father’s cousin, Sofia nee Grenfell and they married in West Derby, Lancashire in 1858. The family homes were at 73 Eaton Place, London and at Wilton Park, Beaconsfield. Francis’ maternal grandfather was Vice Admiral John Pascoe Grenfell, who served in the British East India Company and commanded the Brazilian Navy in the war with Argentina in 1851. Francis had eight brothers and four sisters; two other siblings died in infancy. After the death of their father in 1896 and mother in 1898, the children went to live with their uncle, Lord Grenfell. He was educated privately at Mr Edgar’s School, Temple Grove, East Sheen and Eton College from 1894.
He was commissioned into the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders on 1st September 1899, though he contracted typhoid and took a long sea journey to South Africa to recover. He then served in Egypt for four months before transferring into Regular service with the 4th KRRC on 4th May 1901 in Malta, where he was Aide-de-Camp to the Governor, his uncle, before moving to Ireland. He then sailed to South Africa and saw service in the Boer War. He returned to England briefly in 1903, before sailing to India, where he served until 1907.
He was promoted to Captain in September 1912 and was appointed Adjutant 1st November 1912. He was a skilled linguist, being an interpreter in French, German and Hindustani. He studied German in Berlin for the Staff College examination and observed German military manoeuvres. With his regiment, the 9th Lancers, he arrived in France on 16th August 1914 and would be awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions ten days later at Audregnies, Belgium.
On 24th August 1914, during the actions near to Elouges, a cavalry charge, although a desperate measure against unbroken infantry, was the only way of stopping the enemy in the time available. Setting off from north of Audregnies, 9th Lancers and two troops of 4th Dragoon Guards, advanced towards the enemy flank. When still 450 metres away, they were halted by a wire fence and engaged by nine enemy batteries and heavy small arms fire. When the charge petered out, Captain Grenfell kept B Squadron together. They took cover behind small slagheaps and around a sugar factory, where they dismounted and engaged the enemy with their rifles. About 2.30pm, the Germans resumed the attack and the 9th Lancers were forced to retire towards Elouges under the cover of a railway embankment. Grenfell chose to ride along the embankment and was wounded in the hand and thigh. Earlier his horse had been killed while bullets passed through his boots and tunic.
After being evacuated for treatment, he heard that his twin brother Riversdale had been killed in action on 14th September 1914. He then returned to France in command of B Squadron but was wounded through the thigh at Messines on 31st October 1914. He was evacuated to Bailleul before recovering at Dublin. He was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 22nd February 1915.
In April 1915, he rejoined his unit at Meteren, Belgium. During the Second Battle of Ypres on 24th May 1915, he was shot in the back at Hooge, south of the Menin Road. He died within half an hour. He was buried in Vlamertinghe Churchyard, but after the War, he was moved to Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with four clasps, 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf. His medal is held at the 9/12th Lancers Museum at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: 9TH/12TH ROYAL LANCERS MUSEUM, DERBY.
BURIAL PLACE: VLAMERTINGHE MILITARY CEMETERY, YPRES, BELGIUM.
PLOT II, ROW B, GRAVE 14
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.
Thomas Stewart – Images of the Grenfell VC Medal Group at the 9th/12th Lancers, Derby, and the VC Stone in Guildford, Surrey.
www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – images of the Eton College Memorial and the Grenfell Family Memorial at Eton.
National Army Museum – the image of the Richard Woodville Painting of Grenfell’s VC action.