b. 05/01/1897 24 Lennox Gardens, London. d. 25/11/1918 Kassel, Germany.
Julian Royds Gribble (1897-1918) was the son of George James and Mrs Norah Gribble (nee Royds) of 34 Eaton Square, London and Kingston Russell House, Dorset. Born on 5th January 1897 in London, he was enrolled at Eton in 1910, and grew up a tall, graceful and popular boy, interested in art and music. When the First World War began Julian transferred to the officer’s training school at Sandhurst. He would become one of fourteen Old Etonians to be awarded the VC.
In early 1915 Julian Gribble was commissioned as a lieutenant in The Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was posted to train recruits at Albany Barracks, Parkhurst.
In a letter to his mother, Norah Gribble from Parkhurst in 1915, ” Although we sent out over 8000 men to France from this battalion since the war began, we sent out our first draft to the Dardenelles yesterday. I went down to Cowes to see them off”. He remained on the Island for a year, sometimes taking drafts of newly trained troops as far as the French ports.
In April 1916 Julian was ordered to France. Over the next six months without leave he was in the thick of the fighting of The Battle of the Somme. In October he was sent home as sick with “trench fever”. Although he was recommended three months rest after just one month he reported back to Parkhurst. From there he was posted to the 10th Battalion with the rank of Captain. At a time when the average life expectancy of British army officers ‘at the front’ was 17 weeks Julian was already a veteran. In peacetime he would still be at Eton.
Julian spent the winter of his twentieth birthday in the mud, frosts and floods of Flanders “wet up to the middle and never warm or dry”. He had another short leave, but after the epic horror of the hundred day Battle of Paschendaele, the British army was seriously undermanned. Julian’s leave was postponed month after month.
In the darkest hours of March 21st the unsuspecting British lll and V Armies were shocked by the most intensive barrage of the war. In eight hours 6,500 German guns delivered 1.16 million poison gas and high explosive artillery shells into the British defences. Supported by the close fire of over 5,000 mortars, the barrage moved forward 200m every four minutes, annihilating defences and leaving the surviving defenders deaf and stunned. It was the beginning of the decisive German spring offensive, code named Kaiserschlacht, the Kaiser’s battle.
The 10th Battalion of The Royal Warwickshires were in reserve in the lll Army when the German barrage began. Julian dashed off a goodbye letter,”All I pray to God is to give me strength to lead D Company well- as they deserve. I know mother that in any case you will not grudge to England your youngest son. We have always been cheery so lets go on being so – thanks to you and Father I have had a happy time in this world as possible, almost”.
Behind the creeping barrage 76 German divisions, equivalent to the entire British Army in Franc, advanced. They were led by “Storm troopers” armed with wire cutters, grenades and flame-throwers. Behind them came large “battle groups” of infantry with field artillery and heavy machine guns, followed by more masses of marching infantry. To Sir Conan Doyle it seemed as if fresh divisions were “rolling in like waves from some inexhaustible sea.” The four infantry companies of the 10th Battalion hastily dug in along 1,600 yards of Hermies Ridge behind the rearmost British defences with orders to hold the position to the last man. The Battalion was supported by its own battery of field artillery, flanking infantry, and further batteries of artillery and heavy machine guns.
On the second day of the offensive the Germans began to shell these new positions and the command structure of the British lll Army began to break down as it joined the V Army in a fighting retreat. The next morning, as Julian reported the Germans massing to attack the Battalion’s artillery were galloping away under conflicting orders. As the German attack intensified more supporting artillery and infantry retreated. The battalion found itself increasingly isolated and surrounded. Even the HQ staff and any retreating stragglers they could rally were thrown into the desperate fighting. They held on for three hours.
By 12.30 just D Company was left holding onto the top of the ridge. When he was the last officer standing Julian finally allowed his men to retreat keeping six with him. Private Madeley was one of them “I got hit and I am glad to say I broke through, but not with the Captain” Julian was last seen emptying his revolver into the final assault. ” I saw him go down under about seven big German brutes and that was the last I saw of one of England’s finest officers”.
Julian’s body was robbed and left for dead, but later it was discovered that he was alive. He began to make good recovery in hospital in Germany, but found himself on the losing side in the terrible final months of the war. The Allied blockade of Germany was so effective that the whole country was in a state of starvation.
When Julian arrived at the new officer’s prison at Mainz Castle he and his fellow inmates suffered six weeks of starvation before the first Red Cross parcels arrived. In May Julian heard that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his stand on Hermies Ridge. The other officers saw the letters “VC” on the envelope and carried the embarrassed invalid about the barrack square on their shoulders. On June 4th Julian celebrated Eton’s special day with four other Etonians “with a soup made of a few scraps of lettuce”
The First World War finally came to an end after the German Revolution of October 1918. By this time some two million German civilians had starved to death, but worse was to come. A bird “flu” had mutated. We know it as “Spanish Influenza”. After more than four years of wartime food shortages it became the greatest pandemic in history. Recent estimates put the death toll at 50 to 100 million worldwide. Eight days before the Armistice Julian himself fell ill. On the morning of November 24th his fellow prisoners were released and boarded the train home. Julian was left alone in the castle hospital. He died shortly after midnight. His last words were to dismiss his nurse;”Go away gnadiger Frau” (gracious lady). The following day the French Army arrived with food and medicine.
Julian Gribble VC was laid to rest in the Niederzwehren Cemetery, Kassel, Germany. His VC was presented to his parents on 15th September 1919 by Brigadier-General Jackson at Dorchester, Dorset. The medal was held by the family until it was destroyed in a house fire at his brother’s house at Wamil Hall, near Mildenhall, Suffolk He was issued with an official replacement and this is held by the Royal Warwickshire Regimental Museum in Warwick.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MEDAL DESTROYED IN A HOUSE FIRE.
BURIAL PLACE: NIEDERZWEHREN CEMETERY, KASSEL, GERMANY.
PLOT III, ROW F, GRAVE 4
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.