b. 30/01/1918 Manora Island, India. d. 20/09/1944 Arnhem, Holland.
John Hollington “Jack” Grayburn (1918-1944) was born on Manora Island, India, on 30th January 1918. His father, Lionel “Paddy” Grayburn, a military man who had served with the Yeomanry during the Boer War, worked for Grindleys Bank of India until ill health had compelled him to resign. The family returned to England and settled at Roughwood Farm in Chalfront St. Giles, to the west of London. Jack and both of his brothers, the eldest of whom was awarded the Military Cross during the Second World War, were educated at Sherborne School in Dorset. He was not an academically inclined pupil, but was a skilled boxer and rugby player. From 1927, Jack Grayburn played for Chiltern Rugby Club during the school holidays and continued to represent them when he left Sherborne in 1936, playing his last game on the 17th April 1939. It had been intended for Jack to work in Hong Kong with his uncle, Sir “Tubby” Vandeleur Grayburn, then Chief General Manager of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, however with hostilities looming in the region, his posting was cancelled. When Hong Kong fell to the Japanese, Grayburn’s uncle was interned and later executed.
Shortly before the war began, Grayburn joined the Army Cadet Force and his first posting was with the 1st (London) Cadet Force The Queen’s Royal Regiment, but he was later transferred to the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. In 1942, he met and married Marcelle Chambers, a secretary at the Headquarters staff, with whom he had a son, John. Grayburn, once described as “a belligerent individual”, was frustrated by the years of inaction on the home front and so he applied to enter the Parachute Regiment. In early 1943, he was posted to the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion, part of the 6th Airborne Division, before joining the 2nd Battalion.
Lieutenant Grayburn was a platoon commander of the Parachute Battalion which was dropped on 17th September, 1944, with the task of seizing and holding the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. North end of the bridge was captured and, early in the night, Lieutenant Grayburn was ordered to assault and capture the Southern end with his platoon. He led his platoon on to the bridge and began the attack with the utmost determination, but the platoon was met by a hail of fire from two 20 mm. quick firing guns, and from the machine guns of an armoured car. Almost at once Lieutenant Grayburn was shot through the shoulder. Although there was no cover on the bridge, and in spite of his wound, Lieutenant Grayburn continued to press forward with the greatest dash and bravery until casualties became so heavy that he was ordered to withdraw. He directed the withdrawal from the bridge personally and was himself the last man to come off the embankment into comparative cover.
Later, his platoon was ordered to occupy a house which was vital to the defence of the bridge and he personally organised the occupation of the house. Throughout the next day and night the enemy made ceaseless attacks on the house, using not only infantry with mortars and machine guns but also tanks and self-propelled guns. The house was very exposed and difficult to defend and the fact that it did not fall to the enemy must be attributed to Lieutenant Grayburn’s great courage and inspiring leadership. He constantly exposed himself to the enemy’s fire while moving among, and encouraging, his platoon, and seemed completely oblivious to danger.
On 19th September, 1944, the enemy renewed his attacks, which increased in intensity, as the house was vital to the defence of the bridge. All attacks were repulsed, due to Lieutenant Grayburn’s valour and skill in organising and encouraging his men, until eventually the house was set on fire and had to be evacuated. Lieutenant Grayburn then took command of elements of all arms, including the remainder of his own company, and re-formed them into a fighting force. He spent the night organising a defensive position to cover the approaches to the bridge.
On 20th September, 1944, he extended his defence by a series of fighting patrols which prevented the enemy” gaining access to the houses in the vicinity, the occupation of which would have prejudiced the defence of the bridge. This forced the enemy to bring up tanks which brought Lieutenant Grayburn’s positions under such heavy fire that he was forced to withdraw to an area farther North. The enemy now attempted to lay demolition charges under the bridge and the situation was critical. Realising this, Lieutenant Grayburn organised and led a fighting patrol which drove the enemy off temporarily, and gave time for the fuzes to be removed. He was again wounded, this time in the back, but refused to be evacuated.
Finally, an enemy tank, against which Lieutenant Grayburn had no defence, approached so close to his position that it became untenable. He then stood up in full view of the tank and personally directed the withdrawal of his men to the main defensive perimeter to which he had been ordered. He was killed that night. From the evening of September 17th until the night of September 20th, 1944, a period of over three days, Lieutenant Grayburn led his men with supreme gallantry and determination. Although in pain and weakened by his wounds, short of food and without sleep, his courage never flagged. There is no doubt that, had it not been for this officer’s inspiring leadership and personal bravery, the Arnhem bridge could never have been held for this time.
Jack Grayburn was killed by machine-gun fire from the tank that he had stood in front of. He was buried on the western portion of the grassy area which forms the bridge ramp, close to the underpass, but it was not until 1948 that his remains were discovered and removed to the Arnhem Oosterbeek Cemetery. After hearing of Jack’s death, his wife, Marcelle, returned to her native Scotland where she married again, but her own life was also tragically cut short by Leukaemia. Plaques dedicated to Jack Grayburn’s memory can be found in the Parish Church at Chalfront St. Giles, and on the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation war memorial in Queen’s Street, Hong Kong. Jack’s medals are held by the Parachute Regiment Museum, Duxford.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PARACHUTE REGIMENT MUSEUM, DUXFORD.
BURIAL PLACE: ARNHEM OOSTERBEEK CEMETERY, ARNHEM, HOLLAND.
PLOT XIII, ROW C, GRAVE 11
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.
Thomas Stewart – Image of Grayburn VC medal group at Parachute Regiment Museum, Duxford.