John Ripley VC

b. 20/08/1867 Keith, Banffshire, Scotland. d. 14/08/1933 St Andrews, Fife, Scotland.

John Ripley (1867-1933) was born at Land Street, Keith, Banffshire, Scotland on 30th August 1867. His father was Joseph Ripley, a railway and general labourer. His mother was Margaret nee Cassells, a domestic servant. His parents married on 24th January 1857 in Keith, and John was the sixth of seven children born to the couple.

John Ripley VC

John was initially employed as a wool spinner. By 1891 he had gained employment as a railway porter, and later became a slater. He enlisted in G Company, 6th (Fifeshire) Volunteer Battalion, The Black Watch based at St Andrew’s in 1884 and was one of the best shots in the Company. He was promoted to Colour Sergeant in 1909 and was discharged to the Reserve in 1912.

John married Jane Laing, a general domestic servant, on 21st June 1895 at New Gilston, Largo, Fife. They moved numerous times around a number of locations in Fife. They had a son, Alexander Laing Ripley, born in February 1896. He would later serve in the Great War in the 1/7th Black Watch, and later migrated to the United States, where he married and had a daughter.

When the Great War broke out, John volunteered as a recruiting sergeant, but enlisted for active service with the Black Watch as a corporal on 25th September 1914. He trained with the 3rd Reserve Battalion at Nigg, Ross-shire until allocated to the 1st Battalion in January 1915 and went to France on 18th February. John was nearly 47 years old when he arrived on the Western Front.

On 9th May 1915 at Rue du Bois, France, Corporal Ripley led his section on the right of the platoon in the assault and was the first man of the battalion to climb the enemy’s parapet. From there he directed those following him to the gaps in the German wire entanglements. He then led his section through a breach in the parapet to a second line of trench. With seven or eight men he established himself, blocking other flanks, and continued to hold the position until all his men had fallen and he himself was badly wounded in the head.

Due to his wounds, he was evacuated to the Depot on 11th May. He was then returned to Scotland, and attended a civic reception at St Andrew’s Town Hall on 29th June and was appointed Acting Sergeant in 3rd Reserve Battalion for recruiting duties in Edinburgh on 2nd July. The VC was presented to him by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 12th July. He also received a silver casket containing a War Loan and a purse of sovereigns from Provost Cheape on his return to St Andrews on 30th October.

John was discharged to the Class Z Reserve on 28th March 1919. He returned to work as a slater, and also swept chimneys and served in the town’s fire brigade. He was given the Freedom of St Andrew’s, and was a member of the United Services Association, Black Watch Association and British Legion. He also became Chairman of th St Andrews Branch of the Black Watch Old Comrades Association.

On 14th August 1933 he was examining the drains at Castlecliffe, The Scores, one of the residence houses of St Leonard’s School for Girls, St Andrews. While climbing an 18’ ladder, he fell and sustained serious spinal injuries. He was rushed to St Andrews Memorial Cottage Hospital, but died shortly after admission. He was buried in Upper Largo Churchyard near Leven, Fife. The grave was renovated by Stuart Mackie, who was a veteran of the Black Watch, prior to a rededication of the grave in October 2001.

In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 and the Volunteer Long Service Medal. His medals are held privately and their location is not known.





Thomas Stewart – Image of the Ripley VC Stone in Keith, Scotland.