LOCAL HEROES - DORSET VCs

Last Man Standing
By Roger G Coleman

Julian Royds Gribble was born in London on the 5th January, 1897 the son of George and Norah Gribble of Eaton Square London and Kingston Russell House, Dorset. On the 9th March he was christened at Holy Trinity Church Chelsea. Educated at Eaton from the age of ten from where initially sought a career in the Royal Navy but instead entered the RMC Sandhurst where he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and posted in early 1915 to Albany Barracks on the Isle of Wight. During the winter of 1915-16 he was placed in charge of a thirty-man gun battery at Culver Down. In April 1916 he was sent to France and participated in the Battle of the Somme until October, when suffering from trench fever he was evacuated to the United Kingdom. After a few weeks convalescence he returned to the Isle of Wight and from there he joined the 10th (Service) Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a Lieutenant (Temporary Captain) and served on the Western Front throughout 1917.
 
On the 21st March the Germans launched their Spring Offensive - the Kaiserschlact. The 10th Royal Warwicks were part of 57th Brigade and occupied reserve positions when the offensive began. They were moved forward and deployed in positions north-east of the village of Vélu approximately 4½ miles from Bapaume. By the end of the first day the Germans had captured the villages of Longicourt and Doignies and moved on to occupy positions close to Vélu. After a day of a fighting withdrawal from their original position the 10th Royal Warwicks dug-in behind the rear of the British defensive line along the Hermies Ridge at Beaumetz. They received instructions during the evening that they had been placed under the command of the 154th Brigade and ordered to hold their position at all costs.
 
On the 22nd March the Germans subjected the British line to intensive artillery fire forcing the British defenders to retire. The following day the Germans continued their advance and by mid-morning they had penetrated the British rear line and were able to get behind positions occupied by the 8th Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment who were in a salient. They were forced to retire and form a new defensive left-facing flank along the Vélu-Lebucquière railway facing Vélu Wood. During this period of intense fighting Captain M.A. James M.C. was awarded the VC for conspicuous bravery during the fighting in Vélu Wood.
 
Shortly after mid-day the Germans were observed entering Vélu Wood in large numbers. The British plan was to contain the Germans in the wood for as long as possible and prevent them from gaining the higher ground thus allowing the British troops to withdraw to the new defensive line. The 10th Royal Warwicks continued to hold their position on Hermies Ridge and Captain Gribble reported to his HQ that the British troops were being forced back, but that he and his 'D' Company were holding on. This they resolutely did until the enemy overwhelmed them. Although he had sent a runner to a nearby company on his left with a message that he would remain and hold the position no further orders were forthcoming. His company sustained heavy casualties and when was the only officer left standing he allowed those of his men who could to retire. Six men remained with him. Inevitably they became isolated and Captain Gribble wounded by a bullet to his head collapsed unconscious. His company had delayed the enemy from gaining possession of the ridge and allowed large numbers of troops and three batteries of artillery to successfully withdraw.
 
The Germans presumed that Captain Gribble was dead and removed personal items from his body but later it was noticed that he was still alive and was taken prisoner. Hospitalised in Germany he gradually made a recovery and was transferred to a prison at Mainz Castle. His family at Kingston Russell House were informed in April that Captain Gribble had been reported as 'missing' and his Colonel wrote that he was "proud of Captain Gribble and of his men who behaved splendidly and stuck it to the very last moment."
 
During this period of the war Germany's civilian population were facing starvation and prisoners of war had to endure similar privations with little food or comforts. It was during his captivity that Captain Gribble and his fellow prisoners heard the news that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his courage and devotion to duty on Hermies Ridge. The announcement was published in the London Gazette of the 28th June 1918:- "Julian Royds Gribble, Lieutenant (Temporary Captain), 10th (Service) Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. Captain Gribble was in command of the right company of the battalion when the enemy attacked and his orders were to hold on to the last. His company was eventually entirely isolated, though he could easily have withdrawn them at one period when the rest of the battalion on his left were driven back to a secondary position. His right flank was 'in the air' owing to the withdrawal of all troops of a neighbouring division. By means of a runner to the company on his left, he intimated his determination to hold on till other orders were received from Battalion Headquarters and this he inspired his command to accomplish. His company was eventually surrounded by the enemy at close range and he was seen fighting to the last. By his splendid example of grit, Captain Gribble was materially instrumental in preventing for some hours the enemy obtaining a complete mastery of the crest of the ridge and by his magnificent self-sacrifice he enabled the remainder of his own brigade to be withdrawn as well as another garrison and three batteries of field artillery."
 
A few days before the Armistice in November 1918 Captain Gribble became ill and was confined to the prison hospital where he died shortly after midnight in the presence of the Reverend Scalon on the 25th November, aged 21 from pneumonia. He lies buried in Niederzwehren Cemetery, Kassel, Germany. Grave Location: Section III, Row F, Grave No.4.
 
In September 1919 Captain Gribble's father received from Brigadier-General L.D. Jackson, Officer Commanding No.3 Area Southern Command his son's Victoria Cross at a ceremony at Kingston Russell House.
 
The house had been purchased by George Gribble in 1913 which was virtually then a ruin and restored the property and added additional buildings. Julian's mother was heartbroken at the death of her son and in 1919 visited her son's grave in Germany. Nora's grief was compounded by the earlier death of her daughter Lesley and her health gradually began to decline. She wrote 'The Book of Julian' published in 1923 in memory of her gallant son. She died later that year and her husband, George four years later. Philip the elder son sold Kingston Russell House in 1927.
 
Captain Gribble V.C., is commemorated on the Roll of Honour in St. Peter's Church, Long Bredy, at St. Martin's Church, Preston, Hertfordshire and in the chapel of the RMC Sandhurst. Ephemera relating to Captain Julian Gribble was auctioned in 1995 and a letter written by him as a prisoner of war to his family says: 'It is shameful being prisoner - I never thought it would happen - but D Company fought to the end, after all the officers were hit."
 
In 1958 Julian Gribbles Victoria Cross was lost in a house fire at his brother's home at Wamil Hall, near Mildenhall, Suffolk. A replica is on display in the regimental museum at Warwick.