Remember. Captain Julian Royds GRIBBLE V.C. Attached to the 10th Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Died as a Prisoner of War on the 25th November 1918 aged 21.
Julian Royds Gribble was born on the 5th January 1897, the son of George James and Norah Gribble (nee Royds), of Kingston Russell House, Dorset. He was educated at Eton School and when the First World War began he transferred to the officer’s training school at Sandhurst. In early 1915 Julian was commissioned as a lieutenant in The Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was posted to train recruits at Albany Barracks, Parkhurst, Isle of Wight. 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 during The Battle of the Somme. In October he was sent home as sick with “trench fever”. Although it was recommended that he took three months rest he reported back to Parkhurst after just four weeks. 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. He spent the winter of his twentieth birthday in the mud, frosts and floods of Flanders and served throughout the Battle of Passchendaele.
In the darkest hours of March 21st 1918 the unsuspecting British Third and Fifth Armies were shocked by the most intense 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 Warwickshire’s were in reserve in the Third Army when the German barrage began. Behind the creeping barrage 76 German divisions, equivalent to the entire British Army in France, 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.
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 Third Army began to break down as it joined the Fifth Army in a fighting retreat. The next morning, as Julian reported the Germans were 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 and by 12.30 just D Company was left holding onto the top of the ridge. When it became obvious that 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”. The Kaiser’s Battle lasted just two weeks and 425,000 men fell on all sides in a battle that is now almost entirely forgotten.
The Citation for his part in this action is found in the London Gazette dated 25th June 1918;
"For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. Capt. 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 rear he intimated his determination to hold on until 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. His subsequent fate is unknown. By his splendid example of grit, Capt. Gribble was materially instrumental in preventing for some hours the enemy obtaining a complete mastery of the crest of 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."
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. The First World War finally came to an end after the German Revolution of October 1918. 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 is buried in the Niederzwehren Cemetery, Germany.