Francis Grenfell

Francis Grenfell : First World War

Francis Grenfell, and his twin brother Rivy Grenfell, were born at Hatchlands, near Guildford, on 5th September 1880. When he was fourteen he followed family tradition by going to Eton. A keen sportsman, in 1899 he scored 80 runs at Lords in a cricket match against Harrow School.

In 1899 Grenfell joined the British Army. After serving with the Seaforth Highlanders in Egypt he was commissioned in the the King's Royal Rifle Corps. In 1901 he went to South Africa and fought in the Boer War. Later he joined the crack cavalry regiment, the 9th Lancers in India.

On the outbreak of the First World War Captain Grenfell and the 9th Lancers were sent to France. So also was his twin brother, Rivy Grenfell, who had joined the Bucks Hussars.

On 16th August, Grenfell and the men under his command were sent out to carry out reconnaissance in the Harmignies area of Belgium. After returning to base Grenfell took part in the Battle of Mons. During the battle the 9th Lancers were ordered to charge the German gun positions. Hit by a hail of machine-gun fire, shelling and rifle fire, casualties were heavy. When they reassembled on the outskirts of Elouges they discovered that than had suffered over 80 casualties.

Later that day Grenfell and a small group of his men volunteered to try and rescue the men of the 119 Field Battery who were in danger of being captured by the Germans. The operation was successful but Grenfell was badly wounded and was taken by his friend, the Duke of Westminster, in his Rolls Royce to the nearby town of Bavai where he was treated by French nuns in a convent hospital.

Grenfell recovered from his wounds and was awarded the Victoria Cross for the role he played in saving the 119 Field Battery. While Francis was in hospital he heard that his twin brother, Rivy Grenfell, had been killed on the Western Front.

In October 1914, Grenfell returned to France as Squadron Commander of the 9th Lancers. He was seriously wounded a few weeks later and was shipped back to England for treatment. By the spring of 1915 he had recovered and on 7th April he had a farewell dinner with his close friends, Winston Churchill and John Buchan.

Francis Grenfell was sent to Ypres and on 24th May endured the first German chlorine gas attack on the Western Front. The following day Grenfell was shot and killed on the Ypres-Menin road. Grenfell was one of the 208 casualties out of the 350 men in the 9th Lancers who had taken part in the action that day.

Primary Sources

(1) An American journalist, Frederic Coleman, was with the 9th Lancers on 25th May, 1915.

As the sun went down that evening their comrades of the 9th Lancers buried the bodies of Francis Grenfell and Algy Court. Court's face wore a smile, as though he was quietly sleeping. Grenfell, shot through the heart at the height of the battle, bore, too, a look of deep peace, as if at last he had cheerfully gone to a better country, to join his beloved Rivy, from the shock of whose death, on the Aisne, Francis had never recovered.

(2) Last words of Captain Francis Grenfell (25th May, 1915)

I die happy. Tell the men I love my squadron.