Francis and Riversdale Grenfell

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Francis Octavius (left) and Riversdale Nonus Grenfell were twin sons born to Pascoe du Pre and Sophia Grenfell on 4 September 1880. On leaving Eton College in 1899 Francis wished to pursue a career in the Army and Riversdale, ‘Rivy’ chose a business career but trained with the Buckinghamshire Hussars.

In October 1900 Francis joined the Seaforth Highlanders in Egypt and was subsequently commissioned into the 60th Battalion (Kings Royal Rifle Corps). In 1901 he was sent to Malta and later that year he sailed with his regiment to South Africa towards the end of the Boer War, returning to England in February 1903. In November Francis was with the 60th in India but was keen to join a cavalry regiment where he could indulge his expertise as a horseman -he was a very fine polo player, in fact both brothers were, and played with distinction in England, India and South Africa, and both were injured in riding accidents. In May 1905 Francis achieved his ambition and joined the 9th/12th Lancers. On the outbreak of war ‘Rivy’ transferred to the 9th/12th Lancers to join his brother.

The twins embarked for France in August 1914 arriving near Mons in Belgium on the 21st. Three days later was to be the first day of the retreat from Mons and Francis was in charge of B Squadron. During the fighting that took place he was wounded and had his horse shot from under him.

Subsequently the 9th Lancers were ordered to charge German gun positions and although suffering heavy losses achieved their objective of giving necessary time to others who were able to retreat from Mons. Later in the day Francis offered to lead a volunteer group of officers and men to assist a field battery remove their guns under heavy fire, during which time he was again wounded. For his action in organizing the saving of the guns and for his earlier bravery against the German machine guns he was awarded the Victoria Cross.  As one of the earliest recipients, if not the first, VC of the War the citation was gazetted on 16 September 1914 and read:

‘For gallantry in action against unbroken infantry at Andregnies, Belgium, on 24th August 1914, and for gallant conduct in assisting to save the guns of the 119th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, near Doubon the same day.’         

 Whilst Francis was recovering from his wounds in England, ‘Rivy’ was still serving in France acting as a galloper courageously carrying messages whilst under fire between senior officers.  On 14 September he was back with the 9th and while directing fire on German positions was shot in the head and killed. He was buried nearby in the cemetery at Vendresse Churchyard.

In October 1914 Francis had recovered from his wounds and returned to France to take command of B Squadron and at the end of the month was wounded again and returned to England. He had been deeply affected by the death of his twin brother and many of their friends.

 In April 1915 the regiment was involved in the Second Battle of Ypres where gas was used for the first time on the Western Front. During the battle on May 24th Francis was shot and died shortly afterwards and was buried at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery. On that day the 9th/12th Lancers suffered 208 casualties out of the 350 men who went into battle.

The twins, who both reached the rank of Captain, are commemorated at Canterbury Cathedral and on a stained glass window at Beaconsfield parish church. Their medals which can be seen at are in the possession of the 9th/12th Lancers (Prince of Wales) Regimental Headquarters.

VC’s of the First World War, Gerald Gidden
Francis and Riversdale Grenfell, John Buchan
The photograph is reproduced from the book ”Francis and Riversdale Grenfell’ by John Buchan published by Thomas Nelson & Sons.