Julian Grenfell

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Julian Grenfell
Julian Grenfell (For Remembrance) cropped.jpg
Julian Grenfell in military uniform including his DSO ribbon
Born(1888-03-30)30 March 1888
Westminster, London, England
Died26 May 1915(1915-05-26) (aged 27)
Boulogne, Pas-de-Calais, France
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Dragoons
Years of service1910–1915
Battles/warsWorld War I
AwardsDistinguished Service Order
RelationsCaptain Francis Octavius Grenfell VC (cousin)

Julian Henry Francis Grenfell DSO (30 March 1888 – 26 May 1915) was a British soldier and poet of World War I.

Early life[edit]

Julian Grenfell was born at 4 St James's Square, London, the eldest son of William Grenfell, later Baron Desborough, and Ethel Priscilla Fane, daughter of Julian Fane. He was educated at Eton where he was good friends with Denys Finch Hatton, and latterly with Patrick Shaw-Stewart. From Eton he went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where he bullied Philip Sassoon by cracking a stock whip within inches of his head.[1]

Military service[edit]

Grenfell joined the army in 1910 and was awarded a Distinguished Service Order in 1914. On 13 May 1915 as a Captain in the Royal Dragoons Julian stood talking with other officers, a shell landed a few yards from them, and a splinter of the shell hit him in the head. He was taken to a hospital in Boulogne where he died of his wounds 13 days later with his mother, father and sister at his bedside. He was 27 years old and was buried at the Boulogne Eastern Cemetery. The day after his death, together with news of his death, his most famous poem Into Battle was published for the first time, in The Times.

In a letter from October 1914, Grenfell wrote "I adore war. ... It is like a big picnic but without the objectivelessness of a picnic. I have never been more well or more happy. ... It just suits my stolid health and stolid nerves and barbaric disposition. The fighting-excitement vitalizes everything, every sight and action. One loves one's fellow man so much more when one is bent on killing him."[2][3] This contrasts with the work of later war poets such as Siegfried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen, but it should be remembered that Grenfell was a professional soldier, and, in any event, many British veterans of the war rejected the idea that Sassoon and Owen spoke for them.[4] Historian Max Hastings says of Grenfell that he was "idolised by his peers for reasons mystifying to posterity."[3]

Julian's younger brother Gerald William (Billy) Grenfell was killed in action on 30 July 1915 within a mile of where Julian had been wounded.


On 11 November 1985, Grenfell was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner.[5] The inscription on the stone was written by a fellow Great War poet, Wilfred Owen. It reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."[6]

Awards and honours[edit]

  • 1 January 1915 - Lieutenant The Honourable Julian Henry Francis Grenfell, 1st (Royal) Dragoons is appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order in recognition of service with the Expeditionary Force - On 17 November he succeeded in reaching a point behind the enemy's trenches and making an excellent reconnaissance, furnishing early information of a pending attack by the enemy.[7]



  1. ^ Literary Review, August 2008, p. 29.
  2. ^ Hollander, Neil (2013). Elusive dove: the search for peace during World War I. Jefferson NC: McFarland. p. 191. ISBN 9780786478910.
  3. ^ a b Hastings, Max (2013) Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War. New York: Vintage. pp. 527–528. ISBN 978-0-307-74383-1
  4. ^ Hastings, Max (2013) Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War. New York: Vintage. p.546. ISBN 978-0-307-74383-1
  5. ^ "Poets". Net.lib.byu.edu. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  6. ^ "World War I poets". Net Library BYU. Retrieved 10 June 2009.
  7. ^ "No. 29024". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1915. p. 9.


  • Mosley, Nicholas (1976) Julian Grenfell: His Life and the Times of his Death

External links[edit]