May 23, 2013

Finest Hour 147, Summer 2010


Page 51

Books, Arts & Curiosities – Into Battle: Who Was Julian Grenfell?

The fighting man shall from the sun Take warmth, and life from the glowing earth; Speed with the light-foot wind to run, And with the trees to newer birth, And find when fighting shall be done, Great rest, and fullness after dearth.
—JULIAN GRENFELL, FLANDERS, APRIL 1915

National WWI Museum and Memorial, Kansas City

2022 International Churchill Conference

Join us at the National WWI Museum for the 39th International Churchill Conference. Kansas City, October 6-8, 2022

By James Lancaster

Mr. Lancaster is the contributor of theChurchill Quiz department and other articles.


When Into Battle, Churchill’s first collection of war speeches, reached its sixth printing in April 1941, the above lines from Julian Grenfell’s poem “Into Battle” appeared on the title page. As Ronald Cohen explains overleaf, they continued in each successive printing.

It is not surprising that Winston Churchill chose lines from a well-known poet of the Great War for his first volume of war speeches. In many of his books he sometimes opens a chapter with some verse or recognisable quotation. The best example is the first volume of The World Crisis, published in 1923, where all twenty-one chapters start with a quotation in verse or prose.

Grenfell’s work was not new to Churchill’s books in 1941. In 1927, when WSC came to publish The World Crisis 1916-1918, he opened the final chapter XXIII with the six lines of Grenfell’s “Into Battle” quoted above, followed by the four lines of the tenth and last stanza:

The thundering line of battle stands, And in the air Death moans and sings; But Day shall clasp him with strong hands, And Night shall fold him in soft wings.

These quotations mark Churchill’s recollections of a brave soldier-poet. Julian Henry Francis Grenfell (1888-1915), a Captain in the Royal Dragoons, was twice mentioned in espatches in the early months of the war, and received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). He died in the field.

On 13 May 1915 near Ypres, eight miles north of Churchill’s station at Ploegsteert (“Plug Street”), Grenfell was hit by the splinter of a shell which penetrated one and a half inches into his brain. The next day he was moved to a hospital in Boulogne-sur-Mer. His parents hastened from England, and were joined by his sister Monica who was attached to the British hospital in Wimereux, on the coast two miles north of Boulogne. His brother Billy, stationed near Hooge Wood, two and one-half miles east of Ypres on the Menin Road, was given leave to visit him. He underwent two operations, but on May 25th he asked his mother to “Hold my hand till I go.” He died the next day, aged only 27. On the 28th The Times reported his death, and published posthumously his poem, written only a few weeks before.

Churchill had fond personal memories of Julian and his parents dating back to 1901, through a family connection. Lilian Spencer-Churchill (1873-1951, second daughter of the Eighth Duke of Marlborough and Winston’s cousin), had married Colonel Cecil Grenfell in 1898. Julian’s father was William Henry Grenfell, who married the beautiful Ethel Anne Priscilla Fane, a granddaughter of the Sixth Earl Cowper. William and “Ettie” Grenfell lived at Taplow Court, the 85-acre family estate on the Thames near Maidenhead. It was there that Winston was often invited following his return from the Boer War. We know from his appointments diary that he visited the Grenfells at Taplow Court on four occasions in 1901.

Ettie greatly enjoyed Winston’s company, his wit and his vivacity. On one occasion at Taplow in 1904 he arrived late for Ettie’s first party for Julian, his brother Billy and other boys from Eton. Winston went to join the boys on the river, only to be thrown into the Thames, where he “swam composedly in his greatcoat, spats and top hat.”

In 1905 William Grenfell was made first Baron Desborough, and in 1913 Ettie inherited the Cowper family’s 662-acre Panshanger estate in Hertfordshire, which Churchill also visited. As Ronald Cohen notes in his Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill, she was a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Mary from 1911 to 1916.

Alas the Great War brought two bitter blows. Julian died in May 1915, followed two short months later by their second son Billy, serving as a Second Lieutenant in the Eighth Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. On 30 July he was leading his platoon in a charge within a mile of where Julian had been wounded; the machine-gun fire was so intense that his body was never recovered.

Billy Grenfell, along with his elder brother Julian, is one of the 342 Etonians who lost their lives in the Ypres salient in the Great War, and his name is one of 54,896 names inscribed in stone on the wall of the Menin Gate British Memorial to those who “have no known grave.” Julian was buried in the Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, which I visited in September 2008 with my wife Lydia. The Commonwealth War Graves inscription reads:

GRENFELL, Captain, JULIAN HENRY FRANCIS, D.S.O., 1st (Royal) Dragoons. Died of wounds (received near Ypres, 13th May) 26 May 1915. Age 27. Son of Lord and Lady Desborough of Taplow Court, Taplow, Bucks., and “Panshanger,” Hertford. One of the war poets. Author of “Into Battle.” His brother Gerald William also fell. Grave Ref. II. A. 18.

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