Lieut.-Colonel George William St. George GROGAN V.C., C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O.
George William St. George Grogan was born in Fifeshire on the 1st September 1875. He was the eldest of sons of Brigadier-General E. G. Grogan, who commanded the 1st Battalion Black Watch in the Boer War.
George was educated at the United Services College, Westward Ho, Devon followed by the Sandhurst Military Academy. On the 5th September 1896 he received his army commission and was made Second Lieutenant in the West India Regiment becoming a Lieutenant on 22nd December 1897. He then saw active service on the West Coast of Africa in 1898-99, first in the Sierra Leone expedition and then in the lagos hinterland.
He was promotted to rank of Captain in 1900 and was employed with the Egyptian Army from May 1902 to May 1907.
On 27th March in 1907 he transferred to the Yorkshire Light Infantry and the following year, on 18th January1908, he transferred to the Worcestershire Regiment.
At the beginning of the First World War he was in Egypt with the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, the Battalion was recalled to England to serve in the 8th Division. In September 1914 he was promotted to Major on the 28th September 1914 and went to France to join the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment in the 2nd Division. In December of that year, while in the trenches in Flanders, he succeeded to command the Battalion, but a week later, on the 6th January 1915 he was seriously wounded.
After recovering from his wounds he returned to France in March 1915 and rejoined the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, which he was appointed to command on the 22nd March 1915, after the battle of Neuve Chapelle. He was given the rank of Temporary Lieutenant Colonel.
On the 1st January 1916 he was created a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George and was mentioned in Despatches.
He fought on the Somme in 1916, and at the successful attack east of Bouchavesnes in March 1917, he won the D.S.O. for his bold and capable leadership, being then given command of the 23rd Brigade in the 8th Division (April 1917) and was given the temporary rank of Brigadier. He led his brigade at Bellewaarde Ridge on the opening day of "Third Ypres" and during the German offensive in March 1918, in the severe engagements upon the Somme, and in the fighting retreat from the river line. At the end of the month at Moreuil, next to the French, he commanded all the surviving infantry of the 8th Division, and for his services throughout these critical days he was awarded a bar to his D.S.O. Then, after being engaged at Villers Bretonneux in April, came the move to the Chemin des Dames front under the French.
Brigadier-General G. W. St. G. Grogan V.C.
Here, when the Germans attacked on 27th May 1918, the 8th Division spent itself in a gallant resistance, he rallied such troops as he could at Le Platrerie, south of the Aisne. He led them back to Roucy and then prepared a new line of defence at Jonchery, along the river Vesle. At Bouleuse ridge on May 28th, he rallied a mixed force of French and British by riding along the front under a heavy fire of all arms. His horse was killed, but he mounted another, and his great bravery undoubtedly saved the day in this part of the field, so that it was most fitting that he should be awarded the Victoria Cross. Throughout the battle his bouyant spirits and remarkable physical endurance had a heartening effect upon all with whom he came in contact.
His citation reads:
"For most conspicuous bravery and leadership throughout three days of intense fighting. Brigadier-General Grogan was, except for a few hours, in command of the remnants of the Infantry of a Division and various attached troops. His action during the whole of the battle can only be described as magnificent. The utter disregard for his personal safety, combined with the sound practical ability which he displayed, materially helped to stay the onward thrust of the
enemy masses. Throughout the third day of operations, a most critical day, he spent his time under artillery, trench mortar, rifle and machine-gun fire, riding up and down the front line encouraging his troops, reorganising those who had fallen into disorder, leading back into the line those who were beginning to retire, and setting such a wonderful example that he inspired with his enthusiasm not only his own men but also the Allied troops who were alongside. As a result the line held and repeated enemy attacks were repulsed.
He had one horse shot under him, but nevertheless continued on foot to encourage his men until another horse was brought.
He displayed throughout the highest valour, powers of command and leadership." (London Gazette 25th July 1918)
Below is an account of how Colonel (T/Brigadier) Grogan won his Victoria Cross.
The Battle of the Aisne (1918)
In March, 1918, the German Armies in France commenced their great offensive which was intended to drive the British forces into the sea. The 8th Division fought gallantly in that great battle, and at the battle of Rosières (March 27th) Colonel Grogan won a bar to his D.S.O. When the great German offensive had come to an end it was decided to send some of the British divisions to the quieter sectors of the front held by the French, in order to give them an opportunity to rest and re-form after their heavy losses and to train the new drafts—young boys straight from school in England—which had replaced those losses. The 8th Division was among those selected to move to the French front, and early in May that Division, including the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment and Colonel Grogan's (23rd) Brigade, reached the area of the French Sixth Army, then holding the line along the banks of the River Aisne—the very area in which the original British Expeditionary Force had battled in 1914.
For many months the front along the Aisne had been quiet—so quiet that it was considered one of the most "peaceful" sectors of the whole front. The French commanders there had been lulled into a feeling of complete security, and their dispositions were ill-adapted to meet a serious attack. The enemy had noted their faulty dispositions, had secretly concentrated a great mass of troops and guns opposite the apparently secure positions, and in the mist before dawn on May 27th a terrific attack was opened.
The German commanders had relied on their overwhelming numbers and on the complete strategic surprise which they had secured to break right through the weak Allied line, to seize the railheads in the rear, and to advance unchecked direct on Paris; and within the first few hours the success of their scheme seemed assured. Their attack, preceded by an overwhelming bombardment and assisted by numerous tanks, completely overran all the prepared positions of the French and British Divisions north of the River Aisne. Every Battalion of the 8th Division was shattered. The 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment (temporarily commanded by Major J. B. F. Cartland because Colonel Davidge was down with influenza and was back at the transport lines), fought magnificently and held up the attack for a full hour. But, after the troops on either flank had been overrun, the trenches of the Battalion were surrounded, and the companies were overwhelmed. Major Cartland and nearly all the officers fell at the head of their men, and only a few survivors succeeded in fighting their way out.
Among the survivors was Colonel Grogan. He had remained at his advanced Brigade Headquarters close behind the fighting line until the enemy advancing through the mist had come within a few yards. Then he and a few of his staff made their way back across the river, rallied a few survivors, and for some time held a bridge, repulsing all attacks until the enemy succeeded in crossing elsewhere and thus forcing him again to withdraw.
When it was realised that the entrenched positions north of the River Aisne had been taken by the enemy, the Allied commanders made desperate efforts to organise a new position along a line of heights south of the River. The only formed troops available were the infantry of three Brigades of the 25th Division, including the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, but there were also a large number of oddments of the 8th Division—cooks, batmen, transport-drivers, and personnel who had been attending classes of instruction. Every man available was brought into the fighting line, and Colonel Davidge, who had raised himself from his sick bed directly the battle began, took command of a strange medley of many regiments, including about a hundred of our 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment.
It was not to be hoped that a position so hastily prepared would be able to hold out long against the victorious enemy, and Colonel Grogan was ordered to go back and select another position further back in case of enforced retreat. The Colonel went back along roads crowded with retreating transport and country-folk, and began to organize a new position on the further side of the River Vesle. That precaution was taken only just in time. Before nightfall the advancing enemy had stormed the heights south of the River Aisne, and the weak remnants of the British forces were compelled to retreat. Colonel Davidge brought back his handful of survivors who retreated from the Aisne half-way to the Vesle during the night, and then endeavoured to hold a position north of Jonchery; but at dawn on May 28th they were again attacked, and were once more compelled to retreat after heavy loss. On their left flank the French had likewise been driven back in rout. The remnants of the Allied armies had been forced out of all their entrenched positions into the open country behind the lines, the triumphant enemy were pursuing in overwhelming numbers, and there was no chance of any large reinforcements arriving for the next two days.
In that desperate situation Colonel Grogan's resource and reckless courage found their best opportunity. During that disastrous morning of May 28th he stationed himself on the bridge over the River Vesle at Jonchery, and as the retreating troops came back in disorder along the roads he checked them at the bridge, rallied them, and organised them to defensive positions along the river bank. His improvised defence held the line of the River Vesle until mid-day, but on their left flank the collapse of the French resistance had enabled the enemy to cross the river at Fismes, and it became necessary again to retire. Colonel Grogan withdrew his command from the river bank to the heights south of Jonchery. The pursuing enemy attacked at sunset and gained a temporary foothold on the highest hill, but by a sharp counter-attack Colonel Grogan's men recovered the lost ground.
That night they lay out on the heights waiting for a fresh attack. There were by that time only about 800 soldiers left under Colonel Grogan's command—mixed survivors of a dozen different regiments. Nearly all were young boys shaken by their awful experiencies in this their first battle. They had been fighting continuously for forty-eight hours against a victorious and overwhelming enemy, without any chance of rest or food; their only support was their own native courage, their regimental spirit, and the stimulating energy of their commander.
During the night the enemy brought up fresh forces, and at dawn (May 29th) their advance was renewed. Allied reinforcements were being hurried up by train or motor-lorry; but as yet none of them had been able to reach the threatened front. If a disaster was to be averted it was essential that Colonel Grogan's overstrained soldiers should hold on for yet another day; and gallantly they endeavoured to maintain their ground. For some hours they held their position south of Jonchery, but on their left flank there were no supporting troops, and the enemy came pressing in to surround them. Colonel Grogan withdrew his men to a fresh position in the "Grande Marlière" ridge north-west of the village of Treslon, and there they held on until afternoon; but the enemy brought up two fresh battalions and a battery of mortars to pound the firing line. After a fierce bombardment by the mortars the German infantry assaulted with the bayonet. By sheer weight of numbers they carried the position, and the survivors of Colonel Grogan's force were driven down the slope and through Treslon village. On the further height beyond, known as the Bouleuse Ridge, Colonel Grogan and Colonel Davidge rallied their troops, and formed a new line. It was vitally necessary to hold back the enemy until darkness fell, and in order to control the situation Colonel Grogan mounted a horse and rode along the hastily-formed firing line, cheering and encouraging his men.
Colonel Grogan mounted a horse and rode along the hastily-formed firing line, cheering and encouraging his men
The advancing Germans came on in great numbers, and attacked with rifle fire, mortars, and machine guns; but miraculously the Colonel was not hit. His horse was shot, but he mounted another and continued to ride along the firing-line, shouting defiance at the enemy, directing the defence, and inspiring all who saw him, both British and French—for some French troops were mixed up in the British line.
The Colonel's reckless bravery saved the day. There was no further retreat. The enemy made two desperate attacks, but each time they were repulsed. To right and left Allied reinforcements were at last coming into the battle, and by nightfall the worst was over. The battle was destined to continue for several more days, but there was no further danger of a complete collapse of the Allied defence.
After dark that night—May 29th-30th—fresh British battalions of the 19th Division took over the position on the Bouleuse ridge, and the exhausted survivors of Colonel Grogan's force were at last relieved. They marched back some little way into reserve, threw themselves down, and slept exhausted. Their three days' ordeal had been as severe a test as any that British troops have undergone, and the splendid fight of those brave remnants of our 1st Battalion deserves to be remembered for ever. For gallantry in that battle Colonel Davidge was awarded a bar to his D.S.O., and Sergeant-major Crump won a bar to his D.C.M., while Colonel Grogan's bravery and fine leadership was rewarded with the highest distinction possible for a British soldier, the Victoria Cross.
Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) & bar
Below are the citations of his Distinguished Service Order awards:
Created a Companion to the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.), Major (T/Lieutenant-Colonel ) George William St George Grogan, Worcestershire Regiment.
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of his battaliion. He visited the captured trenches during the action and gave instructions regarding dispositions and consolidation. He kept the brigade informed of the situation and his reports were of great valaue. The spirit of his battalion owes much to his personal courage and cheerfulness." [London Gazette, 11th May 1917]
Awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.), Major and Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel (T/Brigadier-General ) George William St George Grogan, Worcestershire Regiment.
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion during a long period of active operations. On one occasion, when in command of the left division, it was mainly due to his personal efforts that the line was maintained and extended when troops of the left were withdrawn. Whenever the position became critical he went forward himself to restore the situation, and his splendid example of courage and endurance greatly inspired all ranks." [London Gazette, 26 July 1918]
After the war
Following the end of the First World War he was selected for service in north Russia, assuming command of the 1st Brigade of the Relief Force which went out under Lord Rawlinson to accomplish the evacuation of the Archangel and Murmansk fronts.
On the 3rd June 1919, he was made a companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.
On the 22nd January 1920 he married Ethel Gladys Elgar, eldest daughter of John Elger, at Holy Trinity Church, Upper Chelsea, London. They had two sons Gwyn St. George E. Grogan (born 7th August 1921) and George Edward D. Grogan (born 27th June 1924).
George William St. George Grogan V.C. marries Ethel Gladys Elger
Lieutenant-Colonel Grogan then joined the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment in February 1920 and commanded it til January 1923. He was responsible for bringing the battalion home from India, preparatory to disbandment.
He was appointed A.D.C. to the H.M. King George V from 1920 to 1926.
In October 1923 he reached substantive rank of Colonel and went to Aldershot to command 5th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Division.
Colonel Grogan retired from the army, to the "Reserve of Officer" as an honorary Brigadier-General in 1926.
From 1933 to 1945 he was appointed one of His Majesty's Bodyguard of the Honourabel Corps of Gentlemen at Arms.
When in 1938 he succeeded the late Sir Claud Jacob as Colonel of the Regiment he was destined to serve his tenure throughout the strenuous war years of a the Second World War. With memories of the value of the personal touch in war, he threw himself into the task of encouraging all units of the Regiment whether their duty lay at home or abroad. It would be invidious to single out any particular occasion from the many on which he was prominent in his devotion and interest for the Regiment and its welfare.
On reaching the age limit he finally retired on 28th August 1945, when Brigadier B. C. S. Clarke, D.S.O. assumed the Colonelcy of the Worcestershire Regiment. But he continued to take an active interest in all matters concerning the life of the Regiment, whether administrative or social; and he was last seen participating in the great ceremonial parade on 15th April 1950, at Worcester.
Medals of Brig.-Gen G. W. St. G. Grogan
Companion, Oder of Bath (C.B.)
Companion, Oder of St. Michael & St. George (C.M.G.)
Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) & bar
East and West Africa Medal (1887-1900) with two clasps; "1898" and "Sierra Leone 1898-9"
1914 Star + clasp "5th Aug - 22nd Nov 1914"
British War Medal (1914-20)
Victory Medal (1914-19) with MiD oakleaf
Defence Medal (1939-45)
King George V Silver Jubilee Medal (1935)
King George VI Coronation Medal (1937)
Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953)
Between 1916 and 1920 he had been mentioned-in-despatched a total of 8 times.
The medals have been acquired on loan by the Imperial War Museum and are on display in the Lord Ashcroft V.C. Gallery.
Medal group of Brig.-Gen. George William St. George Grogan V.C., C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O.
The area where Brigadier Grogan's ashes were dispersed on the 9th January 1962
Brigadier-General George Grogan V.C. died at his home in Sunningdale, Berkshire, on the 3rd January 1962 and was cremated at Woking Crematorium, Surrey on the 8th January 1962.
Woking Crematorium Record Card
Lieut.-Colonel C. P. Vaughan, D.S.O., D.L. represented the Colonel of the Worcestershire Regiment at his funeral, at Woking Crematorium, Chapel on the 8th January, 1962.
His ashes were scattered in the Woking Crematorium memorial gardens, South of centre west side Lake Garden (today known as the Tennyson Lake Garden).
A Standard Rosetree "Peace" was also planted in with a named plaque in his memory in the Orchard Lawn Rosebed (today known as "Chaucer") centre left in the memorial gardens at Woking Crematorium.
Sadly today the rosetree and name plaque is no longer there as the lease on the land was never renewed after 1977. Therefore, all sign of his memory have been removed.