Memories of William Henry Grimbaldeston VC
19/9/89 – 13/8/59
I was born in 1950 so my memories of Grandad are of an older man. We lived in Leamington Spa, and Dad used to drive us up to Blackburn a few times a year. 49 Bold Street, where he and Grandma lived. It was a two up two down, with an outside privy. It was on a cobbled hill, and I remember my dad putting bricks under the car wheels, to stop it rolling away.
Grandad was one of 12 children, born in Blackburn. He worked as a weaver in a cotton mill, in his early years, before the war, and in his spare time enjoyed boxing and weight lifting. He joined the 1st East Lancashire Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery Territorial Force as a Gunner, and earned a reputation as a good marksman. When the KOSB came recruiting in Blackburn, a month after the war started, he enlisted as a Private. His leadership qualities were soon recognised, and he became a Sergeant, before leaving for France on 10th July 1915.
Grandma was agoraphobic, which meant that Grandad’s life was quite restricted. He was a gentle man, who liked to play counting games with my sister and me. It was always a challenge, because he had lost part of one of his fingers on his left hand. The 3rd finger of his left hand was amputated after the battle of Loos in 1915, and he was in hospital for 6 months, before being returned to the front line.
When Grandad was invited to the Victoria Cross Centenary Parade in Hyde Park on 26th June 1956, my mother went as his escort, and I went too. I remember hazily, as a five-year-old, sitting in tiered seating, watching the men march past, and then we went to a Lyons Corner House for an ice cream afterwards. There is a story that after he won the VC, when a childhood friend used to come to tea, the highlight would be if he could be persuaded to retell the story of how he won the medal, because at the end he would produce the gun of the German Officer, who had surrendered to him.
The way in which the story was retold always suggested that he took some considerable personal risk, in order to give the Germans an opportunity to surrender. Grandad was mustard gassed, at Passchendaele, the day after his VC exploits, and was released from hospital, so that he could receive his VC from King George V on 20th October 1917. He was never a very well man, but he worked for Blackburn Council, as the mace bearer, and also for the Trustee Savings Bank, before his retirement at the age of 60 in 1949.
Our son, Robert Pitt, has all of the memorabilia for his Great-Grandfather, William Henry Grimbaldeston, including the set of miniature medals. One really interesting memento is the programme from the dinner, after the Centenary Parade, which was signed on the back by the VCs on his table. Unfortunately, we have very few photos of Grandad. Robert has the official portrait of him hanging in his study. We know that postcards made from this were given out by the KOSB museum in Berwick.
Lilian Pitt March 2017 –Grand Daughter
Extract from the London Gazette:
“No. 13531 Sjt. (actg. C.Q.M.S.) William H. Grimbaldeston, K.O. Sco. Bord. (Blackburn). For most conspicuous bravery -in attack. Noticing that the unit, on his left, was held up by enemy machine gun fire from a blockhouse, though wounded, he collected a small party to fire rifle grenades on this blockhouse. He then got a volunteer to assist him with rifle fire. In spite of very heavy fire from the blockhouse, he pushed on towards it, and made for the entrance, from which he threatened with a hand grenade the machine gun teams inside -the blockhouse. These he foirced to surrender, one after another. The extraordinary courage and boldness of C.Q.M.S. Grimbaldeston resulted in his capturing thirty-six prisoners, six machine guns and one trench mortar, and enabled the whole line to continue.”
“Always a Borderer”