Julian Grenfell

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


Early life

Julian Grenfell was born at 4 St James's Square, London. He was the first son and heir of Lord Desborough and Ethel Priscilla Fane.

He was educated at Eton College 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

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, there was published in The Times for the first time his most famous poem 'Into Battle'.

In a letter that was written in 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." [2]This letter became infamous when its publication sparked a backlash of arguments that it was naive and that it strengthened propaganda in the media, which had led to thousands of young men signing up to the British Army, under false pretences.

Grenfell perhaps represented the last generation of young men for whom war was considered mainly to bring glory rather than suffering. Scholars have argued that had he lived, Grenfell might well have become disillusioned like his fellow war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. The latter referred ironically to how young warriors' "wounds in umentionable places" reduced their romantic warrior status in the eyes of young women.

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 Poet's Corner[3]. 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."[4]

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