John Hollington Grayburn was born in India on the 30th January 1918, son of Mr & Mrs L M Grayburn, of Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire. He was educated at Sherborne School and joined the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. At the outbreak of World War II he volunteered for service and joined the 43rd (Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire) Regiment, seeing service in North Africa and Italy before volunteering for the airborne forces.
Following his airborne training Lieutenant Grayburn was posted as a Platoon Commander in the 2nd Bn., The Parachute Regiment. On the 17th of September he parachuted into Holland with his battalion as part of ‘Operation Market Garden’. His Platoon’s task was to seize and hold the bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem. By nightfall the north end of bridge was secure, but the south side was in German hands. Lt Grayburn’s platoon was ordered to assault and capture the far end of the bridge. As he led his men forward they came under immediate enemy fire from 20mm, rifle and machine guns, almost at once Grayburn was wounded in the shoulder. With heavy casualties, and without cover, the platoon dashed forward. Seeing the hopelessness of the action they were forced to retreat. Lt Grayburn directed the withdrawal, and remained exposed to fire whilst ensuring that all the survivors got back off the bridge and into cover.
Following the abortive attack his platoon were ordered to occupy and defend a house which was key to holding the northern end the bridge. Throughout the 18th and 19th of September Grayburn’s position was under almost constant attack from infantry, mortars and machine guns. That the house did not fall must be attributed to Grayburn’s fortitude, courage and inspiring leadership. By now wounded for a second time, he still personally moved about the building, seemingly oblivious to the danger, encouraging and willing his men to fight. On the 19th he personally commanded a local counter attack which drove off German infantry who had infiltrated the position. By the 20th of September, all the houses on the north side of the bridge were on fire and German tanks had completely surrounded the position. The decision was made to make a fighting withdrawal back to the British main position at Oosterbeek.
Grayburn, by now was in command of a ragged assortment of survivors. Many were wounded, and they came from all parts of the force including engineers and signallers. At nightfall Grayburn began the hazardous task of leading his men back through the enemy to friendly lines. In the darkness the group fought a number of short but vicious engagements, and in one of these, John Grayburn was killed. His body was never recovered and he has no known grave. He is remembered on the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Memorial.
For his efforts he recieved the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour possible. The full citation for Grayburn's Victoria Cross appeared in a supplement to the London Gazette on 23 January 1945, reading:
War Office, 25th January, 1945.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to: —
Lieutenant John Hollington Grayburn (149002), Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps (Chalfont St. Giles).
For supreme courage, leadership and devotion to duty.
Lieutenant Grayburn was a platoon commander of the Parachute Battalion which was dropped on 17th September, 1944, with the task of seizing and holding the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem.
North end of the bridge was captured and, early in the night, Lieutenant Grayburn was ordered to assault and capture the Southern end with his platoon. He led his platoon on to the bridge and began the attack with the utmost determination, but the platoon was met by a hail of fire from two 20 mm. quick firing guns, and from the machine guns of an armoured car. Almost at once Lieutenant Grayburn was shot through the shoulder. Although there was no cover on the bridge, and in spite of his wound, Lieutenant Grayburn continued to press forward with the greatest dash and bravery until casualties became so heavy that he was ordered to withdraw. He directed the withdrawal from the bridge personally and was himself the last man to come off the embankment into comparative cover.
Later, his platoon was ordered to occupy a house which was vital to the defence of the bridge and he personally organised the occupation of the house.
Throughout the next day and night the enemy made ceaseless attacks on the house, using not only infantry with mortars and machine guns but also tanks and self-propelled guns. The house was very exposed and difficult to defend and the fact that it did not fall to the enemy must be attributed to Lieutenant Grayburn's great courage and inspiring leadership. He constantly exposed himself to the enemy's fire while moving among, and encouraging, his platoon, and seemed completely oblivious to danger.
On 19th September, 1944, the enemy renewed his attacks, which increased in intensity, as the house was vital to the defence of the bridge. All attacks were repulsed, due to Lieutenant Grayburn's valour and skill in organising and encouraging his men, until eventually the house was set on fire and had to be evacuated.
Lieutenant Grayburn then took command of elements of all arms, including the remainder of his own company, and re-formed them into a fighting force. He spent the night organising a defensive position to cover the approaches to the bridge.
On 20 September 1944, he extended his defence by a series of fighting patrols which prevented the enemy" gaining access to the houses in the vicinity, the occupation of which would have prejudiced the defence of the bridge. This forced the enemy to bring up tanks which brought Lieutenant Grayburn's positions under such heavy fire that he was forced to withdraw to an area farther North. The enemy now attempted to lay demolition charges under the bridge and the situation was critical. Realising this, Lieutenant Grayburn organised and led a fighting patrol which drove the enemy off temporarily, and gave time for the fuzes to be removed. He was again wounded, this time in the back, but refused to be evacuated.
Finally, an enemy tank, against which Lieutenant Grayburn had no defence, approached so close to his position that it became untenable. He then stood up in full view of the tank and personally directed the withdrawal of his men to the main defensive perimeter to which he had been ordered.
He was killed that night.
From the evening of September 17th until the night of September 20th, 1944, a period of over three days, Lieutenant Grayburn led his men with supreme gallantry and determination. Although in pain and weakened by his wounds, short of food and without sleep, his courage never flagged. There is no doubt that, had it not been for this officer's inspiring leadership and personal bravery, the Arnhem bridge could never have been held for this time.
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