|John Hollington Grayburn [1918-1944]|
Grayburn who had gone to Sherborne School commanded No.2 Platoon,
of The Parachute Regiments A Company, and it was these men who were
selected to spearhead the Company's, and consequently the 2nd
Battalion's, thrust to Arnhem Bridge. Nearing Oosterbeek, No.2 Platoon
arrived at a T-Junction and Jack Grayburn seemed to be unclear as to
which of the two roads to take. He chose the northern one, and shortly
after, the platoon behind him came under loose rifle and mortar fire
from the woodland ahead. Grayburn ordered a smokescreen to be laid down
while he led a charge to clear the enemy away. It did not take long, and
the Battalion was able to press on.
At approximately 8pm on Sunday 17th, Grayburn and his men were first to reach the northern end of the Arnhem Road Bridge. With no opposition to speak of, A Company quickly positioned itself underneath and around the ramp leading to the Bridge, with No.2 Platoon directed onto the embankment itself, with men on either side of the road. Occasional German vehicles passed over the Bridge, directly between No.2 Platoon's positions. However nothing was done to impede them as the Airborne presence at the Bridge was still rather small, and so remaining undetected was more important at this stage that challenging harmless targets.
A very small detachment from No.3 Platoon made an attempt to capture the southern end of Arnhem Bridge, but withdrew after a brief exchange of fire. A Company's commander, Major Tatham-Warter, ordered Jack Grayburn's platoon to make a stronger attack. With the rest of the Company ordered to provide covering fire, No.2 Platoon, with their faces blackened and boots muffled by strips of curtains, moved across both sides of the Bridge in single file, using the iron sides to camouflage their attack. However they had only progressed a short distance before they were fired on at point blank range by 20mm guns in a pill box, and also an armoured car from the southern approaches to the Bridge. Heavy casualties were sustained, and Grayburn himself was immediately hit in the shoulder. Nevertheless he urged his men on and led a daring dash across the Bridge until losses were so high that he had to withdraw. Directing men to positions, Grayburn was the last man to leave the Bridge.
No.2 Platoon were positioned in a house next to the Bridge approach, one that was vital to the defence of the Perimeter, and also one badly exposed to enemy fire. Very heavy attacks were mounted on this position, with the Germans using anything from infantry to tanks and self-propelled guns to evict the defenders, but Grayburn's men held firm despite their severe losses. Grayburn even organised a number of fighting patrols to drive enemy infantry out of the area and force them to bring their tanks into play once more. Eventually the building was set on fire and the platoon had to evacuate. Grayburn organised defences in the rubble and the surrounding area, encouraging his men as he went, and uncaringly exposing himself to enemy fire as he did so. He also continued to lead fighting patrols against enemy infantry who had occupied buildings in the vicinity.
On Wednesday 20th, the Germans attempted to destroy Arnhem Bridge. Grayburn led another charge and forced the enemy to flee while Royal Engineers removed the fuses. During this action, Grayburn received a further wound, this time to his back. He was in considerable pain and would not have been refused permission to leave the battlefield, but with a bandage on his head and his arm in a sling, he continued to command No.2 Platoon with great spirit. On Wednesday night, another attempt was made to destroy the Bridge, but this time a tank was moved onto it in support. Grayburn once again led a patrol onto the Bridge to remove the actual charges. His men suffered terrible casualties in doing so, but the charges were removed and Lieutenant Grayburn ordered the withdrawal. In doing so, he fearlessly stood up in full view of the tank and directed men to fresh positions. It was a final act of selfless bravery that cost him his life as he was riddled with bullets at point blank range from the tank's machinegun.
Jack Grayburn's body was not found until 1948, but his actions were described in a report wrote after the battle by Major Tatham-Warter. The report led to Jack Grayburn being posthumously promoted to Captain, and awarded the Victoria Cross for his unparalleled devotion to duty. There is little doubt that without this officer's personal involvement in the battle, Arnhem Bridge could not have been held for as long as it was.
Jack Grayburn's Vicroria Cross is on Public Display ath the Airborne Forces Museum (Aldershot, Hampshire, England)