Personal info

  • Name: John Hollington GRAYBURN
  • D.O.B: 30th Jan, 1918
  • D.O.A: 20th Sep, 1944
  • D.O.D: 20th Sep, 1944
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Lieutenant, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry attached 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps, 1st Parachute Brigade
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Arnhem, The Netherlands 17-25 September 1944

17-25 September 1944

More details about:
The Second World War 1944 

As the Allies advanced through Belgium towards Germany, on 17 September 1944 they launched Operation Market Garden. This was an attempt by the British 2nd Army to push north through the Netherlands and thus circumvent the Siegfried Line that ran along the German frontier to Cleves (Kleve), just east of the Dutch town of Nijmegen. The success of the plan depended on the capture of strategic bridges over the major rivers that intersected the route. That over the Meuse (Maas) at Grave was taken on 17 September and that over the Waal, the main branch of the River Rhine, at Nijmegen on the 20th. However, the airborne troops who were dropped to capture the bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem to the north faced insurmountable odds, not least from two SS Panzer Divisions regrouping in the immediate area. The British secured a bridgehead to the north of the river but could not capture the southern end of the bridge. They held out at the northern end until the 21st. This hindered German reinforcements being sent south to Nijmegen. However, the failure to capture that bridge until the 20th meant that Allied forces could not come to their aid. They were penned into an enclave west of Oosterbeek, just to the west of Arnhem. On the 25th the survivors were brought back across the Lower Rhine by Allied forces who had by this time reached the opposite bank. Arnhem itself was not finally captured until 14 April 1945.


 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. The 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 20th 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. 

Supplement to The London Gazette of 23 January 1945. 25 January 1945, Numb. 36907, pp. 561-62

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