Mervyn Bruce Grace was born in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, on 5th August 1889 to Edward Mills Grace and his second wife, Annie Louise Grace [née Robinson] whom he married in 1885. In total Edward Grace, the local GP and Coroner for the district, elder brother of the famous ‘WG’, fathered over a dozen children with four successive wives!
Mervyn was educated at Wellington College1 along with three of his brothers, all of whom were in the 1st XI at one time or other. During his time at the College [circa 1898-1907] his mother died. After completing his education Mervyn then moved to live in Swindon where he was employed as a trainee Engineer working for the Great Western Railway. He used to play cricket for the old Thornbury Club, captained by his father, at Alveston and made two or three centuries in his time there; he also played for the Wanderer’s Club. However, on the death of his father on 20th May 1911 Mervyn went to South Africa for a time returning in late December 1912.
After a brief courtship Mervyn married Dorothy Dale in 1913 and took up a partnership with a motor expert in Great Portland Street, London. The marriage produced two children, Dorothy born in 1914, followed by Marjorie two years later.
On 20th March 1915 Mervyn was commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant into 2/6th Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment) at Harpenden and, along with a sister battalion, was sent over to Ireland in 1916 to help quell the disturbances following the Easter Uprising.
In early 1917 he and his Battalion returned to England where they were based on Salisbury Plain. Orders were soon received to the effect that they should prepare for embarkation with all speed and the advance parties left England on 2nd February, thus missing an inspection by HM The King which took place on 13th February. After a phased arrival in France over 24th/26th February the Battalion fully assembled at MORCOURT on 1st March 1917 and by the month end had consolidated its position at ESTREES-EN-CHAUSSEE where they were billed in the village.
The month of April was spent in such places as BOUCLY, HERVILLY, and JEANCOURT where they made contact with the enemy on several occasions taking casualties in the process.
At the beginning of May the Battalion received orders that they were to move up to a position near NOBESCOURT FARM in readiness for a night-time British attack on the German trenches by ‘A’,’B’ and ‘C’ Companies.
On the evening of Tuesday 8th May 1917 at 9.50pm the attack on the German line commenced whereupon the enemy launched a barrage of heavy and concentrated Machine Gun [MG] fire. First-Lieutenant Mervyn Bruce Grace and the greater part of his platoon from ‘A’ Company, 2/6th Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment) fell within minutes of going ‘over the top’.
Mervyn himself was shot in the arm almost immediately but refused to go back and carried on with the attack but was then shot in the head and died instantaneously. He was 27 years of old and left a widow and two young children. Initially in the fog of war he was reported as ‘missing presumed killed’ and his wife notified accordingly. However, Mervyn’s body was subsequently found and his widow notified: he lies today in the Templeux-Le-Guerard British Cemetery, France. The Battalion casualties for the action that day amounted to: - killed 2, missing 31, died of wounds 1, and wounded 47.
Mervyn’s widow Dorothy received two letters immediately following. The first from his [unnamed] Company Commander:
I hardly like to intrude on your grief, but as your husband’s Company Commander I feel I must write to say how profoundly grieved I am at his loss and how very deeply I feel for you and all his people. As you know he had been in my Company ever since he joined us at Harpenden except for six weeks lately in ‘C’ Company, and he only re-joined ‘A’ Company ten days ago. I was truly glad to get him back as I know how thoroughly he could be relied on and what a good soldier he was. He was i/charge of an attack on Tuesday night and fell, I fear, within a few minutes of going over, together with the greater part of his party. You have the consolation of knowing that he died most gallantly in the service of his country, and that he is most deeply missed by all ranks out here. I am sure no officer looked after his men better and was more liked by them.
and the second from his Commanding Officer, Lieut-Colonel T.B.H.Thorne2.
I am writing to express my sincerest sympathy for all the anxiety you must be going through. As you know, your husband has been reported missing and probably killed. I want to assure you that everything will be done to ascertain the truth and I will inform you immediately. We are going back at once from support to the same section, and I hope with our patrols to obtain some reliable news. Your husband was a most excellent and gallant officer and we miss him very much.
Two of Mervyn’s brothers, also OW’s, served in the First World War. His younger brother, Norman Vere Grace served in the Royal Navy rising to the rank of Captain, saw service at Gallipoli and died in Gloucestershire in 1975. His elder brother, Captain Edgar Mervyn Grace served with the Royal Army Medical Corps [RAMC] and died in Thornbury, Gloucestershire in 1974.
The Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment) is perpetuated today in the 3rd Battalion, Mercian Regiment.