John Ripley VC 1867-1933


John Ripley was born on 30th August 1867 in Land Street to Joseph and

Margaret (nee Castles). He was educated at Keith Primary School (Green

School) and Keith Grammar School. He left school at the age of 13 and

was employed in the Spinning Department of Isla Bank Mills. Two years

later John and his brother moved to Montrose where they trained as

slaters. On completing his apprenticeship, John moved to work in St

Andrews where he joined the Volunteer and Territorial unit of the Black

Watch. He married Jane Laing in 1895.


When World War I began in 1914, John was Recruiting Sergeant at

St. Andrews but such was his patriotism that at the late age of 47 he

enlisted with the 1st Black Watch.


On 9th May 1915, during the battle of Aubers Ridge in North East

France, he led his section on an assault at Rue du Bois and was the first

man to ascend the enemy parapet. He directed those following to gaps in

the barbed wire entanglement, all the while under heavy fire from the

enemy. He and eight soldiers established themselves, blocking both flanks

and arranging firing positions which he continued to defend until all his

men had fallen and he himself had been badly wounded. John had been

shot in the leg and a piece of shrapnel had entered his forehead, passing

under the skin to emerge behind his left ear.


Afterwards he said he had only done his duty, adding modestly that he was

one of the lucky ones as there were many other brave fellows who hadn’t survived.


On the 24th July, 1915 ‘The Banffshire Herald’ cross

carried the following report: “The Victoria Cross has

been awarded to Corporal John Ripley of the 1st

Black Watch, a native of Keith”. The newspaper

goes on to describe his conspicuous bravery at Rue du

Bois. Newspapers in St Andrews also feted the hero’s

return. It was reported elsewhere that John was

probably the first member of Kitchener’s Army to receive the coveted award, the story of which is held in the Black Watch Museum in Balhousie Castle, Perth.


Promoted to Sergeant, John Ripley was invalided home but later returned to active

duty.After the War ended and normal life resumed, John became a member of the

United Services Association and The British Legion and chairman of the

St Andrews Branch of The Comrades, which later merged with The British Legion.


In 1933, at the age of 66, John suffered an accident when he fell

from a ladder in St Andrews, which resulted in his death from injuries and

so ended the heroic life of John Ripley, one of the oldest soldiers to receive

the V.C. He was buried with honours in the Upper Largo cemetery in Fife.