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.
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.