Nicholas Albert Roy van Gruisen


This post was written by Victoria Doran.

Nicholas Albert Roy van Gruisen was the third generation of his family to run a piano making business in Liverpool and was an officer in the 9th (Territorial) Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment for many years before the war.

NAR Van Gruisen 1915.jpg

Nicholas Albert Roy van Gruisen in 1918 by Frank Thomas Copnall – Museum of Liverpool

As the artist only died in 1949 this may be under copyright. Please accept my apology if anyone is upset by this use of the image.

He is recorded on the 1911 census as ‘Roy’, so that is presumably how he preferred to be known. As his father and grandfather were also called Nicholas, this will help to avoid confusion. Roy was born in the summer of 1889 at Dilshore House in the elite Grassington suburb of Liverpool, the youngest of three children in a privileged household.

In the 1840s Nicholas Laurentius van Gruisen (1824-1898) arrived in Liverpool from Leeuwarden the capital of the Friesland region of the Netherlands. He was from a prosperous family, his father Albertus Francius van Gruisen being a merchant. Nicholas and his brother Vitus were organ builders. On 27 January 1849 he married Anne Clegg Jenkinson (1824-1892) at St Thomas, Liverpool. Nicholas founded the company that eventually became ‘Van Gruisen & Son’ of 27-29 Bold Street, Liverpool, very well known piano makers and retailers by the time of the First World War.

Ann Clegg Jenkinson came from Stafford, Staffordshire where her father was a hairdresser and her grandfather had been a perfumer. She probably came to Liverpool as a servant.

Nicholas and Anne had 8 children (4 boys and 4 girls), of which the eldest son was also named Nicholas Laurentius van Gruisen (1856-1912) and who went into the family business. He later gave his name as Nicholas Lawrence van Gruisen, so that is how he can be distinguished from his father. He was brought up in Bold Street, probably over the family shop, and the family then moved to 21 Canning Street when he was a teenager. On 2 August 1883 he married Lucy Dodd (1861-1928) at St Peter, Aston, Cheshire. This is near Tarvin, and the Dodd family and the families they married into had farmed in the area for generations.

Lucy’s father, Charles Dodd (1829-1868), died when she was a small child, but her mother, Sarah Fletcher (1837-1922), took on the farm of 360 acres despite being pregnant with child number 11, and her eldest being no more than 12 years old. She retired in her 40s and eventually lived at Old Hall, Halton, Cheshire with one of her unmarried daughters. Lucy worked as a governess before her marriage.

Roy was preceded by two sisters, Gladys Stephanie van Gruisen (1885-1967) and Constance van Gruisen (1886-1975). Gladys married a brother of Claude Rex Cleaver, another man with local connections who died in the war. Constance married Rev. Edward Victor Blackburne who served throughout the war as an Army Chaplain.

The family moved several times, from Grassington to Maghull, and by 1901 to 5 Grosvenor Road, West Kirby (since renamed Kirby Park).  He was a chorister at St Bridget whilst living in West Kirby.

116b Capt Roy van Gruisen.jpg

West Kirby News November 1914

By 1911 the five family members were in three different places as visitors, so it is not known where they were actually living.  When Nicholas Lawrence van Gruisen died in 1912 they were living at ‘Elmfield’, Gateacre, Liverpool. It is not known where Roy was educated.

King's Liverpool cap badge.jpg

King’s Liverpool regimental cap badge

After leaving school he joined the 1/9th (Territorial) Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment receiving a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant on 5 March 1909. He was promoted to full Lieutenant on 19 March 1911, and on the outbreak of war he was promoted to Captain with effect from 16 September 1914.

His father died on 5 May 1912 and Roy became head of the family firm. The firm continued to sell pianos throughout the war. Lucy moved to live with her mother at Old Hall, Halton, Cheshire.

L Eve Express 27 Apr 1914 ad V Gruisen.jpeg

Liverpool Evening Express 27 August 1914 – similar advertisements appeared throughout the war.

The 1/9th Battalion landed in France on 13 March 1915 after further training, but Roy was not with them. The 2/9th Battalion had been formed in October 1915 as a second line battalion. It is probable that Roy joined them on their formation and was involved with their training. He landed in France with the 2/9th on 20 February 1917. He was with them when they first went into the trenches, but saw no significant action. He is last mentioned in the Battalion War Diary on 23 March 1917 when they were in depot at Estaires, France. That was probably when he became attached to the 13th Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment. This was part of the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Division.

He spent most of his time with the 13th in quiet parts of the Western Front, rotating in and out of the trenches, with a steady rate of attrition from artillery and sniping, but does not seem to have been in any major assault until on 12 December 1917 when he received an injury at Lagnicourt. This is a small village at the centre of a triangle formed by Arras, Cambrai and Bapaume in northern France. That day the Germans attacked the British line after heavy bombardment. The 13th lost 22 killed and another 51 injured in the action. The German attack failed as the British line held and German prisoners were taken.

His injury was not very serious, as he managed to continue leading his men until the end of the battle. It seems likely that he recuperated at home during the early part of 1918, as that is the date of his portrait. As he is not mentioned by name in the Battalion War Diary it is not known how long he was away from his battalion.

On 8 August 1918 the Allies launched an offensive known as the Second Battle of the Somme 1918. This was fought over the devastated ground of the old battle fields of 1916. The first phase on the first day, the Battle of Amiens, made good progress before the Germans managed to hold a new line. After regrouping the Allies launched a second phase on 21 August. This is known as the Battle of Albert 1918. The 13th King’s Liverpool were part of the 3rd Army under General Byng.

On 20 August the battalion marched to Hannescamp and went into close bivouac, with  no movement in daylight and the presence of troops concealed. The battalion formed part of the left flank of the 3rd Army’s attack on Bapaume. Their objective was to capture the Arras – Achiet le Grand railway line. They set off to their assembly positions at 11pm on the 20th. There was bright moonlight and they were spread across a front of 600 yards. They were subjected to light intermittent shelling whilst in the assembly area, then moved forward in artillery formation at 4.55 am. There was thick mist above the ground, enhanced by the use of smoke, so officers had to lead their men by compass. They had to advance nearly 5000 yards. Planned tank support did not materialise, and various strong German points had to be dealt with. They knew they had reached the railway line when they came under heavy machine gun fire. Roy was wounded, probably at this stage. Since he is buried is some distance away, he was presumably moving through the various stages of the casualty clearing system when he died. The battalion suffered 263 casualties, 3 officers being killed.

He was aged 29 and was buried at Bienvillers Military Cemetery.

Bienvillers Military Cemetery.jpeg

Bienvillers Military Cemetery

Several members of the extended van Gruisen family were also involved in the war. Wilfred van Gruisen (1897-1916), son of Roy’s uncle Albert Henry van Gruisen (1858-1941) – a fruit broker, earned a Military Cross just 6 days before being wounded on 16 August 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. He died that November in Fazackerley Military Hospital and is buried in Flaybrick Cemetery, Birkenhead. He is also remembered on the War Memorial in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead.

Birth: Jul 1889 at Dilshore House, Grassington, Liverpool
Death: 21 Aug 1918 died of wounds received during the Battle of Bapaume, France
Addresses: Brook Road, Maghull (91); 5 Grosvenor Road (now Kirby Park), West Kirby (01); 27 Bold Street, Liverpool (1918 – from probate record)
Occupation: Head of N L van Gruisen & Son, pianoforte manufacturers
Unit: 1/9th (Territorial) Battalion, 2/9th Battalion, attached 13th Battalion; all King’s Liverpool Regiment,
Rank: Captain
Medals: Victory & British War
Commemorated: Bienvillers Military Cemetery, Bienvillers au Bois, Pas de Calais, France; Grange Hill War Memorial, West Kirby; St Bridget & St Andrew Churches, West Kirby
Sources: CWGC, MC, BN, DA, WKN, Liverpool Evening Express, Census: 91, 01, 11, BR, PR, family, Prob, GH, LG


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