My War at Sea 1914–1916: A Captain's Life with the Royal Navy During the First World War

This book is based on the wartime recollections of Heathcoat S. Grant, captain of HMS Canopus from 1914–1916. It is published in conjunction with the War Letters 1914–1918 series. For anyone interested in the war at sea during the First World War, Grant provides a highly readable insider's view of the action at Coronel, the Battle of the Falklands and the attempt to force the Dardanelles. More
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About Heathcoat Grant

This biography of Heathcoat Grant is taken from The Times, 27 September, 1938, p. 14.

Admiral Sir Heathcoat Grant, K.C.M.G., C.B., of Boath, Nairn, who died in 1938, served for 43 years on the active list of the Royal Navy, including the whole period of the Great War.

As Captain of the Canopus he took part in the operations connected with Craddock’s reverse at Coronel and Sturdee’s victory at the Falklands; he served in action at the Dardanelles, and was afterwards Admiral-Superintendent at Dover and Senior Naval Officer at Gibraltar He was a practical officer of wide experience, who with greater opportunities might have become more famous.

Heathcoat Salusbury Grant was born on February 13, 1864, and was the son of Captain John Grant, of Glenmoriston. He received his early education at Stubbington School, Fareham. Entering the Navy in July, 1877, at the same time as Lord Wester Wemyss and other admirals who also served with distinction in the Great War, Grant first went to sea in 1879 in the Minotaur, flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir A.W.A Hood (afterwards Lord Hood of Avalon), then Commanding the Channel Squadron, but two years later he went to Australia to join the Nelson, flagship of Commodore J.E. Erskine.

Having passed for lieutenant, he joined the gunboat Wrangler, in which he gained most valuable experience. The vessel was attached successively to the Cape and North American Stations, and Grant being second-in-command had many opportunities, of which he was not slow to take advantage, of exercising his initiative and capabilities which would have been denied him in larger vessels.

The rest of his lieutenant’s time, however, was all passed in big ships: in the Dreadnought and Colossus, in the Mediterranean; the Royal Sovereign, flagship of Vice-Admirals Fitzroy and Lord Walter Kerr, in the Channel Squadron; and in the Renown, flagship of Lord Fisher in North American waters, from which he was promoted to commander in June, 1899.

The high opinion held of Grant by Lord Fisher was indicated by the manner in which the latter, on being appointed Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean in the summer of 1899, secured the transfer of the new commander to the Admiral’s yacht Surprise. This little vessel Grant commanded for three years, during which he made many cruises to ports and bases up the Straits.
Promoted to captain in 1910, he commanded the cruiser Kent in reserve at Chatham and the light cruiser Diana in the Mediterranean, but in December 1908, in a vacancy occurring in the command of the Scottish Coastguard District, he transferred his energies to that administrative post.

Usually a coastguard appointment is the prelude to retirement, but it was not so with Grant, who in January, 1911, returned to sea duty in command of the cruiser Black Prince, afterwards sunk at Jutland. Then in June, 1912, he was selected to proceed to Washington as Naval Attaché, where he was stationed for two years.

When the War began he had only just returned to England, and on mobilisation was appointed to command the old battleship Canopus, from the reserve, in the Channel Fleet. That vessel was shortly afterwards appointed to the guardship at St. Vincent, Cape Verde, and from there was sent to reinforce the squadron of Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock in South American waters.

Owing to her slow speed, however, the Admiral found her unsuitable for the search of the German light cruisers then raiding commerce in the neighbourhood, and decided to employ her on the necessary convoying of colliers. When it was believed that the German armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were in the vicinity the Admiralty informed Craddock that they were sending the Defence immediately to join him, and he was not expected to attack the enemy without the Canopus.

According to Sir Julian Corbett’s official History of the Great War, Cradock “was to keep his squadron concentrated on her (the Canopus), detaching the Glasgow to get in touch with the enemy, and to make every effort to form a junction with the Defence at the earliest possible moment.” But the telegram never reached him.

When Cradock met the German squadron off Coronel and fought them most gallantly against tremendous odds, with the loss of his own ship and the Monmouth, Captain Grant in the Canopus was some 300 miles away, toiling slowly with the colliers, and quite unable to give that support which might well have turned the scale of defeat into victory.

After the battle, Captain Grant was directed to remain at Port Stanley, in the Falklands, in anticipation of an attack by the German Admiral von Spee, to moor his ship so as to command the entrance, and cooperate with the Governor for the defence of the place.
The gunnery officer was established ashore in an extemporised observation hut, and when the German squadron appeared off the islands on December 8, 1914, it was the guns of the Canopus which fired the first shots at them. The old ship, however, was unable to go out with the rest of Admiral Sturdee’s squadron and assist in the destruction of the enemy forces which took place later in the day.

The danger passed, she took up duty as guardship at Abrolhos Rocks, used as a British coaling base, and early in 1915 was sent to the Dardanelles. After taking part in the bombardments of the Gallipoli forts during March, Captain Grant was ordered to Port Trebuki, in Skyros, in charge of a group of ships and transports connected to the expedition.

At the landing of the army in the peninsula, Captain Grant was senior officer of the Third Squadron which covered the feint at Bulair. This diversion completed, he came down to join the Majestic on the left of the Anzacs, where he rendered much-needed help. For his services on those and other occasions at the Dardanelles, right up to the evacuation, Grant was commended in dispatches and was made C.B.

At the end of 1916, when owing to its increased work the dockyard at Dover was brought under the control of a flag officer, he was appointed Admiral Superintendent there, having been promoted to rear-admiral six months earlier.

Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, who then commanded the Dover Patrol, stated in this book that Rear-Admiral Grant “was of the greatest assistance to me. It was with great regret to all that, early in 1917, he was appointed to the important post of Admiral and Senior Officer at Gibraltar.”

He hoisted his flag on the Rock on June 19, 1917, and served there for two years, including the period when the submarine menace in the Mediterranean was at its height.

For his services he was created K.C.M.G., and he retired on promotion to vice-admiral in March 1920. For some time, however, he continued in the employment as Admiralty representative on the Conference with the War Office on the responsibility for the protection of defended ports.

In 1929 he was promoted to Admiral on the retired list. His foreign decorations included the Legion of Honour (Commander), the United States Distinguished Service Medal, the Order of the Crown of Italy, the Portuguese Order of the Aviz (Commander), and the Spanish Order of Merit.

In 1899 he married Ethel, daughter of Mr Andrew Knowles, of Swinton Old Hall, Lancashire, who survives him with three sons and three daughters.

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