A SNIPPET - with two quite separate stories but both about top VIP's in the Navy.

During my researches looking for this and that, I often come across little stories of naval personnel which for various reasons have ended up as printed matter for personal reasons. Whilst all were clearly newsworthy, the vast majority very short term, some are mildly interesting long term simply because of the naval people involved in the stories.

The first story I have chosen to tell today takes precedence over the stories of an RN Captain booked for a driving offence on Portsmouth's Hard; of a Commanders dog which so frightened a lollipop lady that a school crossing had to be temporarily closed and others, simply because it involves The Professional Head of the Royal Navy, namely the First Sea Lord.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Rhoderick Robert McGrigor GCB DSO, always known as "The Wee McGrigor" because of his diminutive stature, was born in York to Scottish parents on the 12th April 1893, his father being an officer in the King's Royal Rifles garrisoned in the City. As an admiral he became the First Sea Lord in December 1951, was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet on the 1st May 1953 and was succeeded by Lord Mountbatten in April 1955, whereupon, he retired to his home in the Scottish Highlands and died in Aberdeen after major surgery on the 3rd December 1959 aged 66. It is recorded that he was an outstanding First Sea Lord and that he had laid the foundations for which Mountbatten would subsequently claim credit for, moving guns to guided missiles and adopting gas turbine engines for ship propulsion. 

Taken at Malta in March 1952. The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Rhoderick McGrigor visits HMS Liverpool

Without headgear, taken during WW2


Taken in Norfolk Virginia USA in 1954, The First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Rhoderick McGrigor visiting Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic [SACLANT] Admiral Jerauld Wright USN

Now whilst Admiral of the Fleet Sir Rhoderick McGrigor sat in his office in Whitehall in 1954 as the First Sea Lord, many miles north, in his native country of Scotland, the Students Union of Aberdeen University had to elect a new Rector of the University to replace the time-expired incumbent whose tenure was for three years.  The Union had always elected media or well known people to the position of Rector and the outgoing Rector was the actor and comedian Jimmy Edwards.  They elected our First Sea Lord and he duly accepted the post for the period 1954-57 and he was briefed accordingly about the ceremony which would accompany his ceremonial 'crowning' at a time yet to be arranged, and he accepted that too!

Aberdeen has two universities in the city {the Aberdeen University from 1495 and the Robert Gordon University from 1992 and before that it was a College, still with lots of students} and many more students than any other UK university campus, spread around the city in many colleges. Seemingly, the Grampian Police had regular trouble with the students, again, more so than most of the UK's police forces responsible for large [or largish] cities. The average student rate at a UK university is 7% of the population in that city,  but in Aberdeen it is nearly 12% and these are 2010 figures.

What the Admiral would have been told, was that after his installing ceremony he was to be carried shoulder-high by students to a nearby public house to drink his health.  What the Admiral did not know was that because of previous problems, the Grampian Police had in effect banned the ceremony outside the confines of the University.

The ceremony went ahead on the 21st January 1955 and all went well until the Admiral, carried high on the shoulders of students, left the University and was carried into the public highway street en-route to the nearby public house.

The likely result was known to the students who were aware of the police embargo, but not to the Admiral, and within minutes a brawl started between the police and the students which involved innocent people using the street. Snowballs [and other implements] plus policemen's helmets were thrown, the police drew their batons and things got very angry indeed. Police reinforcements were called to help restore law and order.  At one stage the hapless police officer in charge and the hapless admiral looked at each other with disbelief on their faces, neither one of them being able to quell the uprising at that point.

It was brought under control but only after aggressive policing, but you can imagine just how embarrassed the First Sea Lord must have been. Nevertheless, he remained the Rector for his full three year stint, but I'll wager that whenever he attended University occasions, he would have had both feet firmly on the deck, not acquiescing to playing silly student games.

Of course, being the First Sea Lord and involved in a brawl albeit not willingly or intended, brought the matter, through the police, to the Scottish Office and the Minister for Scotland in Parliament and via him to the Lord Advocate, the Chief Legal Officer for the Crown in Scotland who also sits in the lower House.

This entry from Hansards Archive, shows that the Lord Advocate had decided to take no further action against the Students Union or the University of Aberdeen.


HC Deb 09 February 1955 vol 536 c226W
Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Lord Advocate if a decision has yet been reached about criminal proceedings arising out of the disturbances in the city of Aberdeen on the occasion of the installation of the new Rector of Aberdeen University.

The Lord Advocate

I have now had an opportunity of considering the whole evidence in connection with the disturbances referred to, and have decided to take no criminal proceedings.

The University, in its 'Special Library and Archives' section has the following entry about the event.

Level Fonds
RefNo MSU 642
Title McGrigor rectorial file
Date 1955
Extent 0.02 linear metres
Administrative History Rhoderick McGrigor was born in 1893, the son of an officer in the 60th Rifles. However, he chose the Navy as a career, and was educated at the Royal Naval Colleges at Osborne and Dartmouth. In the First World War he served on destroyers in the Dardanelles Campaign and in the Grand Fleet at Jutland. By 1939 he was Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the China Station, but he returned to Europe to command HMS Renown in the Malta convoys, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. He was promoted Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty from 1941 to 1943, and was Naval Forces Commander at the invasion of Sicily. While Flag Officer Sicily he was wounded, but was soon commanding 1st. Cruiser Squadron and Home Fleet aircraft carriers. From 1944 to 1945 he served on the Norwegian coast and on North Russian convoys. He was First Sea Lord from 1951 to 1955. He lived in Aberdeenshire and held honorary LL.D.s from both St. Andrews and Aberdeen Universities. He died in 1959.Admiral of the Fleet Sir Rhoderick McGrigor was elected Rector of Aberdeen University in 1954. Following his installation in 1955 there occurred a student brawl in an Aberdeen street, in which the Grampian police were involved.
Source The papers were collected in a University investigation into the incident. They were transferred from the University Secretary's office in 1971.
Description File of papers, including statements of witnesses, on a brawl involving the police, following the installation of Sir Rhoderick McGrigor as Rector of Aberdeen University, 1955.
AccessStatus Open
Language English

It is funny that as I write this page, the current Lord Advocate, The Rt. Hon. Frank Mulholland, QC., graduated from Aberdeen University in 1981.

My second story involves an even more important man in the Admiralty, namely the First Lord, always an important politician representing the navy at cabinet level.


"As that was happening, the King had already been advised and he had sent for the First Lord of the Admiralty the top man, and not the First Sea Lord a senior Admiral or an Admiral of the Fleet who was subordinate to the First Lord. The King was angry and wanted answers."

It is just as well that the King and the Admiralty [whether Board of the Admiralty or Admiralty Board each at different periods] knew just who The First Lord was, and of his importance vis--vis the Sea Lords and PPS's [Parliamentary Private Secretary's], for as you will read, none in the Fleet proper appeared to know!

In 1959 {to 1963}, the little known [at that time] but much liked and admired Lord Carrington who was to prove himself one of the better politicians of his day, was appointed the First Lord of the Admiralty, a member of Harold Macmillan's {PM 1957 to 1963} Cabinet. In 1960 he visited Portsmouth on a fact finding mission/acquaint with the Home Fleet accompanied by his private secretary, a high ranking civilian servant - did you ever see the TV programme 'Yes Minister' or 'Yes Prime Minister' ? The First Lord and his private secretary, had on their working naval uniforms {see below for a First Lord ceremonial best uniform}  which were worn throughout the three day visit, which consisted of a blue serge suit with black naval buttons and a peaked-cap with a red cap badge but no recognisable insignia or badges of rank, almost like a junior rate in those branches which wore the fore and aft rig - SBA's, Cooks, Writers, Coders, Jack-Dusty's but without arm badges. The uniform was as old as the modern pusser naval uniform itself and had been worn by such famous people as Churchill when he was twice the First Lord of the Admiralty. On the last day of the visit, the visitors were taken for a short trip out to Spithead in a coastal sweeper, and that is where the navy got it terribly wrong and in big style. First the sweeper piped the private secretary aboard and ignored the First Lord, with the captain of the sweeper at the elbow of the private secretary throughout. When back alongside, the private secretary was again piped off the ship, but this time he was shown to the staff car {as though it were his} by the Admiral Superintendant, a Rear Admiral, with everybody almost ignoring The First Lord, Lord Carrington.  The next day, the Press 'went to town' and there were many red faces in the Dockyard and in the navy at large. Once more, questions were raised in the House, and Whale Island ran classes for officers on recognition of the Board Members.  The episode was not to be repeated.  Why Lord Carrington allowed this to happen without mentioning the status of his private secretary to the navy and why the private secretary effectively muscled his way in, will I suspect, never be known? In 1970 {to 1974} Lord Carrington returned as the Minister of Defence, after which, the Army and the RAF had also to go to recognition classes!















This picture is posted simply to show the 'working' uniform [overcoat accepted] of a First Lord of the Admiralty. It is of Mr A V Alexander , First Lord of the Admiralty on a three day visit to the Home Fleet, @ Scapa Flow,  January 1943 being greeted in HMS Belfast.

IWM (A 13927)


This picture is of Lord Peter Carrington

Ceremonial uniform [without the cocked hat] of the First Lord in 1915.

On a much lighter note, if you have watched the Gilbert and Sullivan absolutely brilliant comic opera's, you may have seen H.M.S. Pinafore [a.k.a., the lass who loved a sailor] in which one of the protagonists, Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty, wears a "fun" uniform.