Telegraph: "Captain Peter Grindal – Obituary"


War Hero
13 March 2018

Captain Peter Grindal, who has died aged 74, was an outstanding captain of HMS Raleigh, the Navy’s new-entry training establishment at Torpoint, Cornwall.

From 1987 to 1989 Grindal commanded a “stone frigate” of 2,500 people, which encompassed several specialist schools including supply, seamanship, firefighting, leadership and the WRNS.

He was well-respected by all for the candid and intelligent responses that he gave to his diverse constituency. Raleigh’s rhythm was set by a weekly intake of some 80 raw recruits and their passing-out parade seven weeks later as sailors.

The initial impression that Grindal gave was of an ascetic, old-style naval officer with a very clear aim: to produce sailors fit to join the fleet and be proud of their chosen profession.

He was loyal to, and supportive of, his officers, giving them the space to develop while providing the guidance aimed at achieving his high standards. He talked easily to the young, while the petty officers, who were in charge of most of the classes, found, often to their surprise, that behind his stern exterior was a warm-hearted man.

Though a bachelor, and at first seemingly severe, Grindal was a generous host and, assisted by his Petty Officer Steward, gave the warmest of welcomes and superb dinner parties at his official residence. He entertained landowners and others in east Cornwall who came into contact with his young trainees, thus maintaining the good relations between the Navy and the community.

Raleigh was a shop window for the Navy and weekly passing-out parades were a chance to show off: inspecting officers were invited from all quarters of the military panoply to take the salute.

Nothing was left to chance: the VIP was whisked around Raleigh to see its work, and after the parade would be given Earl Grey tea and perfect cucumber sandwiches. Lunches before these weekly events were a high spot, the key player in these being Grindal’s driver, whose job it was to source fresh fish from the Cornish coast, and the menu was thus not fixed until his return.

Grindal was not set in his ways, and when the Princess Royal visited he set out to show her what Raleigh did that related to her interests. Instead of a formal lunch the Princess, and many members of the ship’s company, together with their families, ate at a field-kitchen, built from scrap including old dustbins.

The food was splendid and the Supply School, based at Raleigh, was pleased to receive an invitation to train the Princess’s Save the Children charity in emergency field cookery.

Peter James Grindal and his twin brother Robert were born on August 6 1943. Their mother died in childbirth and they were brought up by their father on a mixed farm in Warwickshire.

Their early life was happy, influenced by the proximity and close friendship of cousins on nearby farms, punctuated with summers of beaches and boats at Barmouth, North Wales.

After two years at Shilton village school the boys became weekly boarders at Coventry prep, where they were well taught and firmly disciplined, but fed sparsely. Early nights and daily country walks in the wake of the headmaster, the Rev Kenelm Swallow, were a feature.

The twins’ farewell present to the school was a new flagpole, its predecessor having fallen, narrowly missing fine leg, during a cricket match. Peter represented the school at cricket and hockey and was given a Warwickshire schoolboys’ hockey trial, before entering Britannia Royal Naval College in 1961.

While still a midshipman under training, Grindal saw action during the Brunei rebellion in 1963 in a motorised launch on the uncharted rivers of Borneo.

His first command was Brave Swordsman in 1969-70, a fast patrol boat capable on her three gas turbines of more than 50 knots, rather faster than his first car. Subsequently, Grindal bought an MGB and thereafter a succession of sports cars.

In 1971-72 he was training officer to the Prince of Wales, then serving in the destroyer Norfolk. On one occasion Prince Charles complained at lunch about the bread-and-butter pudding.

When Grindal challenged him to make a better one the Prince demurred, claiming that he would need ingredients, including brandy. Grindal told him he could have them, but he would have to pay for them. The ensuing royally made and served pudding was reputedly one of the best.

In 1975-76 Grindal specialised as a gunner, and he commanded the frigates Zulu in 1977-79 and Ariadne in 1986-87. His reputation as a fire-eater preceded him in Ariadne, where he took command at the beginning of Operational Sea Training (OST), a rigorous six-week test of the ship and her people.

Grindal let the OST staff provide all the pressure, but when they had left he insisted that standards should be maintained in everything during Ariadne’s deployments to the West Indies and the Gulf.

His last appointment in 1990-92 was as Commodore Amphibious Warfare. He was appointed CBE on retirement when, an admirer declared, he became “the best admiral we never had”.

For eight years from 1992 he was Captain, Sea Cadet Corps, then its chief executive and finally development adviser.

He settled in Bath and soon became involved in the Abbey’s mission to young people, chairing a working group that set the terms of reference for the new position of youth officer at the Abbey.

He was chairman of Bath Abbey Music Society, playing an effective role as negotiator between the society and the Abbey clergy. He also visited Zambia on behalf of the Abbey’s missionary work to assess the Street Children project of the Anglican Cathedral of Kitwe, a brief that he completed with his usual thoroughness and efficiency.

Grindal was renowned for his attention to matters of dress, bearing, marks of respect and ceremonial, but he never lost sight of the need for the Navy to be capable and ready for fighting.

He believed that its efforts to abolish the slave trade in the 19th century – an “unweary, unostentatious, and inglorious crusade of England against slavery which may probably be regarded as among the three or four perfectly virtuous pages comprised in the history of nations” – had been under-appreciated.

His book, Opposing the Slavers (2016), was admired by the naval historian Professor Andrew Lambert as a major revision of the existing literature that would transform the study of abolition and the history of the 19th-century Navy.

Peter Grindal married Julie Milton (née Copland) in 2005. She survives him with two step-children.

Captain Peter Grindal, born August 6 1943, died February 26 2018

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