In Memoriam: Rafe Grenville Rowley-Conwy

In the past, it was common for institutions such as schools, railway companies, post offices and even private businesses to create their own war memorials. They remembered those staff who had fallen in the service of their country.

This year, as part of the Royal Armouries commemoration of the Armistice, we decided to research the history of our own families. We wanted to find out how the lives of our grandparents and great grandparents were shaped by the two world wars.

Ellie Rowley-Conwy © Royal Armouries
Ellie Rowley-Conwy
© Royal Armouries

Ellie Rowley-Conwy, Conservator

I knew that my Great-Grandfather Geoffrey had died at Gallipoli. Last year I went there with family, as it was the 100-year anniversary of the campaign. It was a great experience.

My research into his role in the First World War and his death at Gallipoli are on display in the Royal Armouries museum at Leeds.

I had no idea about the role Geoffrey’s brother Rafe played in the war. I knew that he was known as ‘The Admiral’ so I was expecting some Naval action. His career was quite a surprise!

I would like Geoffrey and Rafe to be remembered, as I don’t have much of a sense of their characters despite them being family. This doesn’t feel right when they both gave so much.

Rafe Grenville Rowley-Conwy © Rowley-Conwy family archives
Rafe Grenville Rowley-Conwy
© Rowley-Conwy family archives

Rear-Admiral Rafe Grenville Rowley-Conwy

Rafe was my great-great-uncle.

He was born in 1875 in Bodrhyddan Hall, like Geoffrey, his younger brother.

Rafe joined the Navy as a second lieutenant on 14 December 1894. By 1911, he had been promoted to Commander and in 1914 he had the command of HMS Mentor.

During the First World War, Rafe was at the battle of Heligoland, the first naval battle of the First World War. Family history credits him with firing the first shot of the war during this battle but it could just be hearsay.

He also took part in the battle of Dogger Bank on 24 January 1915 while serving on HMS Mentor. The Mentor got a torpedo hit on the SMS Blucher. This hit, combined with attacks from other ships totalling around 70 shells, resulted in the Blucher sinking and the loss of 792 crew.

The sinking of the SMS Blucher © IWM (Q 22687)
The sinking of the SMS Blucher
© IWM (Q 22687)

Rafe was promoted to Captain in December 1916 and later commanded the HMS Parker and 15th Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, for which he received a C.M.G. in Marcha, 1919.

He eventually retired with the rank Rear-Admiral.

Outside of his naval career, Rafe was High Sherriff of Flintshire in 1929 and was then appointed Lord Lieutenant of Flintshire on 3 July 1935. He served in this post until his death.

During World War Two, Rafe returned to the Navy and served as commodore of convoys in the North Atlantic. His 67th birthday was appropriately celebrated by bringing 67 vessels safely into Liverpool from Halifax. The U.S.A. awarded him their Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Rafe’s Medals © Rowley-Conwy family archives
Rafe’s Medals
© Rowley-Conwy family archives

Rafe died on 4 April 1951. He never married or had any children but according to his obituary he was; ‘recognised as a fine seaman and an outstanding flotilla commander.’

To discover more stories, visit the In Memoriam exhibition at the Leeds museum and at Fort Nelson.