Kenneth Grant (Service No. 4537)

Kenneth Grant was the younger brother of Donald Alexander Grant, who was the officer in charge of the Government explosive reserve situated in Altona. Kenneth was born approximately April 1878 in Kilmuir, Inverness Shire, Scotland to parents Alexander Grant and Mary Grant (nee MacDonald). Kenneth’s story as to why he is listed on the Laverton honour board is an interesting one as he was not living or working within the district, at the time he enlisted into the Australian Imperial Forces, but he did enlist there and was related to the respected Grant family.

Kenneth Grant enlisted on 20 February 1915 at the age of 36 years 10 months with his next of kin listed as his wife, Florence, who was noted as living at home in Braes, Portree, Scotland. Kenneth Grant and his family had travelled to Australia, a few years early for business and following the completion of this he had travelled to Melbourne, specifically to Altona Bay, where he visited his elder brother Donald Alexander Grant. Being in Australia, this was a great opportunity for Kenneth to visit relatives before heading back to his home in Scotland. It was while he was visiting that war broke out in Europe and Kenneth apparently saw it as his duty to enlist.

The reason Kenneth was in Australia, in the first place, is a longer story and connects him to the Australian defense forces long before the war commenced. After leaving home, Kenneth was employed as a salesman within the wine and spirits industry and was living within Glasgow. He married Florence McCowan (MacCowan) on 5 June 1903 in Milton, Glasgow, Scotland and the couple continued living and working within the Glasgow area.

Around 1910, Kenneth had a complete change in his employment when he commenced an apprenticeship as a shipwright with Elder & Co in Glasgow. They were one of the largest ship builders in Scotland and the UK which merged into the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company, Glasgow. The company had previously built several ships for the Royal Navy and around the time Kenneth joined the company they had been commissioned to build several ships for what was to become Australia’s navy. The ships commissioned by the Australian government included HMAS Parramatta, HMAS Yarra and HMAS Warrego. But their brief went further than building ships they were also commissioned to transfer their shipbuilding skills to Australian workers at Cockatoo Island in Sydney.

HMAS Warrego was the initial ship to facilitate this transfer of knowledge in that the parts and sections of the ship were built in Scotland and then shipped to Sydney where they were reassembled. The construction of Warrego was complete by mid-1910 and she was dismantled and shipped to Australia. Her parts were shipped on three ships, SS Ajax, SS Idomeneus and SS Cyclops. The ships left Scotland during August 1910 and arrived at Cockatoo Island, Sydney between 3 October and 11 November 1910. Her keel was laid on one of the recently completed slipways south of the new Fitzroy Dock on 1 December 1910 and she was launched on 4 April 1911. Total construction took some six months longer than planned and she was finally completed on 1 June 1912.

A condition of this contract was that key skilled employee from the Fairfield company would transfer across to Australia to teach and supervise the ship building (reconstruction) process which is where Kenneth Grant’s story continues. Kenneth was employed by Fairfield Shipbuilding at this time and came to Australia to be part of the rebuild. His family, Florence and their son Alexander joined Kenneth when they arrived in Sydney aboard the SS Orama in December 1911. We are unsure of the length of time that the employees where needed but they would have spent time after the completion of HMAS Warrego to ensure knowledge and skills required for further ship construction had been passed on their Australian counterparts.

Kenneth travelled to Melbourne on the SS Tyrone in September 1913 presumably to visit his brother at the Government explosive reserve in Laverton and was still there when he enlisted in early 1915. It appears that Florence and their young son had by now left Australia and returned home to Scotland as their Scottish address was noted on his enlistment papers.

Kenneth Grant military service commenced with training at the Broadmeadows camp where he was assigned to ‘B’ Company 23 Battalion at the rank of Private but before leaving Australia he was reassigned to the 8th Field Company Engineers. Kenneth was given the rank of sapper and with his unit embarked from Melbourne on 10 May 1915 aboard HMAT A14 Euripides. The engineers were essential to the army as they were responsible for the building and repairing of bridges, roads, and defensive positions to and at the front. Without them other branches of the Allied Forces would have found it difficult to cross the muddy and shell-ravaged ground of the Western Front.

Kenneth appears to have spent a great deal of his early service in and out of various hospitals in Malta and England suffering from an enteric disorder but when well enough undertook light military duties while attached to several Australian Army bases within England. It was not until late 1917 or early 1918 that Sapper Grant rejoined his company and saw further action in France with the 8th Field Company Engineers.

At the time Kenneth rejoined his unit, 8th Field Company Engineers, who were heavily involved in battles on the Western Front including the battle of Cantigny, Marne, Amiens, the Hundred Day Offensive. In the lead up to the attack at Mont St Quentin the engineers were strategically required to carry out two river crossing/bridging operations that would greatly assist the allied forces. It was while at the front-line, in August 1918, that Sapper Kenneth Grant received a gunshot wound to the left-side of his chest for which he received treatment and he saw out the remained of the war in hospital.

Sapper Kenneth Grant returned to England and was discharged from service on 29 April 1919 in London. His discharge form noted that it was his intent to return to the town Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland to be reunited with his wife Florence (Flora) and their two sons in Glasgow. Our details of Sapper Kenneth Grant, 8th Field Company Engineers end at the date of his discharge on 29 April 1919.










  5. Staubermann, Klaus (2014) The transfer of shipbuilding knowledge: reconstructing HMAS Warrego (Part 1) ICON: journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology Vol.20 NO.2 (2014) pp.40-48 0259-9996
  6. Werribee Shire Banner, 6 March 1919, p.1.

Research by: Graeme Reilly & Ann Cassar (ALHS)