Rear Admiral Leonard Stanley Holbrook

Leonard Stanley Holbrook was born at Southsea, Portsmouth, England on 1 January 1882, the second son of Arthur Holbrook and his wife Amelia Mary Holbrook (née Parks). Arthur Holbrook was the owner of the Portsmouth Times and Naval Gazette and later served in World War I as a Colonel in the Army Service Corps for which he was knighted (Knight Commander of the British Empire). Arthur also served as the Member of Parliament for Basingstoke during 1920-1923 and 1924-1929. The Holbrooks were a large family consisting of six sons, who all saw naval or military service, and four daughters. Leonard’s younger brother, Norman Holbrook served in the Royal Navy and was awarded a Victoria Cross for his submarine service in the Dardanelles in 1914. The New South Wales town of Germantown was subsequently renamed Holbrook in Norman’s honour.

Leonard Holbrook entered the Royal Naval College, Britannia in 1896 and upon graduation was appointed Midshipman on 15 January 1898. He served initially in the battleship HMS Resolution followed by service in the cruiser HMS Eclipse, during 1899-1900, which was part of the East Indies Squadron. In November 1900 Holbrook joined the battleship HMS Majestic. In early 1901 he was part of the Royal Guard for the funeral of Queen Victoria and was subsequently made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order 5th Class (MVO) on 19 March 1901. Midshipman Holbrook served in the sloop HMS Dolphin during March-July 1901, before being promoted Sub Lieutenant on 15 July 1901. He then undertook his professional naval training courses at the Royal Naval College Greenwich during 1901-02. Holbrook was promoted Lieutenant on 15 January 1902 and was commended for achieving five 1st class certificates in seamanship, navigation, torpedoes, gunnery and pilotage at the college.

Lieutenant Holbrook joined the armoured cruiser HMS Sutlej in November 1902 and served in her on the China Station until December 1903. He then served briefly in the armoured cruiser HMS Berwick before commencing specialist gunnery training at HMS Excellent in early 1904. Upon qualifying as a gunnery officer in March 1905, in which he topped his course, Lieutenant Holbrook was appointed to the shore depot HMS Wildfire, at Sheerness, for gunnery duties. In late 1906 he served as the Commanding Officer of the torpedo boat destroyer HMS Dasher during exercises off the east coast of England. In December 1906, Holbrook joined the battleship HMS Exmouth (flagship of the Atlantic Fleet) as a member of the Commander in Chief’s staff. In 1908 Exmouth became the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet and Holbrook continued to serve in her where he was noted as a zealous and capable staff officer. During his service in the Mediterranean, Exmouth and other Royal Navy warships provided humanitarian support following the Messina earthquake and tsunami on 28 December 1908. The disaster devastated the Italian port city and surrounding areas, killing an estimated 80,000 people. Exmouth’s ship’s company were later awarded a commemorative medal for their support to the Italian Government.

In May 1910, Holbrook returned to Excellent to undertake gunnery requalification courses before briefly serving in the armoured cruiser HMS Roxburgh during June-August 1910. He was then appointed to the battleship HMS Duncan and served in her for the next three years. During this time Duncan was part of the Mediterranean Fleet (1910-1912) and later part of the Home Fleet as a gunnery training ship during 1912-13. Holbrook undertook a gunnery update course at Excellent in mid-1913 after which he joined the armoured cruiser HMS Devonshire in August 1913 as a gunnery officer. In March 1914, as a Lieutenant with over eight years of service, he was advanced to the newly created rank of Lieutenant Commander (with seniority backdated to 15 January 1910). 

At the outbreak of war in 1914, Holbrook was still serving in Devonshire and saw service in the North Sea. He was promoted Commander on 31 December 1914 and then served in the Admiralty as a staff officer until December 1915. Commander Holbrook was then appointed to the battleship HMS King George V; as the Flag Commander to Vice Admiral Martyn Jerram commanding the 2nd Battle Squadron. The 2nd Battle Squadron took part in the Battle of Jutland and King George V fired two salvos at the German battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger. In December 1916 Holbrook was appointed as Flag Commander (for wireless and signals duties) to Vice Admiral Sir Herbert Heath, commanding the 3rd Battle Squadron, flying his flag in HMS Dreadnought. In September 1917, Vice Admiral Sir Dudley de Chair took command of the 3rd Battle Squadron and Holbrook remained as Flag Commander. Sir Dudley de Chair was later Governor of New South Wales during February 1924-April 1930.

In January 1918, Commander Holbrook was appointed as Commander (second in command) of the battleship HMS Iron Duke which operated in English waters and the North Sea for the remainder of the war. In March 1919 the battleship transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet and took an active part in enforcing the terms of the Armistice on Turkey, and also operating in the Black Sea supporting White Russian forces against the advancing Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War. Holbrook was described by his Commanding Officer as a:


Very capable second in command. Level headed, reliable, very keen. Good command over and way with the men.

Leonard Holbrook married Gladys Nina Grove, a widow, on 1 January 1920; she had a son from her previous marriage and they later also had a son. On 30 June 1920 Holbrook was promoted Captain and after completing senior officer’s war and technical courses was appointed to the Admiralty for staff duties. In November 1922, Captain Holbrook took command of the light cruiser HMS Curlew which operated as part of the West Indies Squadron, based at Bermuda, during his time in command. The cruiser also operated extensively in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans as well.

He relinquished command of Curlew in November 1924 and was appointed to the Admiralty, in early 1925, as deputy director of the Gunnery Division. In May of that year he became the Naval Member of the Ordnance Committee. Captain Holbrook became the Senior Officer of the Reserve Fleet, at the Nore, in late 1927 serving afloat in the light cruiser HMS Castor (August-October 1927), the destroyer HMS Spenser (October-December 1927), the light cruiser HMS Calliope (December 1927-September 1928), and the light cruiser HMS Birmingham during December 1928-February 1929.

Holbrook was loaned to the RAN on 19 April 1929. Upon arrival in Melbourne, on 12 June 1929, he was appointed as Second Naval Member in Navy Office responsible for personnel (both RAN and the reserves), discipline, naval and victualling stores and medical services. After seven months in this role he became the Commanding Officer of the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra on 31 January 1930. During his time in command, the cruiser operated off the east coast of Australia conducting training cruises and visits to various ports. Holbrook was appointed as Commodore 1st Class commanding His Majesty’s Australian Squadron on 29 May 1931 taking over from Rear Admiral Evans and flying his flag in the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra.

During his time in command the Australian Squadron, due to the economic restrictions of the Great Depression, consisted of only four ships; the heavy cruisers HMA Ships Australia and Canberra, the sea-plane tender Albatross and one destroyer. Training was restricted to activities off the Australian east coast and in New Zealand waters with ships of the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy.

Leonard Holbrook relinquished his command of the Australian Squadron to Rear Admiral Robin Dalglish on 7 April 1932 and, after handing over, returned to England. Holbrook was appointed Rear Admiral on 15 October 1932 and placed on the Retired List the following day. In retirement he also served as an honorary Aide de Camp to King George V. Holbrook was recalled for service in March 1941 and served as a Captain in the Admiralty until early April 1942. On 8 April 1942, with the rank of Captain, he became the commanding officer of HMS St Vincent, at Gosport, which was utilised as a training depot for Fleet Air Arm officers during the war; with associated signals and torpedo training sections. He relinquished command of St Vincent on 4 December 1945 and retired again from the Royal Navy on 9 February 1946.

Rear Admiral Leonard Stanley Holbrook, MVO, RN died on 29 August 1974 and was buried at Bury in West Sussex. His wife had pre-deceased him and he was survived by his two sons.

Rear Admiral Holbrook was appointed as Commodore 1st Class commanding His Majesty’s Australian Squadron on 29 May 1931.
Rear Admiral Holbrook was appointed as Commodore 1st Class commanding His Majesty’s Australian Squadron on 29 May 1931.