William Greaves’ family came from the west of England but were living in Barbados where his father, Eustace C. Greaves, was a doctor. William, who was his parents’ only son, attended Lodge School, Barbados, from 1905 to 1915, and then spent 1915-16 at Codrington College, Barbados.
Having won a scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge, he became an undergraduate there studying mathematics and astronomy. in 1919 he graduated with a first in mathematics and astronomy and was also awarded the Tyson Gold Medal for Astronomy. He continued to undertake research at Cambridge as an Isaac Newton Student from 1921-3. In 1921 he was the recipient of the Smith prize and in 1922 he was elected a Fellow of St John’s College.
Greaves was appointed Chief Assistant at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, in 1924. He held this position until 1938 when he was appointed to the chair of astronomy at the University of Edinburgh and Astronomer Royal for Scotland. He was Professor of Astronomy at Edinburgh from 1938 until his death in 1955. While at Greenwich, Greaves had married Caroline Grace Kitto in 1926; their only son George Greaves became a mathematician.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1921 and served as its President from 1947 to 1949. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 6 March 1939 having been proposed by James P Kendall, Max Born, Edmund G Dymond, Ruric W Wrigley, Edwin A Baker, and Sir E T Whittaker. He was Secretary to Ordinary Meetings of the Society 1940-5, and Vice-President 1946-9. Greaves was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1943. There is a crater on the moon named in Greaves’ honour.
Greaves is a small lunar impact crater that lies near the southwest edge of Mare Crisium. It is a circular, bowl-shaped formation with a small interior floor at the centre of the sloping inner walls. The crater is intruding into the northern edge of the lava-flooded crater Lick. To the northwest is Yerkes, and to the northeast is Picard.
Greaves crater was previously designated Lick D, a satellite crater of Lick, before it was given a name by the IAU