Naval service takes part in Zeebrugge commemorations

Commemorations in Belgium to mark the centenary of the Royal Navy’s historic raid on the port of Zeebrugge during the First World War were attended by the Senior Service over the weekend.

The daring raid by Royal Marines and a blockade of Royal Navy warships on St Georges Day 1918 was designed to trap the German U-Boats and stop their attacks on supply ships.

Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded for actions in Zeebrugge with a further three for a similar assault at Ostend; the most awarded for naval military action across military history.

Central to events in Belgium was a grand opening of the 'Battle for the North Sea' exhibition in the Bruges magnificent 'Provincial Hof' (Regional Palace). There, government officials alongside family members and descendants of WW1 leaders, who had played a part in the raid, gathered to look at period artefacts and for the first time ever, all 11 Victoria Crosses awarded were on display.

Uncle Georgie was a volunteer, as they all were, and he was in charge of the raiding party of the Royal Blue Jackets in HMS Iris. He was the welterweight champion of the Royal Navy and was athletic enough to climb up and leap over the gap into the Mole. From there he tried to fix the anchor, and I believe he was successful, before he attracted machine gun fire and fell into the water. Uncle Georgie was killed on his 31st birthday.

Andrew Creamer , great nephew of Lt Cdr George Nicholson Bradford.

Following on from this a parade and ceremony took place in Zeebrugge which was attended by The Princess Royal as well as senior military officials from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines as well as their counterparts from Belgium and Germany.

HMS Somerset, FGS Brandenburg and the Belgium Navy provided guards alongside the Royal Marines Band Scotland and a German Navy Band.

In the afternoon officials gathered at Blankenberg cemetery where a wreath was laid at the grave of VC winner Lieutenant Commander George Nicholson Bradford who was killed in action and washed up on the shores of the town. He was buried alongside four others who also lost their lives after HMS North Star was sunk.

His great nephew Andrew Creamer said he was one of four brothers who were all decorated for their heroic actions in the war.

“Uncle Georgie was a volunteer, as they all were, and he was in charge of the raiding party of the Royal Blue Jackets in HMS Iris,” he said. “He was the welterweight champion of the Royal Navy and was athletic enough to climb up and leap over the gap into the Mole. From there he tried to fix the anchor, and I believe he was successful, before he attracted machine gun fire and fell into the water. Uncle Georgie was killed on his 31st birthday.”

The attack on the Belgium harbour of Zeebrugge during the final year of the First World War, by British Sailors and Royal Marines at night on a heavily fortified Belgium coastline, was designed to block the canal entrances leading to the inland harbour of Bruges, where German Navy U-Boats and Destroyers were operating.

There they had been launching relentless attacks on British shipping supplying vital food, troops and munitions to the War effort in Flanders and Northern France.

The raid was a turning point in the war and led to the formation of Commando Units and raiding groups, which took the fight to the Germans 24 years later during WW2 - a role the Royal Marines continue to this day.

Further commemorations will take place in Dover on today – St George’s Day – as the ships which took part in the raid, HMS Vindictive, Iris and Daffodil were part of the Dover Patrol.