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Zeebrugge heroes honoured with ceremonial paving stones in the capital

Zeebrugge heroes honoured with ceremonial paving stones in the capital
17 April 2018
Memorial stones have been unveiled to two naval heroes from the ‘first commando raid’, beginning a week of commemorations marking the centenary of the attack on Zeebrugge.

Zeebrugge heroes honoured with ceremonial paving stones in the capitalThe 1918 raid on the Belgian port – then occupied by the Germans – attempted to seal enemy submarines in their base at Bruges by blocking their exit to the North Sea.

Despite narrowly failing, the attack was hailed as a triumph and gave the British public a morale boost at a time when the Army was fighting with its back against the wall on the Western Front.

Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded to participants, an honour revisited as part of Great War centenary commemorations with unique paving slabs dedicated in the towns, villages or boroughs with which recipients were most associated.

Which is why serving sailors, dignitaries and descendants of Captain Alfred Carpenter gathered in Barnes in southwest London and those connected with Royal Marine Capt Edward Bamford met in Haringey in North London.

Captain Carpenter is remembered as a war hero and an outstanding citizen of this borough

Cllr Lisa Blakemore, Mayor of Richmond upon Thames

Zeebrugge heroes honoured with ceremonial paving stones in the capitalCapt Carpenter commanded the cruiser HMS Vindictive which served as the springboard for an assault on the mole at Zeebrugge by raiding parties of sailors and Royal Marines, one of them led by Capt Bamford.

Vindictive came under ferocious fire from German guns as she approached the Mole, but Alfred Carpenter seemed oblivious to the danger, first bringing his ship alongside the harbour wall, then moving around his ship encouraging his men to ever greater deeds.

Able Seaman John Biglin manning a mortar on the cruiser’s forecastle, was amazed by Carpenter’s good luck. “How the Captain of Vindictive escaped seemed to be a miracle, as his clothing was perfectly riddled, but he did not flinch.”

Frequently pictured after the raid with the ship’s cat in his hands, Alfred Carpenter felt that every member of his crew deserved a medal for their part in the attack, but his fellow officers decided their captain was worthy of special distinction and nominated him for Britain’s highest decoration.

The memorial stone to Capt Carpenter, who would go on to become a rear admiral, was unveiled in gardens on Church Street in Barnes in the presence of the officer’s granddaughter.

“Captain Carpenter is remembered as a war hero and an outstanding citizen of this borough. I hope his memory serves as an inspiration to future generations of where selflessness, bravery and service can get you,” said Cllr Lisa Blakemore, Mayor of Richmond upon Thames.

Edward Bamford had already been decorated for bravery aboard HMS Chester at the Battle of Jutland when he was assigned to command of company of marines at Zeebrugge. He led them with the same disregard for personal safety, helping to establish a strongpoint before leading a charge on a German battery.

Throughout, he set “a magnificent example to his men”. His men repaid him by electing him to receive the Victoria Cross in a public vote when the survivors returned to Deal.

He survived the war only to die a decade later from pneumonia while serving on the China station.

Lt Gen Sir Jim Dutton RM, former Governor of Gibraltar and Commandant General Royal Marines, led the tributes to Capt Bamford at the new commemorative plaque at Hornsey War Memorial.

The two unveilings usher in a week of events in Britain and Belgium marking the raid.

All eight VCs, plus three awarded following the subsequent, more successful raid on Ostend, go on display in Bruges’ Provincial Hall from Friday.

On Saturday April 21, senior VIPs, ships and military personnel from Britain, Germany and Belgium will attend the formal commemoration in Zeebrugge, concluding with the dedication of a memorial to Lt Cdr George Bradford VC, killed leading a storming party on the mole. The day closes with a concert by a combined British-German-Belgian military band.

On Sunday, RMR Merseyside will celebrate the role of the Corps and the Mersey ferries which carried assault parties to the mole with a service at the memorial stone at the ferry terminal in Birkenhead at 11am, followed by a march to Wallasey Town Hall.

On Monday April 23, the anniversary day itself, there will be acts of remembrance at the Zeebrugge Monument in Dover’s St James’ Cemetery followed by a parade through the town.

And just along the coast in Deal, an exhibition on the history of the RM in the town will be opened in the civic museum followed by a parade by 42 Commando… exercising the Freedom of Deal awarded by civic leaders several years ago.

And finally - rugby players will remember Lt Cdr Arthur Harrison at a dinner in HMS Nelson, Portsmouth, on April 27.

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