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Stones in capital celebrate heroic Royal Navy trio from Ostend Raid

9 May 2018
Amid the hustle and bustle of Chelsea’s lively Sloan Square on a fine spring weekday, Chelsea Pensioner James Little admires a new paving stone to a naval hero – one of three unveiled in the capital to Naval VC winners.

Lts Roland Bourke, Victor Crutchley and Geoffrey Drummond were all honoured with memorial slabs in their home boroughs a century after the raid in which their deeds earned the nation’s highest decoration.

In May 1918 , the three officers played key roles in a mission to bottle up German submarines in their base at Bruges by blocking their outlet to the North Sea through the port of Ostend – having already partially sealed off Zeebrugge three weeks earlier with the famous attack on the port of Zeebrugge.

At Ostend, Lt Crutchley took charge of flagship HMS Vindictive when her captain was killed and scuttled her as planned under ferocious enemy fire. He then scoured the ship for survivors, took command of a motor launch which was crammed with his wounded shipmates and guided them to safety.

On that same motor launch was Lt Geoffrey Drummond who was wounded three times yet remained at his post and ensured the rescue of 40 men from Vindictive.

He always had a great respect for the servicemen and women of today's Royal Navy who he knew was just as courageous and brave as he was and his men during the famous raids at Zeebrugge and Ostend.

Julia McNeill, Lieutenant Crutchley’s granddaughter

Lt Bourke commanded another motor launch who returned to the harbour entrance to pick up three injured sailors clinging to an overturned boat when the rest of the attacking force had withdrawn – bringing the full wrath of the defenders down upon his small craft, which was hit 55 times but survived.

As with all Victoria Cross winners between 1914-18 the three men have been remembered with memorial slabs; eight were dedicated last month for heroes of the Zeebrugge raid.

Descendants, sailors from HMS Westminster, the Royal Canadian Navy – Roland Burke was born in London but emigrated to Canada in 1902 – civic leaders and Chelsea Pensioners gathered for ceremonies in Sloan Square honouring Lts Burke and Crutchley and Victoria Gardens for Lt Drummond.

“He didn't tend to talk about his role in the Ostend raid but there was once when at a dinner celebrating VE Day he gave a speech where he described what happened. It was very moving and spellbinding to listen to him re-live the winning of the Victoria Cross,” said Victor Crutchley, grandson of the namesake hero.

“I will never forget it. In particular he described the action down to every detail and he got emotional when the talked about the recovery to HMS Warwick and getting everyone off the boat."

Julia McNeill, Crutchley’s granddaughter, remembered him recounting the story of the attack “with great colour and enormous humour. He would have loved to be here today, alongside the serving Royal Navy and the veterans.

“He always had a great respect for the servicemen and women of today's Royal Navy who he knew was just as courageous and brave as he was and his men during the famous raids at Zeebrugge and Ostend."

Rear Admiral Simon Williams, the senior representative from today’s RN, said the courage and valour of the men of Ostend “meant a lot to the sailors of their generations – as it does today to the Royal Navy of the 21st Century.

“These deeds of bravery are still relevant today as they were 100 years ago. The Young men of the First World War Royal Navy showed tremendous valour and volunteered to fight and we proud of their courage and commitment “

At the service in Victoria Gardens, Cllr Rachael Robathan, Armed Forces told those gathered to remember Lt Drummond: “Our experience of commemorating the Victoria Cross recipients born in this city is that their acts of bravery and leadership have the power to resonate across the generations, and bring us closer to them and the events of 100 years ago.”

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