VICTORIA CROSS WAR HEROES #10 GEORGE BRADFORD & A DEADLY RAID ON ZEEBRUGGE

The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of an enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

George Bradford was awarded a posthumous VC in 1919, his mother attended Buckingham Palace to receive the family’s second VC from King George V, as George’s brother Roland was also awarded the medal. The Bradford’s were the only brothers to receive the honour in the Great War. (see previous post)

For years after, his sacrifice was remembered every St George’s Day by a memoriam notice in The Times. It was placed there every year until his mother’s death, she used to take part in the Armistice Day services wearing the two VCs of her dead sons. Later, when she was too frail to attend, her place was taken by her daughter. This is George’s story.

I was born on 23 April 1887 at Witton Park, County Durham, my parents were George and Amy. I had three brothers and a sister. We all loved sport and games, it was all fair play. I particularly like boxing. My father was a mining engineer, he had risen through the ranks to colliery manager, mine owner and eventually Chairman of a group of collieries in South Wales and a steel company in Darlington.

I was educated at Darlington Grammar School, the Royal Naval School, Eltham. I joined HMS Britannia in 1902 where I became officers’ welterweight boxing champion and twice reached the finals of championships.

I was promoted through the ranks to Lieutenant Commander in 1917. I served as midshipman in the battleships Revenge and Exmouth, and alternated between destroyer and big ship appointments. I was promoted to Lieutenant the following year for saving a crewman from drowning. I then joined battleships Vanguard, the destroyer Amazon and in 1914, appointed to the Orion.

For the first couple of years of war the Germans were reluctant to engage with the Grand Fleet, which meant little action for me. Sadly, my brothers were heavily involved. Thomas, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order medal in 1916, James, in the 18th Durham Light Infantry, died of his wounds in 1917, two months after earning the Military Cross medal, the most outstanding of all, was Roland.

He was awarded the MC in 1915 and a VC on the Somme a year later, at 25 he was the youngest Brigadier in the British Army before his death in action on 30 November 1917.

On one night in  April 1918 I was in command of the Naval Storming Parties on HMS Iris II. We were trying to land at Zeebrugge in Belgium when we went up alongside the Mole (a stone pier), but it was very difficult to place the anchors because of the motion of the ship – and we were under fire.

Before the ship was fully secured we tried to land by using ladders. Lieutenant Hawkings managed to get one ladder in position and got over just in time as the ladder was crushed to pieces just as he stepped off. This very brave young officer was last seen defending himself with his revolver – he was killed on the parapet.

I climbed up the derrick and tried to secure the ship, all while it was surging up and down and the derrick was crashing onto the Mole. I jumped on to the Mole with the anchor and placed it in position.

Immediately after, George was riddled with bullets from machine guns and fell into the sea between the Mole and HMS Iris II. His body was not recovered until it washed up a few days later three miles down the coast at Blankenberghe. He was buried by the Germans in the Communal Cemetery.

George’s medals, the VC, the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 were eventually sold at auction in 1988 and purchased by Michael Ashcroft and form part of the Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum.

Research: Commonwealth War Graves.

Comprehensive Guide to Victoria Cross.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021