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   

VICTORIA CROSS WAR HEROES #9 FAMILY HEARTBREAK for BRIGADIER GENERAL ROLAND BOYS BRADFORD

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. Brigadier General Roland Boys Bradford was presented with the VC by King George V in Hyde Park on 2 June 1917.

On his return to the front he ordered that the hymn ‘Abide with Me’ be sung every night by his men. The tradition grew and was taken up by the entire Durham Light Infantry (DLI), it remains the hymn of the regiment to this day. 

At 25 he was the youngest Brigadier General in the modern history of the British Army to lead a combat formation. But on 30 November 1917, during the Battle of Cambrai he was killed. On hearing the news the Durham Light Infantry sang ‘Abide With Me’ in respect for their former commander.

Unfortunately the Bradford story doesn’t end there. Two of Roland’s brothers -Second Lieutenant James Bradford died of wounds during the Battle of Arras in 1917 and a year later Lieutenant Commander George Bradford died during the Zeebrugge Raid, he was also awarded the Victoria Cross.

Roland and George are the only brothers to both be awarded the Victoria Cross and no other family is more highly decorated in the history of the British Army. This is Roland’s story.


I was born on 23 February 1892 in Carwood House, Bishop Auckland in County Durham. My parents were George, a mining engineer and Amy, originally from Kent, they married in 1885. I had three brothers and one sister.

I was educated in Darlington at Bondgate Wesleyan School, and went on to Epsom College, Surrey where I captained the Rugby team and was Lance Corporal in the Epsom Cadet Corps.

In 1910 I joined the Territorial Army and two years later transferred to the regular army, serving with the 5th Durham Light Infantry. I was enjoying military life so much I changed my mind about a medical degree and stayed in the Army.

At the start of the war we sailed from Southampton for France on 9 September 1914 landing at St Nazaire the following day. I got on really well with the men and showed tactical awareness so was fast-tracked for promotion. In 1915, we saw action on the Aisne, I was promoted to Lieutenant and awarded the Military Cross.

One year later I was promoted to Major and transferred to the 1st/9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. I was given full command of the battalion. I led them in combat throughout 1916 and much of 1917 and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel aged 24.

On 1 October 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, the 50th Division was ordered into action on the Northern coast of France. It was for his actions during this battle that Bradford would be awarded the Victoria Cross. 

A leading Battalion had suffered very severe casualties, and the Commander was wounded, its flank became dangerously exposed to the enemy and was raked by machine-gun fire, the situation was critical. I asked permission to command the exposed Battalion in addition to my own. Permission was granted.

At once, the two Battalions proceeded to the front lines, we were under fire of all description but succeeded in rallying the attack, we captured and defended the objective, and in the end secured the flank.

Bradford led another attack and captured over 300 prisoners, two howitzers and machine guns with a minimum of casualties. His Battalion penetrated the enemy’s second line and captured Cherisey near the German border.

The following day, he was appointed Temporary Brigadier General, the youngest in the Army, at just 25, he assumed command of 186th Brigade.

He returned to the front after receiving his VC award in June 1917. Sadly, on 30 November, he was visiting his Brigade’s positions alone at Graincourt near the Belgian border, when during a German counterattack he was killed. Finally, Roland was buried in Hermies British Cemetery 100 mile south of Dunkirk.

In addition to his VC and MC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with ‘Mons’ clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The medals are held by the Durham Light Infantry.

Research: Commonwealth War Graves.

Comprehensive Guide to Victoria Cross.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021

VICTORIA CROSS WAR HEROES #7 JOHN SCOTT YOULL: FIGHT ON THE ITALIAN FRONT

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.

Youll was only 21 year old when he was awarded the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 4th September 1918. He was also one of just eight men from County Durham to receive the VC in the Great War. This is his story.

I was born at home on 6 June 1897, my parents were Richard and Margaret of Thorncroft, Thornley, County Durham. I was educated at Thornley Council School and later a student at the Wingate technical classes. I started work at Thornley Colliery as an apprentice electrician at 15.

Then in 1915 I enlisted as a sapper in the Royal Engineers of 1st Durham Field Company. We trained for a year before leaving for France on 11th August 1916. Six month later I returned home for officer training then gazetted to the Northumberland Fusiliers and returned to France at the end of summer. Later that year I was made second lieutenant and our battalion was transferred to the Italian Front.

I was commanding a patrol near Asiago, north of Venice, Italy, when we came under heavy fire so I sent my men back to safety and I remained to watch the situation. Then I reported to a neighbouring unit where I took command of some men and we held our position against enemy attack.

But behind me a machine-gun opened fire. So I rushed in and captured the gun, then opened fire killing most of them. I carried out three separate counterattacks, and drove the enemy back each time.

Tragically, just over a month later, on 27 October 1918, John was killed during an attack across the River Piave. In the attack, Youll was first slightly wounded in the arm, the Army Chaplain arrived and advised him to stay where he was.

Later the Chaplain found his body laid out on a stretcher – he had been struck by a shell. His last words were “It’s all right, we got them stone cold.”

John’s family were notified of his death on 10th November 1918, the day before the Armistice was signed. He was first buried at Spresiano, north of Venice, and later, in June 1919, reburied at Giavera British Cemetery, Veneto, Italy.

In 1997, his medals were sold for £36,000, they included the VC, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 and Italian Silver Star. They were purchased by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.

Research: Commonwealth War Graves.

Comprehensive Guide to Victoria Cross.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021