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A Blast From the Past 1918
"The storming of Zeebrugge and glory on St George's Day "

April 24th: Winston Churchill has described it as one of the finest feats of arms ever known. Others will see it as the bloodiest, and most questionable, action of the Great War .

The assault last night on the Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend. In little more than an hour of fighting, 200 men were killed and more than 400 wounded. The 4th Battalion of the Royal Marines was almost wiped out, ships were battered beyond recognition and at least eight heroes have been recommended for the Victoria Cross.

Admiralty sources say the raid has been a success, even if it did not achieve its object of blocking the harbour entirely to German submarines, "but it was a magnificent feat of arms, a great morale booster for Britain and there should be a respite for merchant ships carrying food across the Channel". Certainly Zeebrugge may never again be used by the Germans as a naval base.

The plans for the raid, drawn up by Admiral Sir Roger Keyes in command of the Dover Patrol, were to close canal entrances at the two ports by blockships and, at the same time, storm the Zeebrugge mole and cause as much damage as possible. The armada assembled in theThames Estuary and at Dover. It was led by the 5,750 ton cruiser Vindictive from Chatham, followed by two former Mersey ferry boats Iris and Daffodil. Three old cruisers, the 3,600 ton Thetis, Intrepid and Iphegenia their hulls filled with 1,500 tons of concrete ? were behind the ferries. Straddled across the black water were a further 160 ships. From Deal, where they had been training for weeks, came the 700strong 4th Battalion of the Royal Marines (previously stationed at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth), accompanied by 200 Royal Navy seamen in naval assault parties.

The raiding party left on April 22nd, the eve of St George's Day with Admiral Keyes on board the destroyer Warwick. His message signalled to the armada "St George for England" brought this instant reply from the Vindictive "May we give the dragon 's tail a good twist." The German battery crews othe Belgian coast saw the Vindictive emerge from the fog and smoke screen and began to fire. The action which then took place has been described as "heroic" by the officers who returned because the Vindictive, seriously hit, continued to approachh the mole at Zeebrugge with the intention of putting its guns out of action.

Storming parties assembled on the deck were mown down by shells. Some men landed on the mole and were killed immediately. A howitzer crew was wiped out so the replacement crew took their place. They, too, were all killed. A shell landed on the ship's foretop and killed everyone but a marine sergeant who continued firing. The dead and dying lay on the mole, or in the water, others were killed striving to jump the gap from the ship but they still inflicted great damage to the Belgian port. Three of the blockships also ran into trouble. The Thetis failed to reach the lock gates, the Intrepid was sunk on the western bank of the canal entrance and the Iphegenia was grounded.

A submarine, C3, managed to demolish an iron viaduct forming part of the mole and the crew made their escape in a skiff just seconds before the submarine was blown up by explosives. The return of the expedition to Dover was an event always to be remembered. Twelve times the Iris was hit with heavy loss of life but the real heroine of the night was the Vindictive. She berthed at Dover, so battered, that she was almost unrecognisable.

On board sailors were still wearing lifebelts and others were badly wounded. The landing of 151 shellmangled bodies was a saddening sight. They were taken to the Market Hall while the wounded were taken to Naval hospitals. Today King George and Queen Mary visited the hospital at Chatham and were told by one sailor: "It was bad, very bad, but it was worth it". The Royal Marines are now on their way back to their respective ports.

From Deal they marched from the depot to the railway station with heads bandaged and arms in slings, watched by hundreds of cheering people. Their rifles were decorated with flags. They were in high spirits despite the fact that their numbers had been reduced by more than half. As a mark of respect the 4th Battalion will now disband and it is unlikely that it will ever be reformed. Sadly the Ostend force was not able to achieve its aim, the ships having been grounded before reaching the canal entrance but, despite the loss of life, the Zeebrugge raid is seen as one of the most brilliant actions in the history of the Royal Navy.

January: Despite the brave words of the Generals about the success of the British advance on the Western Front and the heroism of the West Kents many of the young volunteers aged 18 and 19 are returning home wounded with horror stories about the slaughter around them, particularly at Passchendaele. Some are in hospital suffering from "definite hysterical manifestations". Others are at home complaining they were given impossible tasks to accomplish and that they had not been fed. They say it is not a war of rapid movement but a struggle for the struggle for villages, hills, roads and even copses. Many have laid down their arms in the countryside around Ypres and, in their honour, a Canadian medical officer has written a poem. Here is the first verse.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below

January 2nd: Lord Rothermere has been appointed head of the Air Council. January
January 8th: More trees are to be planted in Kent under a statesponsored forestry scheme to ensure that Britain in the future will have sufficient home timber for military and commercial needs. Altogether, two million acres in England will be planted.
22nd: Government orders restaurants and all eating houses not to serve meat on two days each week. The food shortage is now acute.
February 8th: The Representation of the People Act receives Royal Assent giving the vote to married women over 30.
March 9th: New Military Service Bill has raised the maximum conscription age to 30.
March 20th: Coal, gas and electricity have been rationed. Theatres have been told to close at 10.30 pm.
March 25th: No details have been given but all traffic to the East Kent coast has been suspended. It is assumed that a big raid is being planned.
April 22nd: Manfred von Richthofen, known as the `Red Baron' and Germany's most feared pilot ' has been shot down in flames and killed during the Battle of the Somme.
July 1st: Dr Marie Stopes who lived at the Mansion House in Swanscombe for many years has written a book called Married Love which discusses a topic, rarely before mentioned in public sex! In her book Dr Stopes calls for contraceptive advice to be made more available.
July 16th: Russia's Czar Nicholas II and his family have been massacred by Bolshevik rulers. They were shot and bayoneted to death in a cellar in Ekaterinburg in the Urals.
July 23rd: Heavy fighting has been resumed on the Western Front following a long lull caused by an influenza epidemic. Von Ludendorff's offensive across the Marne has already been halted and the tide appears to be turning for the Allies.
October 1st: A young British officer, Major TE.Lawrence, has led an Arab revolt against the Turks and captured the most famous city in the Arab world, Damascus. Multitudes are now celebrating liberation from the Ottoman Empire.
October 23rd: Hundreds of schools in Kent have been forced to close as the worldwide influenza epidemic hits England with a vengeance. The outbreak has devastated Maidstone and those who are suffering the most are the people who live roughly in the crowded and sordid courts and alleys which have long been a blackspot in the county town. In London more than 2,000 deaths have been reported. Worldwide the total is some 53,000.
October 31st: Germany has appealed for an armistice as the shadow of defeat for that country and her Allies grows longer.
November 11th: The Armistice is signed today at l 1 am in a carriage in the forest of Compiegne. Public revelry and rejoicing in Britain has marked the end of the war.
November 27th: A memorial was unveiled today in Gillingham Cemetery in memory of the men killed in the raid on the Royal Naval barracks in 1917. Francis Bennett-Goldney, fomer MP and mayor of Canterbury has died in an American hospital in Brest following a motor accident. He was the Honorary Military Attach to the British Embassy in Paris.