The Zeebrugge Memorial
Every Royal Marine should know the story of Zeebrugge; indeed the 23rd April 1918 is one of the Corps’ Memorable Dates. Until 198? The ‘Zeebrugge Association’ carried out annual pilgrimages to this Belgian port to remember their fallen comrades, and to commemorate the battle. However father time took his toll, and by the mid eighties, with just a few survivors left, ‘they’ decided to call it a day. A few years later the City of London Branch RMA recommenced these visits, and today it is an established event and a highlight of the City Branch’s calendar, which is recognised officially by the people of Zeebrugge via their Feestcommitte.
So what of Zeebrugge today? Well each year on the Sunday nearest 23rd April the people of Zeebrugge continue to pay their respects for the fallen of 85 years ago. The whole town is involved from the youngest to the eldest and wreathes are laid at the Memorial. A religious service takes place at St Donnaskirk conducted in both Flemish & English. A particular aspect of the day is the involvement of schoolchildren. They are encouraged to take part in all aspects of the ceremonies, and there is even a competition for the best essay and painting describing the events of that night. There is an emphasis on the lessons to be learnt, namely not the glory of war but the tragedy of war and that the struggle for liberty over subjugation has a price, and that freedom should not be taken for granted. As a consequence young people in Zeebrugge have a mature view on the subject; something their peers in UK could learn much from. When asked why so much fuss is made about a few hundred Brits so many years ago, a Belgian youth was heard to reply, “The raid came after three and a half years of occupation by an intolerant enemy, and this action gave us hope. For the people of Zeebrugge it was a sign that it was the beginning of the end and this town will never forget those men of the sea”. This reply can have a very humbling effect upon representatives of a country that has not been successfully invaded for over 900 years.
Last year, (2008), the Branch was joined by His Excellency, Lt Gen. Sir Rob Fulton KBE, HM Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar, who laid wreathes ‘to their memory’ and unveiled a plaque, (specially commission to commemorate the 90th Anniversary), at Fisherman’s Wharf, opposite the Mole where the 4th Battalion landed from HMS Vindictive and the two former Mersey ferries, Iris & Daffodil.