Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1918, Lieutenant Commander George Nicholson Bradford V.C., the Royal Navy, was killed in action at Zeebrugge in Belgium.
He was one of five children of a mining engineer who had worked his way from colliery manager to chairman of a group of collieries in South Wales and a steel company in Darlington. He attended Darlington Grammar School, Barnard Castle School, and the Royal Naval School before joining H.M.S. Britannia in 1902 as a cadet. At school he excelled in cricket and boxing and was a superb athlete – he exhibited these skills in the navy, becoming the officers’ welterweight champion and twice reaching the finals of the army and navy officers’ championships.
Lieutenant-Commander Bradford served on the battleships H.M.S. Revenge and H.M.S. Exmouth of the Channel Fleet and later the destroyer H.M.S. Chelmer in 1908, serving under Commander Loftus Jones (who earned the Victoria Cross, posthumously, in May of 1916). He saved a crew member from drowning and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant before joining the battleship H.M.S. Vanguard. By the outbreak of the Great War he had served on the destroyer H.M.S. Amazon and been appointed to H.M.S. Orion.
On the night of the 22nd of April, 1918, at Zeebrugge, Lieutenant-Commander Bradford was in charge of the naval storming parties on H.M.S. Iris II. As they were alongside the mole, there was difficulty in placing the parapet anchors and so it was decided to attempt to use scaling ladders. Lieutenant Claude Hawkings reached the parapet, but his ladder was crushed and he was shot dead.
Lieutenant-Commander Bradford was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions that night. His citation tells the story: “Though securing the ship was not part of his duties, Lieut-Commander Bradford climbed up the derrick, which carried a large parapet anchor and was rigged out over the port side…the ship was surging up and down and the derrick crashing on the Mole…he jumped with the parapet anchor on to the Mole and placed it in position. Immediately after hooking on the parapet anchor Lieut-Commander Bradford was riddled with bullets from machine guns and fell into the sea between the Mole and the ship”. His body was not recovered until a few days later, and was buried by the Germans in the Blankenberghe Town Cemetery.
George, from Durham, died on his 31st birthday.