Submariners honour Zeebrugge Raid hero with memorial plaque

Submariners dip their standards in salute of one of the Service’s greatest heroes – the sixth to receive a commemorative plaque in his home town.

Deeps past and present converged outside 15 Cathedral Close, Exeter – today part of the city’s Cathedral Choir School – to unveil the memorial to Lt Richard Sandford VC, born nearby 125 years ago, and winner of the nation’s highest honour for gallantry for his part in the daring raid on Zeebrugge in 1918.

Sandford commanded the obsolete submarine C3, packed with explosive and crewed by a handful of men who were charged with blowing up a viaduct – just one element of a grand plan to block the Belgian port and prevent German U-boats sailing.

The bridge carried a railway line linking the shore with Zeebrugge’s Mole, which arched out into the Channel.

He was a remarkable, very brave man and an inspiration to all submariners.

‘Sandy’ Powell

Sandford guided his boat alongside the piles supporting the viaduct before lighting the fuse on the charges and abandoning C3 before the men were picked up.

C3 blew up with tremendous force, destroying both the submarine herself and the viaduct, reduced to twisted rails and pieces of shattered wood.

Sandford was badly wounded In the left thigh and right hand and spent several months recuperating in hospital – during which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Although he recovered and returned to the Silent Service, he succumbed to typhoid fever just 12 days after the war’s end.

Come April 2018, a memorial paving slab will be placed in an Exeter street to mark Sandford’s bravery as part of a national campaign honouring Great War VC winners.

But the Submariners’ Association is also performing its own commemorations by erecting traditional blue plaques at pertinent sites.

Around 120 guests, included Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Devon Cdre Jake Moores (a former submariner), Submariners’ Association president Rear Admiral Niall Kilgour and chairman Jim McMaster, Richard Sandford’s descendants and crew from HMS Trenchant who formed a guard of honour, while the Dean of Exeter Cathedral, the Very Reverend Dr Jonathan Draper, led a service of thanksgiving,

“He was a remarkable, very brave man and an inspiration to all submariners,” said ‘Sandy’ Powell from the association’s national management committee.

“It was an excellent day, everybody appeared to enjoy themselves and the rain stayed away.”

The association’s mission to remember its finest leaders with blue plaques continues; the next to be installed will remember legendary WW2 ‘ace’ David Wanklyn VC at Knockinaam Lodge, Portpatrick,next spring