Armistice Day 2014, St James’s Cemetery, Dover, Kent

Yesterday Sue and I drove to St James’s Cemetery, Dover, to pay our respects at a memorial upon which is inscribed the name of her great uncle, Sidney George Digby.

St James’s Cemetery is located on the slope of a valley that runs down from cliffs on which Dover Castle is situated. It contains a large number of graves from the First and Second World Wars, including a large memorial to those killed during the Battle of Britain. Somewhat separated from the main body of graves is a line of gravestones and a memorial cross, and these mark the graves of those who fell during the Zeebrugge Raid on 23rd April 1918 and the sinking of HMS Glatton in Dover Harbour on 16th September 1918.)

The memorial cross …

… is mounted on a plinth around which are inscribed the names of the Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines who were killed during the Raid, and whose bodies were not identifiable. Amongst them is the name of Sidney George Digby.

Sidney was 19 years old when he was killed. He had trained to be a Thames Lighterman and had been an amateur boxer before he joined the Royal Navy. He served in the Grand Fleet Battle Cruiser Squadron, and when volunteers were called for to take part in ‘special duties’, he was one of the men who answered the call. He was part of the crew of HMS Vindictive and as far as we can tell, he was blown apart by a heavy shell that hit the Vindictive just as he was landing on the Mole at Zeebrugge.

Some years ago Sue managed to see a copy of Sidney’s Service Record, and stamped on the cover were the words ‘Balloted for VC’. This means that Sidney’s name was included in the ballot that was held after the Raid to see who would be allocated a Victoria Cross on behalf of all of those who were killed. Sidney received quite a few votes from his surviving shipmates, but not enough to qualify for the award.

At one end of the row of graves – and separated from the rest of the graves by a small gap – is the grave of Admiral of the Fleet Roger John Brownlow Keyes, 1st Baron Keyes, Bt, GCB, KCVO, CMG, DSO. As plain Admiral Roger Keyes he led and planned the Zeebrugge Raid, and must be counted amongst the ranks of Britain’s greatest admirals. Lord Keyes requested that when he died, he should be buried with the men who were killed during the Raid.

Near to Lord Keyes’s grave is a monument to him … and to his son, Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Keyes VC.

Lieutenant Colonel Keyes was one of the original Middle Eastern Commandos, and was killed on 18th November 1941 leading an abortive and – as it turned out – pointless attack on what was thought to be Rommel’s headquarters.

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