b. 23/04/1887 Darlington. d. 23/04/1918 Zeebrugge, Belgium.
George Nicholson Bradford (1887-1918) was born on 23rd April 1887 at Witton Park, Durham, the second son of George Bradford and Amy Marion Andrews. He was one of four brothers, and a sister who was fourteen years younger than him, and he came from a long established northern family. His father was a mining engineer, who had risen through the ranks to colliery manager, mine owner and eventually Chairman of a group of collieries in South Wales and a steel company in Darlington, where his family lived.
From a young age, the four boys – Thomas, George, James and Roland – were all established with a love of sport, fair play, gallantry and self sacrifice which would ultimately fall true in later life. George attended Darlington Grammar School, the Royal Naval School, Eltham, and Eastmans, before joining HMS Britannia as a cadet in 1902. Although it was said he worked harder than his brothers, his work as a scholar was overshadowed by his sporting prowess. He was a superb athlete, cricketer and outstanding boxer. In the course of his naval career, George became officers’ welterweight champion and twice reached the finals of the army and navy officers’ championships.
He was promoted steadily through the ranks of the Navy, with his last promotion to Lieutenant Commander coming in July 1917, eight years after his promotion to Lieutenant. As a midshipman he had served in the battleships Revenge and Exmouth of the Channel Fleet from 1904-1907, and thereafter alternated between destroyer and big ship appointments. In January 1908, as a sub-lieutenant of 8 months, he joined the destroyer Chelmer, serving under the future VC, Loftus Jones. He was promoted to Lieutenant the following year, for his actions in saving a crewman from drowning. He then joined the battleship Vanguard, and spent two years there, before becoming First Lieutenant on the destroyer Amazon from January 1912 to January 1914, when he was appointed to the Orion.
For the first couple of years of the Great War, the Germans were reluctant to engage with the Grand Fleet, which meant action was limited for George. Sadly, his brothers were far involved in the War. Thomas, later Sir Thomas, was awarded the DSO in January 1916, James, a subaltern in the 18th Durham Light Infantry, died of his wounds in May 1917, two months after earning the MC, and most outstanding of all, was Roland. He was awarded the MC in 1915 and a VC on the Somme a year later, and at 25 became the youngest Brigadier in the British Army before his death in action on 30th November 1917. Sadly, George would soon join James and Roland as casualties of war.
On the night of 22nd-23rd April 1918 (George’s 31st birthday), at Zeebrugge, George was in command of the Naval Storming Parties embarked in Iris II. When Iris II proceeded alongside the Mole great difficulty was experienced in placing the parapet anchors owing to the motion of the ship. An attempt was made to land by the scaling ladders before the ship was secured. Lieutenant Claude E. K. Hawkings (late Erin) managed to, get one ladder in position and actually reached the parapet, the ladder being crushed to pieces just as he stepped off it. This very gallant young officer was last seen defending himself with his revolver. He was killed on the parapet. 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; during this climb the ship was surging up and down and the derrick crashing on the Mole.
Waiting his opportunity 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 posthumous VC was announced on 17th March 1919, and two weeks later, on 3rd April, George’s mother attended Buckingham Palace to receive the family’s second VC from King George V. The Bradfords were the only brothers to receive the honour in the Great War. Having fallen to his death between the Iris II and the Mole, his body was not recovered until it washed up a few days later, some 3 miles down the coast at Blankenberghe, and was buried by the Germans in the Communal Cemetery.
For years after, his sacrifice was remembered every St George’s Day by an in memoriam notice in The Times. It was placed there every year until her death by Mrs Bradford, who used to take part in the Armistice Day services wearing the two VCs and two MCs of her dead sons. Later, when she was too frail to attend, her place was taken by her daughter. George’s medals, the VC, the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, were eventually sold at auction in 1988 at Spinks, and were purchased by Michael Ashcroft and form part of the Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: BLANKENBERGHE TOWN CEMETERY, BELGIUM.
ROW A GRAVE 5
Andrew Swan – Images of the Witton Park VC Stone, and the programme for the Witton Park unveiling.
Thomas Stewart – Darlington War Hospital Memorial.
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.