Friday, 21 May 2010

Recent reading matter

I just finished reading Peter Cottrell's THE IRISH CIVIL WAR 1922-23 (Osprey Publishing: Essential Histories No.70 [2008] ISBN 978 1 84603 270 7), and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone with even the mildest interest in recent Irish history.

I must admit that I only had the scantiest knowledge of the Irish Civil War before I read this book, but now I understand why, when they seemed to have a peace of sorts that stood a chance of bringing an end to a conflict that had been going on since 1913, the Irish Republican movement split asunder and the two main factions began to fight each other. One fact that did surprise me was that more people were killed during the Civil War than had been killed in the 'Troubles' that preceded it.

The next book I am going to read is Stephen Prince's THE BLOCKING OF ZEEBRUGGE: OPERATION Z-O 1918 (Osprey Publishing: Raid No.70 [2010] ISBN 978 1 84603 453 4).

I have been fascinated by the Zeebrugge Raid ever since I saw the model of HMS Vindictive in the Imperial War Museum. I was born not far from the Museum, and spent many an enjoyable visit there when I was very young. I have read many books about the Raid and the operations of the Dover Patrol, and I am looking forward to reading this one.

On a personal note, some years ago whilst I was helping my wife trace her family tree, we were at the National Archives at Kew, looking at the First World War service records of some of her family members. One of them had been killed in 1918, aged just 18, whilst serving in the Royal Navy. She pushed the file over to me and asked 'What does balloted for the VC mean on this service record?' I opened and read the file with growing interest.

It transpired that the young man in question – Sidney Digby – had joined the Royal Navy as soon as he was old enough to do so, and had served on one of the Battle Cruisers that formed part of the Battle Cruiser Squadron in the Grand Fleet. He had a reputation for being a very good boxer both before and during his service in the Navy, and it was natural that he would volunteer to join the group of sailors who were recruited from the various squadrons within the Grand Fleet to take part in the Zeebrugge Raid. His record does not relate what he did during the raid, but it was sufficiently noteworthy for him to be included in the ballot for the award of the Victoria Cross. He gained insufficient votes from amongst the survivors to qualify for this gallantry award, but this is hardly surprising as almost all of the sailors with whom he served were killed at the same time that he was, and therefore his bravery probably went unseen by those who survived.

His remains are buried in St James Cemetery in Dover alongside many of those who died during the raid, and it is noteworthy that Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, who commanded the operation, is buried alongside the men he lead into battle, as is his own son who won the VC during the Second World War.

May they rest in peace.


  1. V interesting comments about the Zeebrugge raid. My daughter 'house' at school is called Vindictive after this ship and they are all given a talk on the bravery of the sailors etc.


  2. Guy,

    Thank you for your interest in both this blog entry and the subject of the Zeebrugge Raid.

    Sidney Digby's name is on the monument in Dover, but there is no grave with his name on. I think that his remains are in one of the graves marked 'An Unknown Sailor', which would indicate that his remains were unidentifiable. This is not surprising as the party of sailors he was with was hit by several large calibre shells as they landed, and this is when we think that he was killed.

    All the best,


  3. I envy your ability to discover things like this. One of my long-time regrets, made worse by my passion for the past, is that so much of my family's history is unavailable to me unless I'm able to travel to Europe. For a variety of reasons, I've never been able to do that.

    My mother's family, for example, once had an estate in Wales that I've never even seen pictures of. Whether any of my Welsh forebears served in the wars is unknown to me.

    My sister was able to tour Eastern Europe, and visited the Holocaust Museum in Prague. She discovered my father's mother's family was Jewish by reading their names on the Wall of Remembrance. That was a shock. His father emigrated from Denmark around 1900, and was given up for adoption because his family couldn't afford to keep him. Where his birth family lived and died will be forever unknown.

    As I said, I envy you.

    Best regards,


  4. Chris,

    Family history is very interesting, but can also turn up a few things that can be a bit unpleasant. Yours sounds like it has had its fair share of social ups and downs as well as tragedy.

    My own family has a Norman French name that goes back to the Norman Conquest, but when I had a DNA test last year to trace my genealogical ancestry I discovered that I have the exact DNA markers that show that my paternal roots are in Southern Denmark, Lower Saxony, and Northern Holland (the area is known as Frisia). This apparently makes me almost pure Saxon.

    Further investigation showed that although my family name may be Norman French, one of my female ancestors had an illegitimate child and that this is where the Saxon DNA came into my paternal family.

    My wife has done far more research into her family and has found one ancestor who was tried for murder in the 1830s, another who caused a major accident on the River Thames when more that ten people drowned, and another who served in the British Army (both as a Regular and an Invalid) until he was ninety! At that point he went into the Royal Hospital Chelsea because he was 'too old and decrepit for further service'. They have proved to be very varied group of people, some of whom were quite wealthy and others who ended up in the workhouse.

    I am sorry that I cannot help you with your researches, but the Internet is a great tool if you know where to look.

    All the best,



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