Zeebrugge: Per Mare Per Terram

Zeebrugge: Per Mare Per Terram

St George’s Day marks the centenary of a First World War raid that’s largely forgotten, but not by the Royal Marines.

I know there are a lot of things happening in the news on St George’s Day and I know there are a lot of First World War centenaries kicking about right now, but take a moment to remember this forgotten raid on Zeebrugge from 1918.

When the collective consciousness of the First World War centres on the Western Front and Tommies in trenches, this raid stands out as being something different.

This is intended to be a very brief account, but will give you a flavour of what happened that night.

Zeebrugge? Where? Why?

The raid on Zeebrugge was conceived to combat the threat of German submarines on cross-channel traffic. As everything from Britain to the Western Front had to cross the channel, they were a real problem. That submarine threat came from a triangle of canals that centred on Bruges in Belgium, so a plan was hatched to hinder them by blocking the Bruges Canal where it emerged into the sea at Zeebrugge.

The only issue was that, in order to get to the mouth of the canal, the block ships would need to get past the guns on the fortified mole, or harbour wall.

The job of occupying those guns fell to the Royal Marines and sailors from the Royal Naval Division.


The plan was very simple: that the troops would load up on HMS Vindictive, Iris and Daffodil (the latter two being more commonly known as the Mersey ferries), disembark at the outer end of the mole and keep the defenders’ attention long enough that the block ships could be sunk in the mouth of the canal.

Simple plans ever turn out that way. Vindictive “went to Zeebrugge ungainly and odd-looking, and returned a twisted mass of metal and debris.” According to S. M. Holloway.

Vindictive Bridge

Vindictive Bridge

No plan survives contact with the enemy

The plan had been to arrive under cover of darkness and smoke. According to Captain Arthur Chater RMLI: “Star Shell started coming over us and I realised how well we were concealed by our smoke. Then the wind changed, and the smoke suddenly drifted away…A moment later there was a burst of shell fire and shells came whistling round us.”

Sergeant Harry Wright RMLI noted that: “The slaughter was terrible, Col. Elliot and Maj Cordner was both killed with the same shell…while waiting to give the order to ‘Advance’.”

Added to this, the fire coming from the mole destroyed 12 of the 14 gangways or “brows” that were fitted to Vindictive for the Marines to get on the mole.

Private Bill Scorey RMLI remembered that “…our section was the first to land, what was left of us, and we were lucky too, for no sooner were we on top of the wall, than the German machine gunners had the range, and were playing hell with us,”

Sgt Wright’s No. 10 Platoon wasn’t quite so lucky: “Our casualties were so great before landing that out of a platoon of 45 men only 12 landed. No. 9 Platoon, led by Lt Lamplough, had also about the same number.”

Up close and personal

It turned out that Vindictive had come up against the mole about 120 yards from its intended position, which threw many of plans up in the air. In some cases, this only became apparent to the Marines, such as Lt Lamplough, as they landed: “On arrival at the brows I realized for the first time that the ship was berthed in the wrong position and we were…close to my objective.”

Private William Hodgson was part of No. 12 Platoon’s Lewis Gun section and explained what he carried ashore: “Loaded as I was with full equipment, small arms, ammunition, rifle and two panniers, each with four trays of Lewis gun bullets, it was not easy but somehow I scrambled over and dropped off the parapet wall.”

Private James Feeney RMLI was focussed on the task in hand: “in the anxiety to keep balance on the see-saw of the gangway, I forgot about the rain of lead, and really felt comfortable when I put my foot on the concrete.”

Once ashore, the Marines set about causing trouble wherever they could. Pte Feeney threw bombs at defenders of a dump-house in preparation for blowing it up. Pte Scorey and his No. 5 Platoon attempted to board a German Destroyer “but she sent oil fumes at us, and we replied with liquid fire.” Lieutenant Charles Lamplough also attempted to harass a destroyer and “dealt with a few Germans who came down the mole…as if in attempt to interfere with our scaling ladders.”

You will note that none of these things are what they went ashore to accomplish.

Vindictive Foretop

Vindictive Foretop

Home Again, Home Again

By 12:30 am thoughts were beginning to turn to withdrawal. Lt Lamplough was not relishing the return to the Vindicitve: “The whole time we were there German coast defence guns bombarded the Vindictive and Mole and a considerable number of shells burst at the base of the wall alongside the ship, not and encouraging prospect for our retirement.” Private Feeney was of a similar mind: “I felt rotten to hear the rattle of shells striking the funnels [of Vindictive], and could do nothing just then.”

Getting back on the boats as almost as difficult as getting off them, Pte Feeney RMLI: “we retired in twos to the ladders; it was running the gauntlet over that fire-swept zone…The gangways were heaving up and down now, the hail of shell was awful. Then for the first time it occurred to me that I might get hurt if I hung around any longer, so I was getting careful at last.” He described himself “getting nervous and funky from looking at the dead and listening to the dying.”

Pte Scorey’s No. 5 Platoon met more immediate resistance: “One fired point blank with his revolver at one of our lads, but he paid dearly for it, for our Captain [Bamford] crowned him with his loaded stick…we had to climb up the wall by ladders, which was about 15 to 20 feet high so it was no easy job. No sooner were we at the top than a shrapnel shell came and scattered us…I went in the water myself, but managed to get on board by a rope that was flung to me, she pushed off then leaving some men behind. I think I was the last man aboard.”

Worse was to fall to Harry Wright: “we took it for the signal to retire and commenced doing so when …the order was passed to return to our posts. W obeyed the order, and very shortly afterwards had the horrible ordeal of watching our only means of escape move slowly away.” Harry and his mates spent the rest of the war in German prison camps.

Was it worth it?

Pte Feeney summed up the scene as Vindictive sailed away: “one thing was evident- it cost a great deal of blood. I shall never forget the sight of the mess decks; dead and dying lying on the decks and tables where, but a few hours before, they ate, drank and played cards. In the light of day it was a shambles.”

The feeling on the way home seems to be one of failure. Understandably, as the message that the attack was diversionary appears not to have made it down to Lieutenants, according to Cpt Chater: “I discussed the operation with Bamford. We had failed to gain any of our objectives…We felt that our part in the operation had been a complete failure. We had lost many good men…We felt extremely despondent. We did not know then that…the attack on the mole had created the necessary diversion to enable the blockships to enter the canal.”

Edward Bamford RMLI VC

Edward Bamford RMLI VC

It seems that, for all the feelings of failure, that the raid on Zeebrugge had been successful and the returning Marines were greeted as heroes. Captain Bamford and Sergeant Norman Finch were awarded the Victoria Cross for their deeds. Of those whose voices I’ve used here Captain Arthur Chater was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, Lieutenant Charles Lamplough to Distinguished Service Cross and Sergeant Harry Wright the Distinguished Service Medal. Harry Wright had to wait until his repatriation at the end of the war for his medal.

Norman Finch RMA VC

Norman Finch RMA VC

Any discussion of the value of an operation in the First World War is open to interpretation, I teach a school session on it. So I am not going to pass judgement, merely to pause for a moment and remember those who went to Zeebrugge a hundred years ago, especially those who did not come home.

I will leave the last word to Private James Feeney RMLI: “There were some deeds done that night that make words seem light and not able to touch on the thought you wish to express.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Thoughts, 0 comments
Worst CDP Ever part 2: all I want for Christmas are my two front teeth

Worst CDP Ever part 2: all I want for Christmas are my two front teeth

A tale of how something else awful became part of my teaching practice. Or, how anything can have a sliver lining professionally. Eventually.

Some months ago, I wrote a post about how I caught scarlet fever. I described it as the worst CPD ever.

Apparently, I was in error. I had forgotten something far worse. It became relevant to my teaching for the first time ever last week.

So, here’s another tale of gruesomeness and how it became grist to my learning mill.

Inspiration in even the strangest places

recently, I have found myself teaching a session at the National Army Museum about prosthetic limbs and robots. The session is fairly straightforward: it looks at soldiers who have prosthetic limbs and asks the children to carry out a simple task using a robot arm. The children are asked what task they think soldiers would feel most of a sense of independence from being able to carry out without assistance. Invariably the children (or, in one case, the teacher), identify going to the toilet. That’s not the task.

The simple task is to make a cup of tea. It’s not as easy as it looks, which is rather the point.

Being put on the spot

In the course of delivering one of the sessions, a child asked me whether I have any prosthetics.

A reasonable question, I suppose. After all, how can I speak from a position of knowledge if I have no first-hand experience of the situation?

I looked at myself and admitted that I was largely complete, but carried on to talk about the work I have done with Hasler Company, the Royal Marine rehabilitation unit (now officially Hasler Naval Service Recovery Centre), and how I had worked with and come to understand the issues and emotions of service personnel with life-changing injuries.

It felt like a bit of a soft answer, but they seemed happy with it. Anyway, they enjoyed the session and went away happy. Besides, I can’t beat myself up for not having experienced everything I teach about.

Hasler NSRC

Hang on a minute…

At the weekend I was cooking roast duck. I tasted the juice coming off the bird with a spoon. A spoon that had been dipped in fat from an oven set to 180 degrees. “It’s a good job,“ I thought to myself, “that I don’t have my real teeth any more. This would probably be really hot if I could feel temperature.”

Then I paused and considered that thought: “It’s a good job I don’t have my real teeth any more.”

Oh.…real teeth.

Wait a moment. Does that mean I have prosthetic teeth? Yes, I think it probably does. I did lose them in a life-changing incident and they’re never growing back.

How does one “lose” teeth?

In the summer of 2002, I was in a road traffic incident where, to cut a long story very short, I collided with a Land Rover when riding my bike. The slightly longer version is that the driver overtook me and then stopped very suddenly, so I crashed into the back of the car, taking out their back windscreen with my face.

Or, at least, that’s what I’m told happened.

I remember trying to work out where my glasses had gone because I couldn’t see.

Then I was rushed to hospital by ambulance and straight into A&E. A battery of tests, x rays, scans, some maxillo-facial work and a lot of stitching later I was sent to bed on a ward. It turns out I was lucky to come out of it in one piece.

In the days before omnipresent mobile phone ownership, getting a message to my family was…tricky.

It looked a little like this

It looked a little like this

It wasn’t until the following morning that I was even allowed to look in the mirror. I discovered that, although I hadn’t broken anything, my face was a mess. In fact, I looked a lot like Robert de Niro when he played Frankenstein’s monster. It was not a pretty sight.

And I couldn’t speak. That was mostly because I’d knocked out several of my top teeth in the impact. Others were glued in place in a desperate attempt to save them.

Later that day, I was sent home with instructions to take it easy. That wasn’t difficult: I felt like I’d been hit by a car.

Within a fortnight it became clear that all of my front teeth at the top were either gone or going go. I was fitted with false teeth: dentures.


Dentures!? I was 25. People my age are not supposed to have to buy strident and denture glue. On a number of occasions, I was actually asked if I was buying them for my gran. Nothing is guaranteed to make you feel old better than that.

Dentures are rubbish. They never feel like they belong. They have an annoying tendency to fall out when you least need it. I will never forget the look on someone with whom I was sharing a climbers’ bunkhouse when I produced a glass while brushing my teeth and proceeded to spit my front teeth into it. Talk about mood killer.

The long and short of it

I had the dentures for a year. A year of hospital visits, of long sojourns in the dentist’s chair and painful procedures.

At the end of it I was the proud owner of a bridge. It’s basically a set of false teeth that are glued in place, stuck over my canines.

I’ve had them for fifteen years now. Most of the time, I can almost forget they are not my real teeth. They don’t hurt and they fit pretty well, all thigs considered. I’ve had to relearn how to whistle, how to eat apples, in fact anything hard, I have to be careful with drink because of the odd shape of my lips, I can tell when I’m dehydrated because the bits of road in my lip come to the surface, things like that. I can no longer do my party trick of picking up a full glass of drink with my teeth, the bridge is too expensive.


This is from an entirely different incident

This is from an entirely different incident

They feel almost “normal”. Almost. Most of the time. Sometimes, it feels like I’m wearing a gumshield. After all this time, I usually forget that this isn’t the way I have always been. Except when I try to whistle.

So, I don’t consider myself an amputee. That would be greatly overstating it.

But, there is less of me than there used to be. I have had to get used to the fact that by body is different, that I look different, that a part of me is artificial and might break in normal use. Thinking back on it, there was considerable emotional adjustment.

Back to the point

Where were we?

Oh yes. If I dig a little, I do have some insight into what it feels like for a catastrophic (potentially fatal) incident. It’s an insight that I can bring to bear when teaching about traumatic experiences. So, next time I am teaching a class and someone asks that difficult question, I will have to remember to say yes. It will make my teaching better.

I would not recommend this as a way that anyone else can hone their teaching craft. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It was awful, but it has helped me.

Just like the Scarlet fever, you will be pleased to know that I have no plans to use bloody pictures of my own face to illustrate learning sessions.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Thoughts, Uncategorised, 0 comments
It’s been a bit quiet around here lately

It’s been a bit quiet around here lately

I am aware that I’ve been a touch taciturn recently, please bear with me: there is exciting stuff just around the corner.

It’s been a difficult autumn here at Past Participant Towers. Things have been happening behind the scenes that have conspired to distract me from writing and updating things as often as I’d like. I’m not going to go into any detail but suffice it to say that autumn has brought bad news for us on a number of fronts.

I can only apologise for the break in service, it wasn’t what I had in mind during the summer but it’s what happened.

Consider this post an announcement that Andy is back in the saddle and that we will be updating things much more frequently in future. There is plenty to look forward to over the next few weeks. I’ve got a backlog of stuff to go up that should be a lot of fun.

I’ll keep you posted: I hope you like it.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Thoughts, 0 comments
Worst CPD. Ever! How I caught scarlet fever

Worst CPD. Ever! How I caught scarlet fever

This week I found myself doing research on historic illnesses. In this case it’s not for a learning session but because, apparently, I’ve been suffering from scarlet fever.


I’m used to researching all kinds of slightly odd subjects. All sorts of weird and wonderful things have been on my radar at one time or another. Former heads of the KGB? Check. How to construct a dirty bomb? Check. The background and history of various paramilitary groups? Check. Peculiar illnesses of sailors (not that sort)? Got. The Latin name of Stella’s Sea Eagle? Done that. All in the name of genuine academic research for a learning session of one variety or another.

Not this week. This week I’ve been researching something because I have been the victim of it. This is, without doubt, worst research I’ve ever done.

So, how did we get here?

Last week, as I was minding my own business in the shower, I looked down and noticed that my arms were the wrong colour. The colour in question was scarlet. Being bright red is never a good sign. The only thing that is worse than being bright red is realising how red you are based on the little blotchy bits that aren’t. Those little blotchy bits were confined to the inside of my elbow and by armpit.

Being the only person in the house, I started ever so slightly to worry. As I called NHS Choices (or whatever they call NHS direct now) I started to run through the things that it might be: none of these were places I particularly wanted to go. The result of that conversation was that they thought I was to get myself to hospital post-haste. A short taxi ride later I was sitting A&E waiting to be seen. A few short hours later and I was sent home reassured that I was indeed having an allergic reaction to something, though exactly what that something was wasn’t entirely clear. A bit of a pain, thought I, but something that could be lived with.

Or so I thought.

My arm with scarlet fever rash

My arm with scarlet fever rash

I took this picture in A&E. The light is pretty awful, but this lurid rash was all over me by this stage.

Things become steadily less clear

that night I completely failed to sleep.

The following day I felt like I had been run over. Everything ached. My hands and wrists and arms were swollen. And I was doddering round like an old man. In short: it was rubbish.

“Oh well,” I’ll just muddle through this and, sooner or later, I’ll be right as rain again. Turns out that the emphasis would be on later rather than sooner. I shuffled through that day, the following day, the weekend and, eventually, admitted that if I still felt this bad on Monday morning I’d call the doctor.

Monday morning. Guess what? On the phone to the doctor. Cue phone consultation. Cue appointment to be seen later. The doctor looked me over, poked, prodded and generally badgered me before making her pronouncement: “you’ve got a strep infection.

I raised one eyebrow and asked: “a what?”

“A streptococcal infection.” After a certain amount of elucidation she said “you’ve got scarlet fever. Or, at least, something very much like it.”

“Oh. Scarlet fever you say.”

Well that answers that then. That would explain the aches and pains, rash, feeling wrung out, everything. Just a quick blood test in the morning to confirm all of this.

So, why am I telling you all this?

So, I went home and did what any self-respecting education professional would do next: I sat down and researched what the hell it was I’d been diagnosed with. In many ways it was a lot like being at work. It was like those situations where someone says: “Andy, do you think you could put together a session on this?” To which I always reply: “of course I can.” Before heading off frantically beginning to research it. That evening was pretty much the same. I was starting from a base knowledge on streptococcal infections of approximately zero (except that I’d heard of some of the diseases and courses). The learning curve was, unsurprisingly, really rather steep.

The other way in which this was much like preparing for a learning session was this: no one gets scarlet fever any more. I found myself reminded of Terry Pratchett’sthe Colour of Magic” which finishes with Scrofula turning up to collect the soul of the main character. The would-be Grim Reaper is rebutted thusly: “nobody dies of scrofula any more”. I felt very much the same about scarlet fever. Here I was researching an illness that nobody gets any more. Nobody, that is, except me. It was much like the times in the past when I have prepared learning sessions on scurvy or typhus or dysentery. These were not diseases of which I expect to gain first-hand knowledge.

And yet here I was with a list of symptoms ticking each one off with a sage nod and a mutter of “yup, got that.” There was a certain grim humour attached to the whole process.

A matter of empathy

so, what have I got out of the whole experience? I did have a rash, but that’s gone away now. I still have a lot of aches and swollen joints. What I’ve really got out of this is a sense of empathy with sufferers of illnesses, diseases and conditions that are (thankfully) largely considered to be historic. No longer do I view the poor unfortunates who have suffered from these diseases as characters but as real people groaning and mumbling about how unwell they felt. And rightly so because, if they felt anything like I do, they felt awful. As well as empathy, I also feel a sense of genuine sympathy for fellow sufferers.

The downside of all this is that, whilst I have discovered many new and exciting things, I have been far too unwell to do any actual work. Preferring instead to shamble listlessly around complaining about how my hands and wrists hurt. Notable things that cause significant pain: using a keyboard and opening door handles. Both of which feature fairly heavily in my daily routine. Excitingly, I have been able to circumnavigate the first of these by beginning to work with voice recognition technology (which feels a lot like the future).

You will, however, be pleased to hear that at no point do I plan to develop a learning session using photos of my own ill-health as teaching resources.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Thoughts, Uncategorised, 0 comments

A tough audience: honing the craft

I’ve done this thousands of times before, why am I nervous now?

I wasn’t nervous a couple of hours ago. Why am I sitting here, waiting for my turn to deliver with sweaty palms and the shakes? I’ve delivered funny, engaging talks and sessions so many times that I really can’t remember the number. I feel horribly undercooked and unprepared. I’ve delivered countless times with slimmer notes than this. Why now?

Because this is different.

I really have delivered talks for tough crowds like Royal Marines Warrant Officers (chaps with 20+ years of experience as soldiers), I’ve delivered workshops for critical audiences of my peers at conferences, I’ve engaged with unforgiving crowds like teenagers excluded from mainstream education. It really isn’t as though this is a new experience for me. So why am I bricking it now?

I’ll tell you why: because this talk is a Best Man’s speech for an old friend. I’m looking out over a sea of unfamiliar faces, many of whom are waiting for me to fail.

Photo: Thomas Farmer

I’ve seen my fair share of these talks. I’ve seen the best man so crippled by nerves he reads a speech to the table. I’ve seen the Best Man whose tale of the groom’s misdeeds is excruciatingly inappropriate. I’ve seen the Best Man who really didn’t have anything interesting to say. Right now, I’m hoping not to be one of them.

I’m looking at a tightrope. On one side: a boring speech that goes on too long. On the other: offending everyone in the room, particularly the bride’s family. Both sides are alligator pits of agonising failure. The gap between them is a hair’s breadth across. No amount of practice prepares me for that moment when I stand up an everyone is looking at me.

They’re all waiting for me to perform.

It’s time to dig deep. It’s time to remember my craft. I know I can do this. I’ve done it a thousand times before. I’ve succeeded thousands of times before. I’ve convinced highly experienced Royal Marines I’m trustworthy with their heritage. I’ve introduced my peers to new ways of doing things. I’ve even convinced teenagers that a museum visit might actually be something worth doing.

Hold on to that feeling.

I know my material.

Make eye contact with as many people as possible. Watch the signs. Deliver the opening gambit. Watch how it goes. Mentally recalibrate the next element based on that assessment. Watch how that goes. Make eye contact with a different part of the room. Hold on. Watch how that goes and recalibrate again. Ok, I’ve got a feeling for the flow. Move slightly to make eye contact with another table and watch their response whilst keeping the other eye on the head table. Keep going, use the momentum of the early gags to get over any duff ones later. Feel the room warming. Gain confidence and belief in my craft. I know how to do this.

I’ve stopped looking at my notes. I know my material from here. I know where to pause to let the groom know where the punchline is going to fall. I know how long to leave it before bringing everyone else in. Weave the disparate threads together so everyone’s relationship with the groom is included. Build towards the final gag. Steer people’s expectations, set them up so they think they know where I’m going.

Then drop the hammer. Deliver the last line. Back myself to stop on a high and not fill the space with chatter. Let it land and then deliver the toast. Sit down without overstaying my welcome.

Done. Feel the relief wash over me. I’ve survived. I’d be better next time. I’m already evaluating and improving just like I would at work. The slightly duff bits would be ironed out. The pauses would be different lengths. I’d swap the running order slightly and substitute bits that I didn’t include this time for bits that didn’t really work.

Then I remember: there will be no next time. It’s done and I don’t have to evaluate this time. It’s second nature: an automatic reflex now that drives me to deliver better every time I do it.

Not this time. This time I relax and allow myself, for the first time in the evening, a glass of wine.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Session design, Thoughts, Uncategorised, 2 comments

Singing for Children

Thoughts on mood, music and its impact on children

This weekend was my niece’s 5th birthday. In many ways the party was everything is what you would expect: 40 odd small people charging round shouting and laughing. There was gym equipment to play on and party food to be eaten (not to mention 40 layers of pass the parcel).

In the midst of this I found myself looking after the birthday girl’s younger brother. He’s usually a bonny wee chap but this weekend had been long and tiring for him so the noise proved too much. Being a good godparent, I offered to take him somewhere quiet for a break.

He was clearly upset as he cried into my shoulder blade while I walked him round the closed café. For want of something else to do that might soothe him I began singing to him. On a whim I chose the shanty “Bold Riley”. I’d love to say that the effect was instantaneous but it took a couple of verses. The crying slowly became more of a burble. Clearly, he preferred my singing to the screaming of 5 year olds, I went through my repertoire of quiet songs to sing to him. I’ve no idea what the staff thought of the whole affair.

I began thinking about the impact of singing on people and their moods, specifically in the shanty singing sessions I deliver. Previously when I’ve delivered the session I’ve opened with something easy and progressed to more complex responses and finish with something big and bold.

Now I’m thinking of an alternative approach: I’m thinking of building the set from a point of view of the emotion of each song. Definitely open with something big, engaging and simple to learn: it will get the students involved and overcome the natural reluctance to sing in public. Then progress to something more involved, I think. Build to something high energy and upbeat, to ensure that everyone is having fun. Previously I’ve ended on something big and enthusiastic but now, maybe, I might opt for something more low key, tuning down the energy and the volume to bring everyone back into the here and now so they’re ready to get on with the rest of the day. Having just tried it at home, it makes a more complete arc and a pleasing end point.

The power of song to evoke an emotion never ceases to impress and surprise me, the power of singing together even more so.

Thanks to my sister for agreeing to my posting this. She has since informed me that the wee fella loves music, having a mobile in his cot that plays Mozart. He clearly has high standards!


Posted by Past Participants Andy in Session design, Thoughts, 0 comments