Albert McKenzie, teenage winner of highest bravery award, to be remembered at ceremony

A teenage sailor, whose bravery during the World War One Zeebrugge Raid earned him a Victoria Cross, will be honoured by the unveiling of the port’s harbour rings near his Bermondsey home.

Albert McKenzie took part in a mission to block German boats in the Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge in 1918. But he died aged 20 in hospital in Chatham, days before the Armistice which ended the war, of a Spanish flu epidemic which killed millions.

Rings from its mole – or breakwater – will be unveiled on Tuesday 27 November by representatives of the government of West Flanders, to complete the Albert McKenzie VC Memorial, first installed three years ago.

McKenzie was one of the few among his landing party who survived the raid on April 23 1918 and the first London sailor to collect the Victoria Cross from King George V. His memorial statue was unveiled in 2015 by Admiral Lord West as HMS Belfast, anchored in the Thames, performed a 48-gun salute in his honour.

Governor of West Flanders, Carl Dealuwé, travelled from Belgium to be present at the 2015 ceremony in which the band of the Parachute Regiment played.

The statue sits atop a concrete plinth made from a section of the Zeebrugge harbour wall donated by the people of Flanders.

It is at the junction of Tower Bridge Road and Grange Road in Bermondsey, just a stone’s throw from his childhood home.

The memorial was made by a local team from Kevin Boyes Blacksmiths in Rotherhithe Street, who were also at the ceremony.

His great-nephew Colin McKenzie said in 2015: “It’s such a huge honour for Albert to be recognised in this way.

“We’ve always known about Albert. We’ve been brought up with the stories about him, but to share that with a much wider audience in this way is almost overwhelming.”

McKenzie, 19 at the time, was on board HMS Vindictive when it entered the Bruges-Zeebrugge canal shortly after midnight on St George’s Day. The British had planned to sink three old warships, blocking the canal entrance, while detonating two old submarines to damage the port of Bruges-Zeebrugge.

The idea was to prevent German submarines from leaving the port and attacking the Allies.

During the raid, Able Seaman McKenzie was wounded in the back and foot. On returning to the UK, he was nominated by his shipmates to receive the Victoria Cross for bravery, presented by King George V. A few weeks later, the celebrated sailor caught Spanish flu during a global pandemic and died of pneumonia, aged 20, on November 3 1918, days before the war officially ended.

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