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Bravery of First World War naval hero honoured

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

First World War hero Lieutenant Norman Holbrooke, the first submariner to receive the Victoria Cross, honoured at Southsea.

Communities Minister Penny Mordaunt has spoken of her admiration for First World War hero Lieutenant Norman Holbrooke, the first submariner to receive the Victoria Cross - Britain’s highest military honour - at a special ceremony on the seafront at Southsea, Hampshire close to where he was born.

The ceremony was held to mark the laying of a commemorative paving stone in his honour and took place 100 years to the day of Norman Holbrooke’s brave actions in the Dardanelles, North Western Turkey.

Holbrook was a 26-year-old lieutenant in charge of HM Submarine B11. His citation for the award read:

…For most conspicuous bravery on the 13th December 1914, when in command of the Submarine B-11, he entered the Dardanelles, and, notwithstanding the very difficult current, dived his vessel under five rows of mines and torpedoed the Turkish battleship “Messudiyeh” which was guarding the minefield.

Lieutenant Holbrook succeeded in bringing the B-11 safely back, although assailed by gun-fire and torpedo boats, having been submerged on one occasion for nine hours.

Speaking following the ceremony which was attended by members of the Holbrook family including his 92-year-old niece Elizabeth Holbrook, Penny Mordaunt said:

One hundred years ago, Norman Holbrook demonstrated exceptional bravery over many hours, as the Royal Navy sought to take the fight to the Ottoman Navy and protect the Dardanelle straits.

In charge of an aging craft, facing treacherous currents, minefields and gunfire, it’s testimony to the dangers they successfully overcame that each member of the crew was decorated. They were all heroes in their own right and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.

Holbrook’s actions captured the public imagination throughout the British Empire and he featured prominently on commemorative memorabilia including on cigarette cards. A small town in New South Wales, Australia even changed its name to ‘Holbrook’ in his honour.

Norman Holbrooke left the submarine service in 1918 and the Royal Navy in 1920. He was promoted to the rank of Commander on retired honours in 1928 at the age of 51 he served with the Admiralty in the Second World War.

He died and was buried in Stedham, West Sussex, in July 1976.

Memorial VC paving stone

Earlier this year Norman Holbrooke’s grave at St James Old Churchyard, Stedham, West Sussex was restored through the department’s funding of the ‘Honour Our VC Heroes’ campaign launched by The Sun newspaper, in association with the Victoria Cross Trust.

The project aims to restore all of these graves in need of repair. Headstones are being cleaned or replaced so that the final resting place of those who received the highest military award for valour is a truly fitting tribute to their sacrifice.

This August saw the start of the nationwide campaign to honour those who received the Victoria Cross during the First World War. Over the next 4 years on a date corresponding or close to when they were awarded the VC, commemorative paving stones will be laid in their place of birth or where they lived following the war.

469 stones will be laid in communities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The programme will also see 35 VC recipients commemorated in the Republic of Ireland. 145 stones will be laid in the National Memorial Arboretum to commemorate those born overseas.

Further information

Follow the laying of the commemorative stones on Twitter #VCpavingstones, and on Pinterest.

See the dates of upcoming paving stone laying ceremonies.

The decision about the site of each stone has been taken by the relevant local authority. Guidelines to local authorities encouraged them to site the stones in a location that would have had resonance with the VC recipient, such as outside a house that they lived in or near their old school. Most importantly, the stones should be part of the community and sited in a position where they will be visible to members of the public.

A public competition was held to choose a design for the paving stones and this was judged by a panel of 7 experts. The competition was won by Charlie MacKeith from London whose winning design will feature on all the paving stones that will be laid in communities across the country. The circular design seeks to ‘make one pause and remember’ and uses the material, form and lettering of the family of memorials used by the War Graves Commission.

The paving stones are made of Scoutmoor Yorkstone a hard-wearing British stone that is quarried near Ramsbottom. Each stone will include the name of the individual, the rank and regiment of the individual (at the time the VC was awarded) and the date of the action for which the VC was awarded.

The Victoria Cross Trust is a charitable organisation that works to ensure the graves of every Victoria Cross recipient are maintained. They fundraise to generate income to subsidise the grave upkeep and preservation.

For more information about this project and how it will run please contact the Victoria Cross Trust.