By Tanya Firth
Just outside St Margarets Bay near Dover is the often missed memorial to the Dover Patrol erected in 1921. First formed in July of 1914, the Dover Patrol covered the southern part of the North Sea and the eastern end of the English Channel including the Straits of Dover. The Dover Patrol consisted of a variety of armed craft as well as aircraft and occasionally French destroyers. Their main duties were escorting other ships through the Straits, laying mines and bombarding German land forces on the other side of the Channel.
Perhaps the most famous mission carried out by Dover Patrol was the Zeebrugge Raid which took place on 23rd April 1918 when they attempted to block access to the occupied Belgian port in order to impede German U boat attacks upon allied shipping in the English Channel. The operation was only partially successful and many lost their lives. Normally the anniversary is marked in Dover by the ringing of the Zeebrugge Bell by the Mayor of Dover together with a parade to St James Cemetery where a number of those killed in the raid are buried. The Bell was presented to Dover by the King of Belgium after World War 1 and hangs at the Maison Dieu in the centre of the town. This year the Coronavirus pandemic meant that the commemorations planned to mark the 102nd anniversary were cancelled.
Around 2000 Patrol members were killed during WW1 and, shortly after the war, 3 obelisks were built in their memory. Apart from the memorial near Dover, there is one located to the west of Calais at Cap Blanc Nez and another in John Paul Jones Park in Brooklyn, New York. They were all designed by british architect Sir Aston Webb whose most famous buildings include the often televised main frontage of Buckingham Palace and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The road up to the memorial is not in great shape but this is more than compensated for by the alternative. There is an amazing walk from St Margaret’s Bay along The Leas, affording magnificent views of the White Cliffs and also the French Coast on clear days. In this area it is quite alarming for visitors to find that they often receive a ‘Welcome to France’ message on their mobile phones!
Tanya is a qualified SE England Blue Badge Guide based in Folkestone