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Jack Belcham

Rank: Private

Lifetime: 1900-

Private Jack Belcham of the Royal Marines attracted considerable press coverage as a result of his participation in the daring raid on Zeebrugge on 22 April 1918 not least because prior to enlisting he had been employed in the printing department of The Surrey Comet.

The Belcham family lived at 2 Cecilia Cottages, 39 Park Road, Hampton Wick from 1909 until 1930. At the date of the 1911 Census the family comprised Private Belcham’s parents, George (46) employed by a brewer and Sarah (49), who had been married for 20 years and their three children: George Edward (13); John (presumably known as “Jack”) (11) and Dorothy Beatrice (8). All the children, as well as their father, had been born in Hampton Wick.

One article in The Surrey Comet dated 1 May 1918 entitled “A Zeebrugge Hero” explained that Private Belcham, the second son of Mr and Mrs Belcham of 39, Park Road, Hampton Wick had experienced a miraculous escape. A piece of shrapnel had struck him in the groin but was prevented from entering his body by the cigarette case which had been given to him by his sister. Apparently two pieces of shrapnel had passed through the lid of the case, which was in his trouser pocket, but had failed to penetrate further.

He was, however, subjected to a heavy blow with the butt end of a German’s rifle to his left arm which had paralysed it. His doctors were optimistic that electric massage of the arm would restore its use within a few weeks and he was on hospital leave.

A subsequent article in The Surrey Comet dated 14 September 1918 entitled “Young Zeebrugge Hero Honoured” covered the presentation of a replacement cigarette case to Private Belcham at the printing works of Messrs Knapp, Drewett & Sons Ltd, Kingston. Private Belcham had been serving his apprenticeship at this firm when he joined the Marines on 2 August 1916. The article repeated the circumstances of how the case had saved Private Belcham from injury and reported that the injuries to his arm suffered from the German rifle butt had healed.

The presentation was made by Mr JA Drewett in the presence of a large crowd of the printing staff. Mr Drewett made a speech expressing the firm’s pride that one of their staff had been able to volunteer for a service such as the Zeebrugge raid and congratulated him and his family on his lucky escape. As a memento they gave him a silver replacement cigarette case inscribed with “Presented to Pte JC Belcham RMLI by the firm and staff of Kanpp, Drewett & Sons, Ltd, Kingston-on Thames, in honour of being one of the heroes of Zeebrugge. 1918”. The case contained what Mr Drewett described as “a bit of paper” which would purchase something to fill the case and which further testified to their good wishes for the future.Private Belcham was heartily cheered and made a brief speech.

Jack Belcham had originally tried to enlist in the East Surrey Regiment in August 1915 claiming to be 19 when he was, in fact at least 3 or 4 years younger and only 5 feet 4 inches. He was discharged after three weeks when his real age was revealed. Undeterred he appears to have joined up the following year. This time, on 28 August 1916, he enlisted into the Royal Marines Light Infantry Chatham Division. It is not clear whether the date of birth he gave on enlistment, 11 August 1899, is correct. He may have made himself a year older to be able to enlist- which seems likely given his age given in the 1911 Census.

The first phase of this Project is to gather information about the men commemorated on the Hampton Wick War Memorial who fought in the Great War, also known as World War I, WWI or the First World War.

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