A fundraising campaign to create a permanent memorial to Bermondsey-born sailor Albert McKenzie was launched on Friday at the Oxford & Bermondsey Club in Webb Street.
Born in Alice Street, McKenzie was an able seamen in the First World War who took part in the famous Zeebrugge raid of St George's Day 1918. While most of those with him were killed, Albert McKenzie saw off several enemy troops in the harbour at Zeebrugge, leaving him severely wounded but ultimately able to survive.
Albert McKenzie was the first London sailor ever to receive the Victoria Cross and the first sailor to be awarded the VC by the votes of his comrades.
McKenzie, who lived in Shorncliffe Road, was awarded his VC by George V in August 1918 but caught influenza which, because of his weakened resistance after his injuries, led to his death on 3 November 1918, just days before the armistice.
The government was represented at his funeral where a message was also read from the King and Queen. The funeral took place at St Mark's church on the Old Kent Road and Albert was buried in Camberwell Old Cemetery.
Albert had been a member of the Decima Street boys' club founded as a branch of the Oxford and Bermondsey Club which survives to this day in Webb Street, and the initiative to create a memorial has come from the club.
The proposed memorial has been designed by Rotherhithe blacksmith Kevin Boys with SE1 architect Tim Wood. They have also collaborated on a memorial to Isambard Kingdom Brunel which is planned for the southern approach to the Rotherhithe Tunnel.
The memorial will be mounted on a stone and concrete ramp which will evoke the harbour wall at Zeebrugge where McKenzie's heroic exploits took place.
It is hoped that local schools will be involved with the construction of the statue and the memorial will be assembled on-site using Kevin Boys' mobile forge.
Friday's launch event was attended by Albert's great nephew Colin as well as representatives of the Belgian embassy and Royal Navy.
The appeal hopes to raise a five-figure sum for the memorial, with any surplus being given to the Oxford and Bermondsey Club to continue their work with local young people.
Simon Hughes has outlined an ambitious timetable for the appeal. If the money can be raised quickly, the finished memorial could be unveiled later this year on Armistice Day.
The organisers are keen to ensure that 'ownership' of the memorial is widely shared across the community, with individual donations capped at £100 and business donations limited to £1,000.
• To find out how to make a donation to the appeal, email [email protected]
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