Zeebrugge hero’s romantic story to live on after restoration of grave

WHEN sailor John Cleal promised to marry his sweetheart he would not have known it was a promise he could not keep. Just days after postponing his wedding to May Price he took part in a raid on Belgian port Zeebrugge in April 1918 in which he lost his life. Mr Cleal, of Holmesdale Street, Grangetown, Cardiff, was a stoker on HMS Iphigenia, one of the ships deliberately filled with concrete to be sunk as part of a blockade. He died on board the hospital ship, Liberty, en route to the UK.

A memorial paid for by the public was placed in Cardiff’s Cathays Cemetery but over the years it had become overgrown and untidy. Almost nine decades later, Friends of Cathays Cemetery stumbled upon John’s story and decided to contact the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which agreed to tidy up the grave. Now to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Mr Cleal’s death and the raid on Zeebrugge, Friends of Cathays Cemetery and the Royal Naval Association (RNA) have held a ceremony to rededicate his grave. It was attended by more than 30 members of the public on Sunday. John Farnhill, secretary of Friends of Cathays Cemetery, said he was delighted to honour the hero. He said: “It feels like John’s story has been forgotten about for 90 years and now it’s being remembered again. “The Friends of Cathays Cemetery feel it’s essential his sacrifice is remembered.” Flowers were laid on the grave on behalf of the RNA and Friends of Cathays Cemetery, and a period of silence was observed. Jim Attenborough, the RNA’s standard bearer at the ceremony, said: “Having served 20 years in the navy I’ve seen many colleagues lose their lives in conflict so I feel it’s extremely necessary to honour those people.”