Forgotten Scottish war hero no longer an ‘unknown soldier’

Reverend (Professor) Scott J S Shackleton is joined by Navy representatives beside PO McDonald's new headstone. Picture: Crown Copyright
Reverend (Professor) Scott J S Shackleton is joined by Navy representatives beside PO McDonald's new headstone. Picture: Crown Copyright
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A Scottish sailor who was buried as an “unknown soldier” has been identified and reinterred at a British war cemetery in Belgium on the 100th anniversary of his death.

Petty Officer Charles McDonald, who was born in Leith, was killed when his ship was hit by a German shell on 10 May 1918.

At the time, the sailor was not identified and he was buried as an “unknown soldier”.

A rededication service for PO Charles McDonald was held on Thursday at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Oostende New Communal Cemetery in Belgium.

The service, organised by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), part of Defence Business Services, was conducted by the Reverend (Professor) Scott J S Shackleton, Deputy Chaplain of the Fleet, Royal Navy.

In May 1918, Charles McDonald was on loan to HMS Vindictive when it took part in the Second Ostend Raid.

A German shell fired from a gun battery on shore hit the bridge, killing the commander and wounding or killing most of the bridge crew.

PO McDonald was climbing the stokehold ladder at the time; a shipmate confirmed that the ladder was shot away by the blast and Charles was never seen again. He was buried as an Unknown British Stoker, who died on 10 May 1918 whilst serving on HMS Vindictive.

More recently, a historian with a firm interest in HMS Vindictive submitted clear and convincing evidence to the JCCC proving that the individual buried in Oostende New Communal cemetery was Charles McDonald.

Louise Dorr, of the JCCC, said: “It is very poignant to be here today on the 100th anniversary of Charles’s death to be able to give him back his name and rededicate his grave to him.”

Reverend Shackleton said McDonald was a “sailor’s sailor”: “He came from Leith, the port of Edinburgh, and although we know little about him it is likely the sea would in some way have been in his blood.

“The raid on Oostende was a bold and brave assault which would have inevitably been costly in terms of lives.

“It is a privilege to lead a service today to commemorate PO McDonald as a fellow matelot and Scot.”

David Avery of the CWGC added: “We are pleased that we are now able to pay tribute to this courageous sailor who served his country for 20 years by marking his resting place with a headstone bearing his name.”