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Scottish sailor's grave identified 100 years after death 

Charles McDonald, from Leith, was originally buried as an unknown British sailor.

Wreaths adorn the newly-marked headstone for PO McDonald.
Wreaths adorn the newly-marked headstone for PO McDonald. Crown Copyright / L. Dorr

The grave of a Scottish sailor who served in the First World War has been identified a century after his death.

Petty officer (PO) Charles McDonald, from Leith, Edinburgh, was originally buried as an unknown British sailor after dying on May 10, 1918.

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

The service, organised by the Ministry of Defence's joint casualty and compassionate centre (JCCC), was conducted by the Reverend Scott J S Shackleton, deputy chaplain of the fleet, Royal Navy.

Reverend (Professor) Scott J S Shackleton is joined by Navy representatives by PO McDonald’s new headstone.
Reverend (Professor) Scott J S Shackleton is joined by Navy representatives by PO McDonald’s new headstone. Crown Copyright / L. Dorr

In May 1918, PO McDonald was on loan to HMS Vindictive when it took part in the Second Ostend Raid, which was the second failed attempt to block the channels leading to the Belgian port.

In anticipation of a raid, the Germans had removed the navigation buoys and without them the Vindictive had difficulty finding the narrow channel into the harbour in heavy fog.

When she did discover the entrance, a mechanical fault prevented her from turning fully broadside to block access.

Then, a German shell fired from the 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, and a shipmate confirmed it was shot away by the blast. The sailor was never seen again.

He was buried as an unknown British stoker, who died on May 10, 1918, whilst serving on HMS Vindictive.

David Slade kneels beside the newly marked headstone for PO McDonald.
David Slade kneels beside the newly marked headstone for PO McDonald. Crown Copyright / L. Dorr

Recently, historian David Slade, who has an interest in HMS Vindictive, submitted convincing evidence to the JCCC proving the individual buried in Oostende New Communal Cemetery was PO McDonald.

Louise Dorr, from 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 described him as a "sailor's sailor", saying he joined the Navy in 1898 at the age of 18.

The reverend added: "He came from Leith, the port of Edinburgh, and although we know little about him it is likely that the sea would in some way have been in his blood.

"The raid on Oostende on May 9 and 10, 1918, 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 commented: "We are pleased that we are now able to pay tribute to this courageous sailor who had served his country for 20 years by marking his resting place with a headstone bearing his name."

A bugler plays during the rededication service for PO McDonald.
A bugler plays during the rededication service for PO McDonald. Crown Copyright / L. Dorr

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