student in the lab

Commemorate Prep Alumnus

Posted: 9th November 2016

The flashes and bangs, whistles and starbursts, the brilliant bonfire and all things associated: chocolatey churros, crispy chips, light-sabres, paella, burgers and local (very local) craft brews made for the most fantastic evening on Saturday at Gallery Road…and then, the perfect conclusion…the ultimate crash, bang, wallop…Soldiers’ Field, Chicago!

Huge, huge thanks to everyone who helped in any way to make ‘Friends’ Fireworks’ such a phenomenal success (particularly our event coordinators Fleur Dittmer, Annette Cotterill and Sarah Baylis)  and undoubtedly the first of many successes to follow in 2017.

The fireworks event has a special place in my heart because of one of our Old Boys, Wing Commander Frank Brock OBE (June 1888- April 1918) and his family ties to Brock’s, the oldest firework manufacturer in Great Britain. Having been founded in Islington in 1698 Brock’s Fireworks Ltd still proudly works out of London. Frank Brock was at the Prep in 1895 (the oldest of 6 brothers who all attended the Prep) when he was 10, and he left in 1897 for Dulwich College. Frank obviously possessed his family’s love and fascination for pyrotechnics from a very early age for whilst at the College he blew up a stove in his form room. Brock joined the family business in 1901 until the outbreak of the First World War, whereupon he joined the Royal Artillery.

He originally joined the Royal Artillery, being commissioned as a temporary lieutenant on 10 October 1914, but within a month was loaned to the Navy, to which he transferred, becoming a temporary sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 27 October 1914. He was promoted to lieutenant on 31 December 1914, becoming a flight lieutenant of the Royal Naval Air Service on 1 January 1915.  Brock was a member of the Admiralty Board of Invention and Research and founded, organized and commanded the Royal Navy Experimental Station at Stratford.

Among his many developments were:

The Dover Flare – used in anti-submarine warfare. The Brock Colour Filter The Brock Bullet (or Brock Incendiary Bullet or Brock Anti-Zeppelin Bullet) – the first German airship to be shot down was destroyed by this bullet.

By the time the Royal Naval Air Service merged with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, Brock had risen to the rank of wing commander, and in January 1918 had been made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to king and country.

Zeebrugge Raid

On the night of 22–23 April 1918, the Zeebrugge Raid began when an armada of British sailors and marines led by the old cruiser, HMS Vindictive, attacked the Mole at Zeebrugge, Belgium, in order to negate the serious threat to Allied shipping, that was being posed by the port being used by the Imperial German Navy as a base for their U-boats and light shipping. Brock brought on board with him a box marked ‘Highly Explosive, Do Not Open’ which actually contained bottles of vintage port which were drunk by his men. For the attack, Brock was in charge of the massive smoke screens that were to cover the approach of the raiding party:

Brock’s new and improved smokescreen, or “artificial fog” as he preferred to call it, was ingenious. Essentially, a chemical mixture was injected directly under pressure into the hot exhausts of the motor torpedo boats and other small craft or the hot interior surface of the funnels of destroyers. The larger ships each had welded iron contraptions, in the region of ten feet in height, hastily assembled at Chatham. These were fed with solid cakes of phosphide of calcium. Dropped into a bucket-like container full of water, the resulting smoke and flames roared up a chimney and were dispersed by a windmill arrangement. It was more toxic than its predecessor. Taking in a lungful was an extremely unpleasant experience.

At Zeebrugge, Brock, anxious to discover the secret of the German system of sound-ranging, begged permission to go ashore, not content to watch the action from an observation ship. He joined a storming party on the Mole and was killed in action.

There is an account of German sailor Hermann Künne being involved in a fight with an English officer. Künne attacked a British officer armed with a revolver and a cutlass. Künne was similarly armed with a cutlass. He slashed his opponent across the neck and grabbed the revolver. The British officer, desperately wounded, stabbed Künne as he fell.  Given that the Victoria Cross citation for Lieutenant Commander Harrison makes no mention of a swordfight, there are those who believe that Brock was the British officer killed by Künne.

Brock received a mention in despatches from Vice-Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, for his distinguished services on the night of the 22–23 April 1918.  He is commemorated on the Zeebrugge Memorial, which stands in Zeebrugge Churchyard. The Zeebrugge Memorial commemorates Brock, one mechanic from Brock’s group, and two other officers of the Royal Navy who died on the mole at Zeebrugge and have no known grave. His wife erected a memorial at Brookwood Cemetery, which commemorates him and her sister’s two deceased husbands, all three of whom had served in the Royal Navy as officers.

Henry Major Tomlinson wrote of Wing Commander Brock: A first-rate pilot and excellent shot, Commander Brock was a typical English sportsman; and his subsequent death during the operations, for whose success he had been so largely responsible, was a loss of the gravest description to both the Navy and the empire.

Frank Brock was the oldest of 6 brother who all came to the Prep, five of them had enlisted in WW1. One was in the Anti-aircraft Corps of Royal Naval Air Service, one was in the Honourable Artillery Company infantry, another was in the Middlesex Regiment and the youngest was in the Tank Corps. Frank was killed but the others all survived.

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