|The First Air Raids on London|
by Bill McCann
The worst raid in 1915 was on October 13th when more than forty people lost their lives. One who had a lucky escape was a priest who was on his way home to Gray’s Inn Square. A bomb exploded nearby and he was buried beneath falling brickwork and knocked unconscious. He was given up for dead but came around and had sufficient wits about him to take the underground from Chancery Lane to his father’s house in Hampstead where he spent the night. On that night there was only a single anti-aircraft available to attempt to bring the airships down. It was located at Wormwood Scrubs in north London and the decision was taken to move it to the more central position of the Artillery Ground in Moorfields. The journey was completed in a remarkable twenty minutes.
The bombing continued in 1916 but was not as extensive. However, on September 3rd after a chase over London the Zeppelin SL11 was shot down over Enfield and its crew killed. This was the first Zeppelin to be shot down over London and the pilot responsible, Lt. William Robinson became a hero overnight. The event was commemorated on a number of celebratory postcards and posters at the time. Lt. Robinson was himself shot down and killed in April 1917. A second Zeppelin was brought down on October 1st and could be seen burning forty miles away.
In 1917 the unwieldy Zeppelins were replaced by Gotha aeroplanes and the bombing raids were stepped up. A random bomb hit an infant school in Poplar in June killing sixteen children. The most destructive raid on London in this year came on July 7th when twenty aeroplanes were involved. Five people were killed when a bomb fell on Bartholomew Close, Ironmonger’s Hall in Fenchurch Street was destroyed, the Midland Railway’s Goods Yard at St Pancras was damaged and one man was killed and the defence volunteers building (the former German Gymnastic group headquarters) in St Pancras Road was badly damaged.
A 50 kilogram bomb was dropped outside the Bedford Hotel, Bloomsbury on September 24th killing thirteen and injuring twenty-six. The last of the Zeppelin raids shortly afterwards damaged the Swan and Edgar shop in Piccadilly Circus. A huge aeroplane raid came on December 6th which targeted Chelsea, Brixton, Battersea, Stepney, Whitechapel, Clerkenwell and Shoreditch. The last bombing raid of the war came on May 18th 1918. In total, World War One saw 12 airship attacks and 19 aeroplane attacks on London. These resulted in 670 deaths and 1,962 wounded persons. Over the country as a whole, there had been fifty-two air raids resulting in 1,413 fatalities. Ten Zeppelins were shot down.