This year marks the 99th Anniversary of the first air-raid to be launched on the UK where civilians were killed this, believe it or not, happened in Norfolk. At the beginning of 1915 the Kaiser sanctioned the bombing of military and industrial targets along the British coast and in the area around the Thames Estuary but not London itself. Therefore, on 19th January 1915, Zeppelins L3, L4 and L6 of the Imperial German Navy, under the overall command of Zeppelin commander Korvettenkapitän Peter Strasser, took off from their base at Fuhlsbüttel in Germany. L3 and L4 carried 30 hours of fuel, 8 bombs and 25 incendiary devices and were to attack military and industrial buildings on Humberside. L6, which carried Strasser, encountered mechanical problems and bad weather so had to turn back. Weather also had a bearing the two remaining airships who had to change their plans and eventually made landfall in Norfolk where L3 turned South East towards Great Yarmouth and Zeppelin L4 flew North West towards Kings Lynn.
Zeppelin L3, under the command of Kapitän Leutnant Hans Fritz, crossed the Norfolk coast between Happisburgh and Winterton and as it did so it dropped parachute flares to navigate its way from Martham towards Great Yarmouth. The first bomb, an incendiary, landed in a waterlogged field on George Humphrey’s land at Little Ormesby close to St Michael’s Church causing no damage. The next bomb, another incendiary, fell to the rear of Norwood Suffling’s house on Albermarle Road in the shared garden area known as Norfolk Square, near the Wellesley recreation ground, the explosion caused a crater two feet wide but no casualties. The first high explosive bomb to land hit the pavement at the back of 78 Crown Road, but failed to explode. It was recovered by Army reservists and was later defused. The fourth bomb fell on St Peter’s Plain and the Spinster Martha Taylor and shoemaker Sam Smith became the first civilians to be killed in an air raid with two more being injured. The blast also blew out the front of St Peter’s Villa and seriously damaged Pestell’s Buildings. The fifth bomb failed to explode and was recovered from a stable owned by the butcher William Mays in Garden Lane, near South Quay. Bomb No 6 fell outside the First and Last tavern on Southgate Road and the third incendiary to be dropped fell between two vessels and caused some damage to Beeching’s South Dock. Luckily there were no casualties. The eighth bomb bounced off the Stone Quay at TrinityWharf, narrowly missing a sentry and a crane turntable, before it fell into the river. Bomb number nine, another explosive bomb, fell behind the FishWharf, causing extensive damage to the rear as well as destroying the Fish Wharf Restaurant Rooms and bursting a water main, one person was slightly hurt by flying glass. The final two bombs dropped by L3 damaged the steam drifter Piscatorial and struck the road running along the back of the old racecourse grandstand on South Denes, killing a large black dog and destroying a fence.
Zeppelin L4, under the command of Kapitanleutnant Count Magnus von Platen-Hallermund, navigated the Norfolk coast and dropped a flare and 2 incendiary bombs on Sheringham which caused a lot of damage but no casualties. Having flown back out to sea L4 then reappeared where it dropped another incendiary in a field between Brancaster Staithe and Hunstanton. A fourth incendiary was then dropped close to Brancaster church which landed in a road close to the Red Cross hospital. The Zeppelin flew onwards and the fifth bomb is reported to have been a high explosive bomb aimed at the wireless station at Hunstanton. However, there are conflicting reports over this bomb and evidence to suggest that this may not have been the case.
Therefore the next two confirmed bombs to fall landed at Heacham, one exploded in Lord’s Lane where a number of people had narrow escapes and the seventh bomb failed to explode and was found in a field where it was eventually taken to the Woolwich Arsenal. Bomb number nine landed at Snettisham, near the church which, it was believed, was the actual target. The Zeppelin flew between Wolferton and Sandringham before flying over Dersingham. What is interesting about this aspect of the raid is that there was the belief that the intended target was the Royal Family.
Zeppelin L4 did not target the house and there is no evidence to show that they were the targets, but some of the propaganda after the raid was directed at the belief that the sole purpose of the raid was to bomb the house. Queen Alexandra wrote to Lord Fisher and part of the letter actually requests rockets with spikes or hooks to be sent or invented so that Norfolk can be defended! Unfortunately, although attempts were being made to do so, the lights at King’s Lynn were not put out immediately and L4 was able use the railway line to reach the Gaywood District. The first bomb to land fell in a field at the rear of Tennyson Avenue.
The next fell on allotments but the next one caused fatalities when it hit houses on Bentinck Road killing Percy Goate aged 14 and Alice Gazely aged 26. Both are reported to have died from shock. L4 dropped another bomb on some terraced houses where it made a large hole and wrecked a blacksmiths but caused no fatalities. The fifth bomb to fall on King’s Lynn fell in a garden by the docks failing to explode the sixth destroyed an engine at Alexandra Dock.
The last two bombs fell at and around Cresswell Street where the family at No 63 had a lucky escape when an incendiary hit the house causing a fire which was extinguished by neighbours. This final bomb was placed in water by the police and taken into their care. In total the raid on King’s Lynn led to two fatalities and thirteen injured. After the raid L4 headed east and actually flew past Norwich, which was luckily shrouded in fog and had its lights out and then was seen to pass Acle and then flew out to sea to the north of Great Yarmouth.
Of all the accounts I have read on the opinion of the raid the most outspoken has to be that of the Borough Coroner J Tolver Waters, who although cited that the raid on Great Yarmouth was murder, knew this could not be the verdict given by the jury, but in his closing summary he stated:
‘The unfortunate man and woman were victims of so-called warfare, but I do not call it so. It is the offspring of German culture. It is contrary to International Law to attack any unfortified place, such as Yarmouth is. But the Germans are past masters of regarding anything in the form of writing as a mere ‘scrap of paper’
The unfortunate men and women from these raids are now buried in KitchenerRoadCemetery in Great Yarmouth and HardwickRoadCemetery in King’s Lynn.
(Sources for this article were obtained from Death from the Skies, The Zeppelin Raids over Norfolk 19th January 1915 by R J Wyatt)
I am currently writing a book on Norfolk and the Great War, it covers the local reaction to the war’s outbreak; charts the experience of individuals who enlisted; shares many first-hand experiences, including tales of the Zeppelin raids and ‘spy hunts’ of the era; examines the work of local hospitals; visits Norfolk’s POW camps; and explains how the county and its people coped with the transition to life in peacetime. If anyone is able to offer possible sources of information for this, I would be very grateful if they contacted me at: firstname.lastname@example.org