SLB recently visited the Imperial War Museum and its excellent WW1 exhibition, opened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the start of the war. One of the less well-known stories of that war is the bombing raids on Britain. Most of us know about the Blitz of WW2 and the terrible damage inflicted on London, but few are aware that raids happened in the earlier war too. In London many took shelter in tube stations by night, and although casualties were small in comparison with WW2, the fear was no less real in the population. As Remembrance Day approaches we look at how some of these raids affected South London – lest we forget.
7-8th September 1915
From 1915 to 1917 Zeppelins were used in bombing raids. On this night two of them, SL2 and LZ74, dropped bombs on a wide area of south-east London including Deptford, Greenwich, Woolwich, Bermondsey, Rotherhithe and New Cross. 18 people were killed and 28 injured.
24-25th August 1916
Kapitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy steered his Zeppelin L31 over south-east London, dropping bombs on Deptford, Greenwich, Plumstead and Eltham which killed nine and injured 40 civilians.
23-24th September 1916
Mathy was back with L31, steering a course into central London along the line of the A23 road and dropping numerous bombs along the way, including at Estreham Rd and Tierney Rd Streatham and Baytree Rd Brixton. The casualty list was 14 dead and 43 injured. Mathy was achieving notoriety in Britain for his bombing raids, but back in Germany he received the highest military honour from the Kaiser for his efforts. But the Zeppelins were becoming increasingly vulnerable to a new explosive bullet and Mathy perished along with his ship and 18 colleagues at Potters Bar, North London on 1st October, shot down by 2nd Lieutenant Wulstan J. Tempest of the Royal Flying Corps, for which he received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
13th June 1917
Germany developed fixed wing aircraft called Gotha and Staaken as more and more Zeppelins were shot down. The first aircraft raid on London took place on this date in daylight and proved to be the deadliest raid of the whole war – a truly awful day in the history of our city. 14 Gothas under the command of Hauptman Ernst Brandenburg reached London and took a terrible toll of 162 dead and 432 injured. Most of the damage was in East London and the City, in particular Poplar, where a school was hit, but six aircraft turned south over Tower Bridge and dropped bombs on Bermondsey. Brandenburg also received the ‘Pour Le Merite’ award from the Kaiser but, a few days later, he lost a leg in a crash landing.
19-20th October 1917
The last Zeppelin raid on London proved no less deadly than the others. L45 dropped a bomb at the junction of Calmington Rd and Albany Rd Walworth, killing ten people, including three members of the Glass family. It continued south-eastwards reaching Hither Green, where it dropped a 300lb bomb on Glenview Rd (now Nightingale Grove). Fifteen people perished, including seven members of the Kingston family and four of the Milgate family. A further 23 were injured that night.
It is sobering to think that, 100 years ago, bombs were dropping on our streets, but ultimately the raids were unsuccessful in their aims. To find out more about how WW1 affected London, recommended are Ian Castle’s books, Campaign 193: London 1914-17: The Zeppelin Menace (Campaign) and London 1917-18: The bomber blitz, along with a new book by Jerry White, Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War.