The Kaiser must have known that we had arrived in England for last night we had a Zeppelin raid. At 2 am the brigade orderly officer came into our hut and woke us. He told us to dress at once and lay on our beds and await orders. We rolled over and went to sleep. We were too tired to get up. (1)
Archie Wills’s hut was probably not the only one that responded with renewed snoring to the alarm. Nothing happened to call them out, so they got away with it.
Bertie Cox didn’t tell his mother about any Zeppelins, but he did say that “Petawawa was just a goal; this is the real thing and makes one feel more war-like every day.” (2)
The “greatest Zeppelin attack yet launched against Britain” (3) took place in the early hours of September 24th, when twelve airships, newer and larger than previous raiders, attacked London and counties to the north, south and east of the metropolis. The press reported that Londoners were jubilant, because the much-improved aerial defences brought down two of the great airships. (4)
Suddenly a searchlight beam shot into the starlit sky. Three more dazzling shafts followed, and within fifteen seconds the whirring airships were caught in the toils and the guns began sending up shrieking shrapnel shells. (4)
Damaged by anti-aircraft fire, one Zeppelin landed in Essex and all its crew were taken prisoner. The second “came down like a flaming torch,” (4) shot down by an aviator with the Royal Flying Corps.
Twenty-eight people were killed in London that night, three of them children. Property damage was considerable, but newspaper readers were assured that “in no case was a building of military significance injured.” Empty cars were destroyed and some track torn up at one railway station, but the main damage was borne by suburban houses and shops.(4)
Another raid took place the next night. By Wednesday, official reports counted a total of 72 deaths and 152 injuries. The report of the second night’s deaths does not mention how many of the dead were women and children.
(1) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3: 49. September 24, 1916. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(2) Cox Bertram Howard. Letter to his mother, September 23, 2916.Available from the Canadian Letters and Images Project.
(3) The Globe (1844-1936). War Summary. September 25, 1916. 1. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
(4) The Globe (1844-1936). News report. September 25, 1916. 1.
(5) The Globe (1844-1936). September 27, 1916. 5.
The photograph is from the Imperial War Museum collection, © IWM (Q 102751). It shows British soldiers examining the wreckage of the Zeppelin L32 shot down by Frederick Sowrey RFC on the night of 23 – 24 September 1916.