Witley, July 8, 1917

Sunday        No church parade, Fire P[iquet] Rained hard all day went to Milford Church tonight

In other words, as predictable a routine as yesterday’s.

air raid July 7 1917 damage IWM

Nothing that couldn’t be repaired within a week…

In the aftermath of yesterday’s air raid on London, anger is rising, or so we are told by the novelist-turned-propagandist Hall Caine. He reported seeing very little material damage, nothing that couldn’t be repaired by masons and glaziers within a week, and he was confident that “if twice twenty-five German air machines come here every day for ten years doing so much and no more damage this mighty London would still be where it stands.” (1) The effect on British morale, however, as he reports it, is probably not what the enemy intended:

“I came upon an elderly woman sitting by the door of her empty shop, her face … grey and grim. I asked if the bombs had come her way, and she answered in a husky voice, choking with anger: ‘Haven’t they? If our men don’t go over there and give those devils a bit of the same there’ll be a bloody revolution here, and not too soon, either.'” (1)

There had been terrible sights. An office boy working in the vicinity of Tower Hill described “a blinding flash, a chaos of breaking glass, and the air thick-yellow dust and fumes” In the aftermath he helped carry the bodies of dead men with “ghastly wounds” into a building that remained untouched. Three cart horses that had been left in the street when the alarm sounded were “twisted and mangled,” their carts reduced to a “few bits of burning debris.” As he watched, “a fireman, with his axe, put the last horse out of its anguish.”(2)

Hall Caine called upon the government to heed the mood of the people, especially of “our mothers.  They know we are at war, and as long as it is fair fighting they are ready to pay the price of battle, but when it is not war, bur murder – the murder of their helpless children – they will not long consent to sit silent.” (1)

He ends with a rhetorical question: “What is war? Is it a struggle of armed men against 800px-Hall_Cainearmed men or a system of indiscriminate slaughter?” But for all that he deplores the latter idea, he is urging that  Germany be treated as no “better than the kingdom of the devil,” and its civilians subjected to the same horrors as Londoners.

By the end of 1917, Hall Caine will be named KBE (Knight Commander of the recently established Order of the  British Empire) for his services to the nation. (3)

The photograph © IWM (HO 76) is from the collection of the Imperial War Museum. The portrait of Thomas Hall Caine (a hat hiding his receding hairline) is by R.E. Morrison.

(1) “London Women Angered by German Air Raids,” The Globe (1844-1936). July 9, 1917. 1. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
(2) Qtd in Neil Hanson. First Blitz: The Secret German Plan to Raze London to the Ground in 1918. 2010. 171
(3) Allen, Vivien. “Caine, Sir (Thomas Henry) Hall (1853–1931).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2004.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”





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