How did London civilians respond to the German airship raids of 1915?
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Chapter 2: The anger felt by London’s civilians in response to the German airship raids of 1915

Whilst many London civilians were determined that the airship raids would not lead to Britain’s surrender, many London civilians responded with anger for they heard that the raids had caused devastation and destruction to civilian life, and also because they believed that little was being done to prevent future raids. This anger is the second strongest response felt by many London civilians in 1915 in response to the airship raids on the Capital.

This chapter explains how these raids brought about an increase in hatred which was targeted towards Germans living in the Capital, as well as an amount of fury which was directed towards the British Government.
‘We saw a Zepp the other night…

To see the blasted bombs being dropped on helpless civilians and on peaceable houses made the blood go to fever heat and I felt absolutely mad.’ [1]

Journalist J. H. Stapley writing on 5 October 1915 to a friend at the Front

The first example of anger is London’s civilian’s increase in hatred which was targeted towards Germans living in the Capital. Evident from the outbreak of the war, this grew vast and intense: during the week commencing 10 May for example, no doubt in response to the German sinking of the British passenger ship the Lusitania, a room above an already attacked German tobacconist shop was emptied to a crowd in Poplar, ingredients from a German baker’s shop were thrown into the street in Smithfield,[2] and a meeting of huge attendance commenced in Islington in favour of interning all Germans.[3] Taking place three weeks before London’s first raid, this anger was fuelled early the following month when details from the inquests into the deaths of the first raids victims were announced. Proving not to be a one-off, these horrific details included how Henry and Caroline Good’s charred bodies were found kneeling by their bed, his hair burnt off and his arm around his wife who was holding a large piece of her own hair where she had pulled at it in pain,[4] and also how sixteen year old Lily Lehrman had died following injuries, many of which had fragments of metal removed from them.[5] Not surprising that violence and resentment erupted towards anyone with a German-sounding name or who was suspected of German decent, it is surprising that, minus one example, this increase in anger was only evident after London’s first raid. This anger can be divided into three sub-categories: anti-German rioting, violence towards Germans, and demands for all Germans to be interned.

The first of these sub-categories is the increase in anti-German rioting during the days which followed London’s first airship raid. Four days after that raid, with reference to the day which followed it, the Hackney & Stoke Newington Recorder announced, ‘Probably as a consequence of the air raid, acute anti-German feeling broke out again on Tuesday in London. Angry mobs surrounded the premises of people suspected of being of German nationality, and attacked shops which had been barricaded [in the previous rioting]. In one case the occupants fled when the premises were entered, and were pursued by an infuriated crowd. In other instances barricades were pulled down and… damage was done.’[6] Following the same raid The[0] Borough of West Ham, East Ham and Stratford Express also announced that three shops in Shoreditch had been attacked, one of which had been previously raided, in addition to a baker’s shop.[7] As Julie Brown, a child in 1915, recalled, ‘The shop keepers… were the ones who were the targets; they were rounded up as quickly as possible.’[8]

Sylvia Pankhurst, who during the war forsook politics for welfare work, wrote about London’s first raid in her book The Home Front. Providing a detailed understanding she wrote, ‘A shrieking crowd ran by in the dark under my window. “We want more bread!”... I looked out on a mass of hurrying figures. Amongst them... convulsed with rage, the face of a poor little dwarf woman… who had come to us for relief.’ On their way to attack the baker’s shop, Pankhurst heard an urgent knock at her door, to which a small man, a worker at that shop, fell in. Born in London, although his parents had come from Germany half a century before, he pleaded that Pankhurst telephone the police. ‘I rang through to the Bow police; and giving my name, asked for the chief… He offered excuses: “I am unable to do anything. Our men are absolutely powerless.” “You did not say that when you were trying to catch me under the Cat and Mouse Act,” I answered. Finally he promised a couple of plain clothes officers on bicycles, and asked me to come out to speak to them to avert the resentment of the people… The plain clothes policemen arrived, but immediately… rode away…’ Pankhurst went to speak to the people but her words failed to emerge for she had no energy to plead with the ‘…mad creatures, seized with this scarcity-born rage of loot.’ ‘The air was filled by the babble of voices, and the noise of knocking and splintering wood. Men were lowering a piano through the window. The dwarf woman ran by, dragging a polished table leg. She rammed it against the pavement… [and] ran back to secure another. A woman and her children raced off with an easy-chair… “I shall sit, and sit, and sit on this chair all day”, the mother yelled… “Bread! Bread! Bread!” the shrieks rang out. Women and children rushed by, their arms and aprons laden with loaves.’[9]

Showing the extent of this rioting Pankhurst rhetorically asked, ‘Where in the East End would one fail to find a German shop which had been wrecked in the anti-German riots?’[10] In addition to the East End The Times reported that in Hoxton Street, North London, a rush of excitement began when a German baker’s, one of the few which were still remaining, had just been raided.[11] Even those in the Metropolitan Police Service and the Armed Forces joined in on the riots, for example during the wrecking of another German baker’s an ignorant policeman stood at the door whilst two soldiers emerged laughing. One of the latter shouted, ‘There is plenty of new bread downstairs if you want it; it will only be wasted there!’[12] Incited and organised by certain jingo factions, men with hatchets marched the streets, stopping wherever they saw a shop with a German name. They then hacked the shutters, broke the glass and watched children loot.[13] Although Pankhurst wrote that it was only when English shopkeepers suffered that the police interfered, evidence shows that eight defendants, including three women, were charged following their involvement in riots in Hackney, East London. Aged between sixteen and sixty-three years old, they were charged and bound over in £5 each for twelve months.[14] Despite there being no evidence that these riots continued after the subsequent raids, historian Raymond L. Rimell writes that these feelings continued throughout the course of the raids and that to German-born citizens and shopkeepers in the city, the following months were harrowing as they bore the brunt of wild rumour and personal persecution.[15]

The second sub-category of the increase in hatred which was targeted towards Germans living in the Capital is the increase in violence the latter suffered during the days which followed London’s first airship raid. Unlike the anti-German riots which had existed since the outbreak of the war, it was not until the raids commenced that individuals became targets. Like the rioting though, this was only evident following London’s first raid. In relation to this violence Pankhurst recalled how, ‘A crowd was advancing at a run… In the centre of the turmoil men dragged a big, stout man, stumbling and resisting in their grasp, his clothes whitened by flour, his mouth dripping blood. They rushed him on. New throngs closed around him.’ These acts of violence were frequent and Pankhurst witnessed many: ‘Another mob swept round the corner, hot in fury, baiting a man in flour-covered clothing, wrenched and jerked by the collar, thumped on the back, kicked from the rear.’ Involving women too, Pankhurst also recalled how ‘A women was in the midst of a struggling mob; her blouse half-torn off, her fair hair fallen, her face contorted with pain and terror, blood running down her bare white arm. A big, drunken man flung her to the ground. She was lost to sight… “They are kicking her!” a woman screamed.’ Pankhurst pleaded with a watching soldier that he do something. His response was, ‘Why should I?’ Even when an Army motor approached and Pankhurst asked the officer to take the woman away they responded with, ‘We are on military business.’ Within a short while the woman lay unconscious and the police arrived shouting. Despite her state they hustled her and the onlookers away with equal roughness.[16]

The third sub-category of the increase in hatred which was targeted towards Germans living in the Capital is the increase in demands for all Germans to be interned. Unlike the anti-German riots however and the violence which many Germans suffered, there is one example of evidence that this demand, in terms of being fuelled by the raids on London, did not only commence in the month after the Capital’s first raid. The first recorded demand followed in response to commotion outside a house which had been bombed the previous night in May. At a time when fear was spreading that German spies were using lights to guide airships to their targets, a woman’s scream that she could see ‘signalling lights’ within the house caused a man to bellow, ‘They should have been cleared out at the beginning of the war.’[17] Words of this nature followed at a riot that night when another shouted, ‘Intern them all! Intern them all.’[18] Whilst there was not any more of these demands until October, it became apparent then when a journalist for The Evening News wrote during an article about the raids that ‘There is a demand for more drastic measures to deal with neutralised Germans and suspected neutrals.’ Referring to one specific letter from a London civilian it read, ‘As a reader of your paper for over twenty years I suggest that you organise a meeting in the Albert Hall to call for the internment at once of all neutralised Germans and Austrians.’ The journalist did not respond.[19]

The second example of anger is the amount of fury which was directed towards the British Government. This was fuelled by the fact that following Blériot’s flight in 1909 there was instant agreement that whilst the part aerial navigators would play in future wars was yet to be determined, ‘…it is clear that no nation can allow itself to be behindhand in aerial navigation.’[20] But whilst the Daily Telegraph reported that ‘England must wake up in this matter; and, of a certainty, she will’,[21] both England, and her Capital, failed to do so and even as late as January 1915 reports referring to civilians protection in any expected raid read similar to, ‘The local St. John Ambulance Brigade are ready for any emergency in case of an air raid… There is no need for alarm.’[22] Six years later the Capital’s Home Defence was still minimal and whilst Churchill had undertook to do what was possible, even he knew that a year would have to elapse before the efficient supplies necessary could be forthcoming.[23]

During the month of London’s first raid the Capital’s Home Defence consisted of only a fraction of the countries anti-aircraft guns.[24] Unable to hit enemies flying at or above 10,[000]ft, these guns, in addition to the searchlights and anti-aircraft barriers, were greatly inefficient. Furthermore, despite the firing of a 20lb bomb from an aeroplane being responsible for the destruction of Army airship LZ37 which was returning to Germany after aborting an attempted raid on England on 6 June, aeroplanes generally posed no credible counter to airships.[25] Aeroplanes failed to have the required altitude, speed and weapons for the job, and this airship was the first to be destroyed in flight - something which did not happen again until 2 September 1916.[26] Following London’s fourth raid however it finally became clear that the Capital’s aerial defence was too vast a problem to be dealt with by a sub-department and on 14 September Admiral Sir Percy Scott was ‘…appointed to take charge of the gunnery defences of London against attack by enemy aircraft.’[27] Whilst there had been no public commotion following the lack of defence during the raids on London before October, the deaths and injuries of one hundred and seventy-one civilians following the two consecutive raids on London in September ensured that, despite the latter, the government endured verbal attack. Relating to the reality of the prevention of the raids and the safety of the public, this was fuelled also by negative announcements by the War Office with regards to the possible destruction of airships during raids, for example, ‘Anti-aircraft guns were in action… Air patrols were active, but owing to the difficult atmospheric conditions the Zeppelins were able to escape’,[28] and ‘Anti-aircraft guns were in action. Aeroplanes went up, but were unable to locate the airships.’[29]

The realisation of London’s inadequate Home Defence saw civilians angrily demand that ‘…the public… be told the truth.’[30] Aired also at the meeting at Cannon Street Hotel, speech after speech the attendees argued how the government had failed to protect London. Beginning with Palmer announcing that the country felt it lacked a strong and vigorous anti-German government, and Sir George Makgill stating that the way the subject had been treated by the Government was a ‘disgrace’[31] and that the country was being left in the dark,[32] de Broke argued, ‘We have come to urge upon the government that they have got to take steps to stop [this]…’[33] Joynson-Hicks also said, ‘Mr. Churchill promised us that when the Zeppelins came they would be met with a swarm of hornets… Where was his swarm of hornets last night; where were they… in the last six months?’[34] Much criticism also began as many argued that these raids proved the former Liberal government wrong in their decision to abandon the development of the rigid airship after the accidental destruction of Britain’s only airship, the Mayfly, in September 1911.[35]

Exactly a week after this meeting M.P.’s in Parliament asked a series of questions relating to October’s raid and London’s defences. Reflecting the thoughts of many London civilians, questions included, ‘Have the military authorities’ permission to fire at hostile aircraft? Does the Admiralty consider that three aeroplanes are an adequate defence against as many, or more, Zeppelins? Is the Home Secretary aware that during the last raid many motorcars with powerful lamps were observed in the main streets on the night of attack?’[36] Answered mostly by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Home Secretary Sir John Simon, their overall response was that all possible strictness would continue to be enforced and that both the gun crew and search crew would continue working how they had.[37] Stating that no headlights were permitted, save in cases of certain military or naval cars on urgent duty,[38] Simon concluded that the public’s observance of the raids regulations was of great importance.[39] Balfour also continued that, ‘…under no circumstances will the authorities consider that an adequate defence against night attack by Zeppelins could be provided by aeroplanes’.[40] Trying to assure the public by explaining that officers were on training courses at Chatham Gunnery School, the response was sarcastic: ‘When is it considered probable that these gunners will be able to attack the Zeppelins?’[41] Following this meeting there were no more instances in 1915 of anger being directed from London’s civilians towards the British Government.

The evidence used within this chapter shows an overall sense of anger felt by many London civilians. This response was not separate to the response of determination as many civilians felt both, often in addition to other responses. The increase in hatred which was targeted towards Germans living in the Capital, and the amount of fury which was directed towards the British Government, both suggest that many London civilians were only human and that somewhat inappropriate behaviour did sometimes commence. For this reason of humanity, determination and anger were not the only responses: fear was a third. The following chapter explains why.


(1) Fegan, op,cit., p. 43.
(2) Daily Mail, 13 May 1915, p. 12.
(3) Daily Mail, 14 May 1915, p. 12.
(4) The Globe and Traveller, 2 June 1915, p. 1.
(5) The Times, 4 June 1915, p. 5.
(6) Hackney & Stoke Newington Recorder, 4 June 1915, p. 5.
(7) The Borough of West Ham, East Ham and Stratford Express, 5 June 1915, p. 5.
(8) Julie Brown, quoted in BBC Timewatch, op,cit., 2007.
(9) E. Sylvia Pankhurst, The Home Front (London, 1987), p. 196.
(10) ibid., p. 194.
(11) The Times, 2 June 1915, p. 6.
(12) Pankhurst, op,cit., p. 194.
(13) ioc.cit.,
(14) Hackney & Stoke Newington Recorder, 4 June 1915, p. 7.
(15) Rimell, op,cit., p. 37.
(16) Pankhurst, op,cit., pp. 194-195.
(17) ibid., p. 194.
(18) ibid., p. 197.
(19) The Evening News, 19 October 1915, p. 6.
(20) Daily Mail, 27 July 1909, p. 6.
(21) ‘Daily Telegraph’, cited in Daily Mail, 27 July 1909, p. 6.
(22) Walthamstow Sentinel, January 1915, p. 3.
(23) ‘The World Crisis’ by Winston S. Churchill, cited in Hedin (ed.), op,cit., p. 88.
(24) Beckett, quoted in BBC Timewatch, op,cit., 2007.
(25) Fegan, op,cit., p. 22.
(26) ibid., pp. 12-13.
(27) The Times, 14 September 1915, p. 8.
(28) The Walthamstow, Leyton and Chingford Guardian, 20 August 1915, p. 5.
(29) The Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette, 8 September 1915, p. 1.
(30) The Daily News & Leader, 15 October 1915, p. 5.
(31) The Globe and Traveller, 14 October 1915, p. 10.
(32) Daily Mail, 15 October 1915, p. 5.
(33) The New York Herald, 15 October, p. 1.
(34) The Globe and Traveller, 14 October 1915, p. 1.
(35) Poolman, op,cit., p. 109.
(36) The Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette, 20 October 1915, p. 8.
(37) The Times, 22 October 1915, p. 12.
(38) ioc.cit.,
(39) The Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette, 21 October 1915, p. 1
(40) ibid., p. 8.
(41) The Times, 22 October 1915, p. 12.
‘… the little island in the silver seas was at the end of its immunity…’
H. G. Wells, The War in the Air (Middlesex, 1973), p. 140.
Zeppelin 1915 Attacking a Zeppelin

Zeppelins are capable of carrying, in addition to their crews, bombs weighing in the aggregate about a ton and a half. The chief menace to a Zeppelin is attack by aeroplanes, which are much swifter and capable of rising much higher. They can circle around a Zeppelin and drop bombs on it. So Zeppelins are frequently mounted with guns of high-angle range to repel attacking aeroplanes. To discharge a gun is fraught with danger to the Zeppelin, but that danger must be faced.

J. A. Hammerton (ed.) The War Illustrated: A Pictorial Record of the Conflict of Nations, Volume 1, (London, 1915) p. 493.
The forward gondola

Forward gondola of a Zeppelin, placed under the keel at the end of the great dirigible. The crew and engines are accommodated in two of these long, gondola-shaped cars.

J. A. Hammerton (ed.) The War Illustrated: A Pictorial Record of the Conflict of Nations, Volume 4, (London, 1916) p. 45.
Zeppelin Gondola 1915
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Conclusion Acknowledgements Bibliography