How did London civilians respond to the German airship raids of 1915?
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Chapter 1: The determination felt by London’s civilians in response to the German airship raids of 1915

Whilst Germany’s airships raids on London were understandably concerning for London’s civilians, they brought about an increasing strength of determination and one which would only culminate when Germany sued for peace.

This determination to not fall victim to Germany’s terrorising acts is the 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 calls to sustain the manpower of the war effort, a widespread desire to continue life as normal, and also a demand for London, and effectively Britain, to begin reprisals on German civilian populated areas.
‘When [the Germans] injure innocent… people they… proclaim it as a great victory and that they have struck terror into the English people in London…

Well I can only say this, that it has had the effect of making the Londoners… more determined than ever that the GermHun power shall not only be beaten but ABSOLUTELY CRUSHED out of existence.’ [1]

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


The first example of determination is London’s civilian’s increase in calls to sustain the manpower of the war effort. This can be divided into three sub-categories: what was expressed in posters, the drawing of cartoons in magazines, and what was expressed in newspapers.

The first of these sub-categories is what was expressed in posters. In 1915 however the only poster released to demonstrate this was the following one.[2]

It is far better to face the bullets than be killed by a bomb at home Released in February by the Capital’s Publicity Department at the Central Recruiting Depot, the depot wasted little time in using the airship’s menace to help stimulate recruitment for the war effort.[3] Released however during the month which followed England’s first raid, the Capital was yet to have been raided.

Nonetheless, by showing an airship in the midst of searchlights over London’s unarmed and civilian populated areas of the City of Westminster and the City of London, it showed that London believed that she was the raids fundamental objective.

Having said that, the poster would have perhaps also shown London because this would have represented Britain and thus unified the nation’s civilians.


Reflecting the belief that the raids were barbaric, it was hoped that this stance would make men more determined to enlist in the war. Although it is not known how much of an affect this poster had on civilians, it was reported throughout 1915, as is shortly evident, that in the days which followed the raids on London there was an increase in men enlisting.

The second sub-category of the increase in calls to sustain the manpower of the war effort is the drawing of cartoons in magazines. The publications of these cartoons throughout the war were mostly drawn in Punch, yet in 1915 the only cartoon released to demonstrate this was the following one.[4]

Our friend the enemy Drawn by L. Raven-Hill and published in Punch on 27 October 1915 this cartoon was in print two weeks after London’s fifth raid.

Showing John Bull, the dependable and stoic country squire who frequently appeared in the magazine, it effectively confirmed what newspapers had published when it read him saying calmly, ‘Ah, here he comes again – my best recruiter.’[5]

Although the cartoon does not show the location to be London it reflected an accurate response of many of her civilians. Showing airships in the midst of searchlights over unarmed and civilian populated areas and titled ‘Our Friend the Enemy’, it represents the effect the raids were having on the determination to sustain the manpower of the war effort.

Once more it is unknown how much of an affect this cartoon had on London’s civilians.


The third sub-category of the increase in calls to sustain the manpower of the war effort is what was expressed in newspapers. Using the threat of the airships to encourage enlistment, this began after London had endured her first raid. Beginning with the publication of a Coroner’s response at an inquest following the latter, The Daily News & Leader read how he told that the only way to respond to the raids was with ‘…more and more swelling of our armies so that we can absolutely overpower our enemies.’[6] Other Londoners agreed and numerous Coroner’s stated this: the East London Observer wrote following the same raid how another Coroner concluded that ‘…there seemed to be only one argument… The more men that could be got to enlist, the better it would be for the country’;7 and at an inquest following London’s fifth raid The Daily News & Leader reported that the Coroner declared that the airships ‘…produced a greater realisation of the peril of a country, and should… result in a large accession to the ranks of the defenders of the country.’[8] London’s Lord Mayor, Col. Sir Charles Wakefield, also declared, although not until after London’s fifth raid, that he hoped ‘…the raid would be taken by all men of military age and fitness as a call to offer their services to hasten the end of such things.’[9]

Although it can not be proved to have been in response to the above calls, newspaper articles also read that in the immediate aftermath of the raids on London there was an increase in men enlisting. The Hackney & Stoke Newington Recorder stated this after London’s first raid when it read, ‘There was a satisfactory rush of men of military age to the recruiting stations, and the Zeppelins contributed not a little to the formation of Lord Kitchener’s new army of 300,[000] men.’[10] Following London’s second raid the Daily Sketch wrote, ‘There was a sharp spurt in recruiting in London yesterday… nearly 500 recruits were attested and dispatched to various depots before midday’,[11] and following London’s fifth raid The Illustrated London News wrote similarly that the military result was the ‘…stimulation of recruiting and the deepening of the resolution to defeat the enemy utterly and bring him to his knees.’[12] The Daily News & Leader confirmed this also by printing a photograph of huge queues of recruits at Horse Guards Parade and stating below the picture that ‘Wednesday’s Zeppelin raid… has immediately proved a great stimulus to recruiting.’[13]

The second example of determination is London’s civilian’s widespread desire to continue life as normal. Portrayed to the highest degree in the press this can be summed up in the following cartoon.[14]

Carry on as normal Drawn by G. L. Stampa and published in Punch on 22 September 1915 this cartoon was in print two weeks after London’s third and fourth raid. Showing a traditional British family-run grocery in complete ruins and totally inhabitable, by showing the elderly owner writing on the external walls of the grocery ‘Business as usual’, it confirmed what the press had depicted with regards to the population of London remaining ‘…cool and free of panic.’[15] Even King George V - cousin to the Kaiser by their Grandmother Queen Victoria - and his wife Queen Mary acted in this unity and defiance, for example they publicly expressed their sympathy by visiting hospitals caring for raid victims.[16]

Constantly portraying the unwillingness of Londoners to fall victim to this terrorism, as The Times stated following London’s fourth raid, had Germany conducted the war decently then London’s civilians might never have fully awakened from their slumbers until it was over; Germany’s decision to wake them with their bombs was consequently ‘...the costliest of all their psychological mistakes.’[17]


The press also advocated London’s civilian’s determination by printing examples of how they reacted during the raids. Particularly true with regards to London’s fifth raid, although this was the deadliest raid it was also when it was most evident how determined they were to not let it distract their night. Striking in the midst of the evening, ‘The raid occurred when… places of entertainment were full and the masses of the population were about their ordinary evening’s pleasure of business.’[18] More people were therefore aware of the enemy’s presence than previously. The first bomb to fall in the Theatreland hit the Gaiety where Tonight’s the Night two-thousand strong audience were enjoying the interval. The bomb’s explosion was heard yet no panic erupted and the majority returned to their seats. Despite the stage having been covered in glass, dirt and debris, the orchestra played whilst this mess was swept up, thus allowing the drama to continue. Only when a fire superintendent came by forty-five minutes later to report a fire at a gas main outside was it advised that the audience disperse.[19] A similar account is also given of the Strand Theatre where The Scarlet Pimpernel was being performed. Whilst the audience had been slightly startled by the explosion, actor Fred Terry managed to quieten them by remaining on stage and, along with the orchestra, begin a patriotic sing-along.[20] As The Times reported, ‘The population of London… remained cool and free from panic.’[21]

The third example of determination is London’s civilian’s demands to begin reprisals on German civilian populated areas. Unlike the above however, where it could be argued that the evidence used is views of journalists and also forms of hidden propaganda, the evidence used in this section, although also taken predominantly from newspapers, refers directly to civilian accounts.

This demand for reprisals was not immediately apparent as it was generally agreed that the best response was to continue attacking areas vital to Germany’s war effort. This belief was responsible for the dropping of 130 projectiles by Allied aeroplanes on Karlsruhe’s castle, arms factory and railway station a fortnight after London’s first raid. No civilians were killed,[22] yet the response of the Deutsche Tageszeitung was, ‘Germany’s answer to this foul attack must be ruthless reprisals not only on military cities and fortresses as the Germans have done thus far, but on civilians. The best place for such reprisals… is in the West-end of London…’[23] Irregardless of the fact that the majority of deaths following Germany’s raids on England were achieved in civilian populated areas and not these alleged ‘military cities and fortresses’, it was not until the day which followed London’s fifth raid that ‘Reprisal’ was loudly and publicly aired.[24]

This call for reprisals was declared at a meeting at Cannon Street Hotel which had been organised by Charles Palmer, the editor of The Globe and Traveller. Attended by significant figureheads, such as the latter, as well as Lords and M.P.’s, members of the public were also invited and ‘…the hall was packed to the doors’.[25] The meeting’s purpose was not to ‘…squeal or call the German names’,[26] but was to urge the British Government to make a formal announcement of air reprisal raids on German towns.[27] The Chair of the meeting, Lord Willoughby de Broke, began these demands arguing that the only way to stop the raids was ‘…to treat [Germany] as they treat us.’[28] Followed by Mr. Joynson-Hicks, M.P. and member of the Coalition Government, he argued that ‘Every man and woman… had the right to demand the essence of citizenship protection for their lives and homes.’[29] A particularly strong enthusiast of the need for reprisals, he also endeavoured to call attention to the need for an air fleet and argued, ‘We must be prepared to send two-hundred machines at the very least… in order that the Germans may be made to realise the destruction they wrought last night and on other nights.’[30] Later demanding that ‘…the Kaiser be made to realise what it means for his own people to be subjugated… to cold blooded butchery’,[31] he was seconded by Mr. Ernest Jardine, M.P., who declared that ‘…for every man, woman and child, we must extract the same toll.’[32]

This determination for reprisals continued after this meeting: Mr. W. Buckland Edwards, resident of London, told how ‘Practically every person I have spoken to… agrees with me that systematic air raids on the Rhine towns will put an end to the Zeppelin activity’ [33] a journalist for The Evening News wrote that, ‘Immediate reprisals is the demands of many of our readers… not because we should compete… in murdering harmless civilians, but because they contend the moral effect in Germany would prevent these raids’;34 Mr. T. Rice Holmes, Roehampton, wrote that the ‘…enemy would think twice about persisting in raids which had no military value if he found that they recoiled upon himself and upset the confidence of his own civil population’;35 and Major-General Alfred E. Turner, Chelsea, wrote, ‘The Germans… have become innate savages… Their only gospel is brute force, and with brute force they must be met…’[36] An eleven year old girl also agreed and her thoughts were expressed on 9 December when glimpses of airships seen through the eyes of children were given by Dr. C. W. Kimminsm, Chief inspector of schools for the London County Council (LCC), in a lecture to the Child Study Society at the Royal Sanitary Institute. The children involved in this lecture were from one of five schools in the area of London’s fourth and fifth raids and ninety-six percent had experience of at least one of the latter. Having formulated the contents from essays which had been written days after these raids, a variety of responses were given, as is evident in later chapters. This girl noted however that, ‘This kind of thing makes one realise what war is; and yet dropping bombs on harmless people is not war. That night I felt bitter towards the Germans. I felt I could fly to Germany and do the same thing to them.’[37]

Evidence also exists however to show that some Londoners were against these form of reprisals. University of London lecturer A. F. Pollard, for example, wrote that, ‘It is no punishment for the criminals… if we kill the kin of other people.’[38] Opposition was even experienced at the meeting at Cannon Street Hotel where two or three shouts of ‘No’ were heard when the resolution of reprisals was put by de Broke. This hearing of disapproval saw that the three men who had objected were forcibly thrown out.[39] A Coroner at an inquest following London’s fifth raid also said that if reprisals commenced they could lead to Germans taking British women and shooting them.[40] Other London civilians believed that reprisals could instead be achieved by bringing to justice those who authorised the raids: London civilian Mr. H. Wace wrote that ‘We should make it an indispensable condition of peace that representatives of the people responsible for these raids should be delivered to our Government for public execution… If every person… knew that…it might perhaps give him pause’ [41] and a Coroner at an inquest following the same raid told that he ‘…trusted that those responsible for the raid would be brought to justice.’[42] Another London civilian, Mr. E. S. P. Haynes, believing that ‘The German Government are not going to shed any tears over the deaths of German women and children’, suggested that the German property in the hands of the Public Trustee should be used to compensate British civilians for damage done by the raids. Arguing that German financiers would then cease to bolster up war loans he concluded, ‘Any retaliatory confiscation of British property… can be dealt with at the end of the war.’[43]

The evidence used within this chapter shows an overall sense of determination felt by many London civilians. The increase in calls to sustain the manpower of the war effort, the widespread desire to continue life as normal, and a demand to begin reprisals on German civilian populated areas, all suggest that many London civilians were spirited and unconquerable in the face of the raids. Evidence however also shows that responses were not so straightforward or singular. Whilst determination is the strongest response, anger is a close second. The following chapter explains why.

References

(1) Fegan, op,cit., p. 43.
(2) I[mperial] W[ar] M[useum], ID Number: Q 80366, ‘It is Far Better to Face the Bullets’, February 1915.
(3) Georgetown University Library, ‘Special Collections: WW1 Posters - The Posters’, https://www.library.georgetown.edu/dept/speccoll/britpost/posters.htm.
(4) Punch, Volume CXLIX, 27 October 1915, p. 343.
(5) Archives of Ontario, ‘Canadian Posters of the First World War’, https://www.archives.gov.on.ca/ENGLISH/exhibits/posters/index.html.
(6) The Daily News & Leader, 4 June 1915, p. 3.
(7) East London Observer, 5 June 1915, p. 5.
(8) The Daily News & Leader, 18 October 1915, p. 5.
(9) ioc.cit.,
(10) Hackney & Stoke Newington Recorder, 4 June 1915, p. 5.
(11) Daily Sketch, 19 August 1915, p. 3.
(12) The Illustrated London News, 23 October 1915, p. 523.
(13) The Daily News & Leader, 15 October 1915, p. 1.
(14) Punch, Volume CXLIX, 22 September 1915, p. 250.
(15) The Times, 15 October 1915, p. 5.
(16) ioc.cit.,
(17) The Times, 10 September 1915, p. 9.
(18) The Times, 18 October 1915, p. 6.
(19) Poolman, op,cit., p. 94.
(20) Fegan, op,cit., p. 100.
(21) The Times, 18 October 1915, p. 6.
(22) The Hackney & Kingsland Gazette, 16 June 1915, p. 5.
(23) ‘Deutsche Tageszeitung’, cited in The Times, 18 June 1915, p. 8.
(24) Poolman, op,cit., p. 107.
(25) The Globe and Traveller, 14 October 1915, p. 1.
(26) Daily Mail, 15 October 1915, p. 5.
(27) The City Press, 16 October 1915, p. 3.
(28) The Globe and Traveller, 14 October 1915, p. 1.
(29) Daily Mail, 15 October 1915, p. 5.
(30) The New York Herald, 15 October, p. 1.
(31) ioc.cit.,
(32) Daily Sketch, 15 October 1915, p. 2.
(33) The Times, 19 October 1915, p. 10.
(34) The Evening News, 19 October 1915, p. 6.
(35) The Times, 21 October 1915, p. 7.
(36) ioc.cit.,
(37) The Times, 10 December 1915, p. 11.
(38) The Times, 21 October 1915, p. 9.
(39) Daily Mail, 15 October 1915, p. 5.
(40) Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette, 26 October 1915, p. 7
(41) The Times, 21 October 1915, p. 7.
(42) The Daily News & Leader, 18 October 1915, p. 5.
(43) The Times, 22 October 1915, p. 9.
‘… 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
How did London civilians respond to the German airship raids of 1915? Comments on this website to adrienne_barthram@hotmail.com

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