How did London civilians respond to the German airship raids of 1915?
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Chapter 4: The minor responses of London’s civilians in response to the German airship raids of 1915

When putting aside the previous responses caused by the airship raids, the airships were a unique and phenomenal sight and were to some bigger than life itself.

In addition to the previously explained responses which many London civilians felt in response to the airship raids on the Capital, there were therefore other minor responses.

This chapter explains how these airships also brought about excitement and fascination, curiosity, and an unperturbed notion.
‘The Zeppelin... made a magnificent noise...

The sound of the Zepp’s engines was so fine, and its voyage through the stars so enchanting... I positively caught myself hoping next night that there would be another raid.’ [1]

George Bernard Shaw writing on 8 September 1915 to his friends the social reformers Beatrice and Sidney Webb


The first example of these minor responses is excitement and fascination. These were the strongest of the minor responses and can be divided into three sub-categories: excitement and fascination felt by men, excitement and fascination felt by women, and excitement and fascination felt by children.

The first of these sub-categories is the excitement and fascination which was felt by men. A large amount of evidence details this, despite Chapter 3 suggesting the contrary, and a somewhat sensational example is that of writer D. H. Lawrence who wrote after London’s fourth raid, ‘Last night when we were coming home… we saw a Zeppelin above us… I can not get over it… The Zeppelin is in the zenith of the night, golden like the moon, having taken control of the sky… Our cosmos has burst… the stars and the moon blown away, the envelope of the sky burst out, and a new cosmos appeared…’[2] A more subtle example is that of Mr. W. A. Phillips who wrote following the same raid, ‘I saw probably the most fascinating sight of my life, a regular battle in the air… The Zepp with three searchlights dead on her was as plain as daylight… The noise of the guns and shells bursting and the bombs exploding was terrific and most awesome.’[3] Shepherd also wrote following the same raid, ‘All about you are beautifully garbed women and men in evening clothes. “Oh’s and Ah’s” long drawn out greet the brilliantly white flashes of shrapnel… Hands clap their approval of the Zeppelin’s near approach to death… Men roar with delight.’[4] One further example also details that when an airship arrived above the House of Commons during London’s fifth raid, M.P.’s abandoned their debate so that they could watch. A reporter later recalled how that very airship ‘…looked a thing of silvery beauty sailing serenely through the night, indifferent to the big guns roaring at her from Green Park.’[5] The week which followed this raid The Daily News & Leader reported that the excitement of it was for one man so exhilarating that he collapsed and died. The verdict at the inquest on the death confirmed ‘…death from heart failure, brought about by the excitement of the raid.’[6]

The second sub-category of excitement and fascination felt by London’s civilians is what was felt by women. Two particular accounts exist and the first was written by Mrs. Harriet Ingleby, the wife of the Conservative M.P., Holcombe Ingleby, following London’s second raid. Writing to her son she wrote the raid was a ‘…most thrilling and wonderful sight. I was dead tired but hardly had I got to bed when I was roused by the sound… I turned out of bed and looking up saw just above us two Zepps… I ran upstairs where I had a lovely view… All the time I felt as in a dream. Can this be London?’[7] A similar exhilaration was expressed by Miss K. Bannermann, an eighteen year old Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) worker working in Mayfair. Having found one of the September raids utterly thrilling she wrote, ‘I have lived through an air raid and I feel life has been worth living. Fancy an air raid on London - an epoch-making event and I might have missed it. I flew out of bed as soon as I realised… The next morning everyone was frightfully excited, comparing notes… I was far too excited to be nervous… This is the nearest I have ever reached to being under fire and very exhilarating it was too.’[8]

The third sub-category of excitement and fascination felt by London’s civilians is what was felt by children. Only a few examples detail this and all but one are evident from Dr. Kimminsm’s lecture when he explained how boys, particularly at the age of nine, thoroughly enjoyed the raids and would spend as much time as possible in the streets to witness them. He referred specifically to a thirteen year old boy who was cleaning the stove when ‘…the room was lighted by a lurid glow, followed by a bang’, and thus, believing this meant there were airships, immediately ran into the street to witness them. In addition to this, although it can not be guaranteed to be for reasons of excitement, Dr. Kimminism also told how an eleven year old girl wrote, ‘Mother said she did not want to see or hear a Zeppelin again. I do.’[9] The final example is with regards to how some children in a hospital during London’s fourth raid found it exciting. Having seen how the first crash frightened the children the hospitals Sister declared, ‘We’ll have a Guy Fawkes night’. Causing cheers from them all, as the bombs continued the chorus of ‘The Fifth of November’ increased and they all ‘…found the Zeppelin raid enjoyable.’[10]

This excitement and fascination did however cause concern as it became apparent that the raids were not always taken seriously. As numerous civilians viewed the raids as exhibitions not to be missed, others feared that they had forgotten that the airships could bring an early death and were thus something to stay away from. As The Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette wrote after London’s third and fourth raid, ‘In many cases a rather dangerous disposition was noticeable to regard the affair as a species of spectacle... It would be well to take these sinister victors a little more seriously.’[11] This belief remained evident after London’s fifth raid too: The Evening News read, ‘There seems to be a sense of disappointment… at having missed the “show”. People… claim that they should have been told and had the opportunity of seeing what a Zeppelin was like! The first impulse of many Londoners… is to rush into the open area and gaze up into the sky. The death toll… would have been lighter last week had people not congregated in the streets.’[12] This belief of ignorance can be summed up in the following cartoon.[13]

Professional spirit Drawn by G. Jennis and published in Punch on 27 October 1915 this cartoon was in print two weeks after London’s fifth raid.

Showing differing responses of two male workers watching an airship, it confirmed what the newspapers had published when it read the Garage Assistant saying loudly, but not fearfully, ‘There’s the Zeppelin, Sir – right overhead! Come in, or she’ll have a bomb on us!’

The enthusiastic Engineer’s response was, ‘My! Ain’t her engines running something beautiful!’

Although the cartoon does not show the location to be London it reflected an accurate response of some of her civilians.

Titled ‘The Professional Spirit’, this cartoon highlighted that the correct protocol during the raids was for people to take shelter and protect themselves from bombs and anti-aircraft fire which might be dropped in their proximity.


The second example of a minor response felt by some London civilians is curiosity. This response is the second strongest of the minor responses and was also felt by civilians of all ages. This curiosity was initially recognised during London’s first raid when The Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette read, ‘The ineffectiveness of the German methods of terrorism is shown in the demeanor of the people of London today who are merely interested in discovering that the outskirts of their city have come into the arena of the war’.[14] The Globe and Traveller also wrote, ‘The psychology of the average Londoner in the face of a Zeppelin raid is of immense interest.’[15] Remaining evident throughout 1915, the former of these two newspapers read following London’s fourth raid, ‘If the intention of the German raider is to scare the English people… the result is as dismal a failure… The attitude of the people in London… is simply one of curiosity.’[16] Following London’s fifth raid the same newspaper read, ‘The attitude of mind towards the Zeppelins continue to be largely one of curiosity’,[17] and The Times also read that if Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the airship inventor, had ‘…accompanied the raiding aircraft… he will be disappointed to learn that only a minority… of London was aware of the presence of his airship… and that… the feelings everywhere aroused were of interest and curiosity rather than of fear.’[18] Another thirteen year old boy involved in Dr. Kimminsm’s lecture also told that ‘The air raid was a failure, the idea being to frighten the people of London. It did not succeed, the feeling being one of curiosity.’[19]

The third example of a minor response felt by some London civilians is a notion of being unperturbed. There are only two examples which explain this and both refer to the fact that the raids could cause ones deaths. The first example is that of Pankhurst - having referred to her experiences it is only right that her response to the raids is appropriately mentioned. Having viewed them with ease and having even felt detached from them, Pankhurst wrote, ‘The thought of the bombs crashing down on the densely populated city was appalling - yet for our household I had no least shade of apprehension - and for myself Life had no great claim. I was only a member of the salvage corps, saving and succoring as I might amid this wreckage, happy if I might aid in laying some stones to build the city of the future.’[20] The second example was from a girl, whose age was not recorded, in Dr. Kimminsm’s lecture. She wrote simply, ‘I was a bit frightened by the bomb burst, but we only have to die once.’[21]

The evidence used within this chapter shows an overall picture of the minor responses which were felt amongst some London civilians. Bringing about excitement and fascination amongst some, curiosity amongst others, and even an unperturbed notion amongst a few, this suggests that not all London civilians responded with what would be considered the obvious and more dominant responses, i.e. determination, anger and fear. Civilian responses were felt both singularly and in conjunction with others, and there is no doubt that no London civilian was unmoved by the coming of the airships.

References

(1) Douglas Botting, Dr. Eckener’s Dream Machine: The Great Zeppelin and the Dawn of the Air Travel, (New York, 2002), pp. 73-74.
(2) ‘A Letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell’ by D. H. Lawrence, cited in Hedin (ed.), op,cit., p. 92.
(3) Fegan, op,cit., p. 44.
(4) The Times, 25 September 1915, p. 6.
(5) Botting, op,cit., p. 74.
(6) The Daily News & Leader, 18 October 1915, p. 5.
(7) Malcolm Brown, The Imperial War Museum Book of the First World War: A Great Conflict Recalled in Previously Unpublished Letters, Diaries and Memoirs (London, 1993), p. 222.
(8) Fegan, op,cit., p. 43.
(9) The Times, 10 December 1915, p. 11.
(10) Daily Mail, 14 September 1915, p. 3.
(11) The Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette, 9 September 1915, p. 4.
(12) The Evening News, 19 October 1915, p. 6.
(13) Punch, Volume CXLIX, 27 October 1915, p. 341.
(14) The Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette, 1 June 1915, p. 1.
(15) The Globe and Traveller, 1 June 1915, p. 1.
(16) The Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette, 9 September 1915, p. 1.
(17) The Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette, 16 October 1915, p. 3.
(18) The Times, 18 September 1915, p. 7.
(19) The Times, 10 December 1915, p. 11.
(20) Pankhurst, op,cit., p. 191.
(21) The Times, 10 December 1915, p. 11.
‘… 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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