Hertford’s Zeppelin terror

PUBLISHED: 11:30 10 November 2015 | UPDATED: 15:12 12 November 2015




100 years ago a fleet of Zeppelins began a night of terror in England. Sarah Keeling of Hertford Museum describes how pilot error led to Hertford being hit by the full barrage of one of the airships

Zeppelin L15, one of the fleet of airships on the raid and the only one to hit its intended target, returning to base in NordholzZeppelin L15, one of the fleet of airships on the raid and the only one to hit its intended target, returning to base in Nordholz

On the night of October 13 1915, England experienced one of the worst air raids of the First World War, when German Zeppelin airships flew in formation with the intention of bombing London.

Oberleutnant-zur-See Werner Peterson, in charge of Imperial Navy Zeppelin L16, was part of a group of five airships which arrived off the coast of Norfolk at around 7.30pm. They took their bearings from Cromer and Great Yarmouth, then waited for it to get dark. At a height of around 6,500 feet they set off for their target. Only one, L15, found London. Peterson and his crew mistook the curve of the river Lee in Hertfordshire and lights from warehouses along it for the Thames and the East End of London and dropped the craft’s load of 48 incendiary and explosive bombs before returning home, where they reported a successful mission.

Oberleutenant-zur-see Werner Peterson who mistook the Lea for the Thames, leading to the raid on HertfordOberleutenant-zur-see Werner Peterson who mistook the Lea for the Thames, leading to the raid on Hertford

The first bombs fell in Hertford at around 10pm on The Folly road. The Zeppelin’s course then took it over Bull Plain. The noise drew people into the streets; four men came out of Lombard House (the then Conservative Club) to see what was happening. They were all killed. The explosions in Bull Plain also severely damaged several houses and killed a four-year-old boy in his bed.

Damaged houses in Bull Plain after the attackDamaged houses in Bull Plain after the attack

Old Cross was hit next with incendiaries which damaged three houses and left several people badly burned. Houses were also damaged at nearby North Road where the only military casualty of the raid was hit and killed, Acting Bombadier Arthur John Cox of the Norfolk Regiment.

A high explosive bomb fell immediately outside the gates of Hertford County Hospital and broke 200 panes of glass and around a quarter of the iron railings surrounding the building were shattered. Some of the iron railings came through the front windows of the hospital building. Two workmen, standing in Garrats Mill Yard across the road from the hospital, were killed. 3

Blast and incendiary damage at Lombard House and Bull PlainBlast and incendiary damage at Lombard House and Bull Plain

Overall, 71 people were killed across London and East Anglia that night and a further 128 injured – the heaviest casualty list from an air raid during the war. Seventeen of the dead were soldiers and sailors. The nine people killed in Hertford, unusually, are recorded on the town’s war memorial. They are James L Gregory, 55, organist at All Saints and professor of music; Ernest Thomas Jolly, 27, bank cashier; John Henry Jevons, 67, borough surveyor of Hertford; George Cartledge, 56, linen draper; Charles Waller, 43, labourer; Arthur Hart, 51, labourer; George Stephen Game, 4; Charles Spicer, 30, labourer; Arthur James Cox of Yarmouth, bombardier in the Norfolk Regiment, stationed in Hertford.

People flocked to Hertford the day after the raid as rumours spread that the town had been wiped off the map, and extra police were summoned to maintain order.

The Hertford Zeppelin raid is one of the stories told in Hertford Museum’s From Bull Plain to the Battlefields exhibition, which tells the story of east Hertfordshire in the First World War and also the experiences of the Hertfordshire Regiment on the battlefields of France and Belgium. It reveals amazing stories of courage, fortitude and kindness through an emotive collection of objects, images, war diaries and engaging interactives.

More stories and photographs can be found in the book that accompanies the exhibition, which contains extracts from diaries, letters and official documents including a full account of the Hertford Zeppelin raid and other attacks on the county.

From Bull Plain to the Battlefields runs until January 30 at Hertford Museum. See hertfordmuseum.org for further details.

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