Monday, 19 March 2018

Killed by a propeller: Sad accident to Air Mechanic

Lorraine has found a reference to an air mechanic, not on our Roll of Honour (air men who died at or around Croydon aerodrome during the war). Although the article does not detail that the accident took place at Croydon / Beddington, the location of the Crescent War Hospital in Thornton Heath makes it unlikely to be elsewhere. From the Croydon Advertiser and Surrey County Reporter, Sat. 29 March 1918:

A keen air mechanic, Henry Colin Lane, aged 29, met with his death through his keenness to ascertain if the engine of an aeroplane which he had just set in motion was running properly.

Ground crew at Beddington / Croydon in 1918.
H M Martin Photograph.
The story was told to the Croydon Coroner and jury at an inquest at the Union Offices on Tuesday afternoon, when Jack Liennewiel, a fitter in the RFC, described what occurred.  Deceased was assisting another air mechanic to start the propeller of a machine. There was another machine with the engine working about fifteen feet away.  After assisting to start the propeller deceased walked sideways into the propeller of the other machine, his attention being entirely devoted to the machine he had just started.  The propeller struck him on the head, knocking him down.  The engines were at once stopped and he was removed to the medical officer and then sent in an ambulance to the Crescent War Hospital.  Witness thought deceased did not realise that the other machine was in action, as he could not hear it owing to the noise of the machine he had just started. 

Flight Sergt. Alexander Vaile gave a similar description of the accident.

Capt. Edgar Willett RAMC, attached to the Crescent War Hospital, said that when deceased was brought to the Hospital he was able to tell him his name.  Witness had him at once taken to the operating theatre and there found that he had a large scalp wound and four smaller one, and his arm was also injured.  Witness could not find at the time any fracture of the skull. The wounds were cleaned and dressed and he was got to bed.  He was in a serious condition, and more serious at eleven o’clock, but witness did not think he had any injury he could not recover from.  About a quarter of and hour later, however, he suddenly collapsed and died.  A post-mortem examination the next day showed that there was no injury to his head from which he could not have recovered, but the liver was ruptured, and from this he could not possibly have recovered.  The propeller had also struck his side and broken some of his ribs and also caused a small rupture of one lung.

Sister Florence Lyal Wilson, the night superintendent at the Crescent War Hospital, said that deceased was never left.  He was seen by Capt. Selby, RAMC, at ten o’clock and again by Capt. Willett, at ten to eleven.

The jury found that death was the result of an accident.

(died 22nd March 1918)

Monday, 12 March 2018

Air Raid Warning Systems in Croydon: From non-existence to technical wizardry

Records in the Museum of Croydon record the gradual implementation of an air raid defence system and even - though not until summer 1917 - public air raid warnings. Our project volunteer Norman has recorded the growth of these defences, which consisted of Observation Posts, Special Constables, the airfield itself and a growth in the use of light and sound technology to track and monitor aircraft.

Observation Posts in Croydon
View from the Town Hall Croydon in 1938.
  • Town Hall Tower
  • Water Tower
  • Gillett & Johnston's Tower
  • Nottingham Road
Observer duties included observing and reporting on hostile flying machines, exposed lights, fires etc. Reported by telephone to Observation Room, Croydon; Metropolitan Observation Service, Horseguards (forerunner of Observer (later Royal) Corps); Regular Police and Fire Service.

Special Constabulary station and posts
Police Station, Fell Road; Trojan Works, Vicarage Road, Waddon; Christ Church Schools, Clyde Road; Addiscombe Railway Station; Wesleyan Hall, Bartlett Street, South Croydon.

The Special Constabulary were appointed at start of war, they carried out normal policing duties (traffic accidents, carts without lights, drunken soldiers, small boys stealing bicycle) but their principal activities were war-related.

They also manned Observation Posts, reporting hostile aircraft (Zeppelins and Gothas) and breaches of blackout (mostly careless or false alarm by nervous citizens) but always alert to “spies” signalling to Zeppelins.  They guarded key installations though there are no records of their being armed.  They also assisted in rescuing or recovering bombing victims. Specials also controlled mobile first aid parties including St John and Red Cross, Voluntary Aid Detachment (nurses) and a Motor Branch.
When raids were believed to be imminent, Specials were summoned by telephone, personal visit or boards in cinemas and clubs. During the Great War, Croydon Specials paraded for air raid duties on 63 occasions and were on stand-by a further 15 times. An average parade for air raids would comprise 250-300 men (only men).

Air Raid Warnings
by Walter Bayes. Imperial War Museum. Art.IWM ART 935
From June 1917 the police gave raid warnings by firing maroons. Boy Scouts played Morse G-C on bugles for all clear. A red light displayed from Town Hall clock tower during Alert and white for All Clear. In addition the Town Hall basement was sand-bagged as air raid shelter.

A mobile A.A. Based at White Hill Caterham comprising 2 lorries each with 2 machine-guns; one lorry with 24” acetylene searchlight; service wagon for cooking, sleeping and stores

Air defence: Tram with searchlight installed upper deck
Searchlights seen flashing as signal to recall night fighters

Fire Alarms were installed on on street corners before advent of home and street telephone call boxes.

Each Observation Post was eventually equipped with a telescope with illuminated sights and the base was marked with compass degrees. A sighting would be reported by telephone (or runner) to the Chief Inspector of the Regular Police. His station was equipped with a large-scale map and by receiving bearings from two or more Observation Posts, the location of any incident could be plotted with cords on the map by triangulation [see exhibit in Control Tower]. An example of this was when an incendiary bomb caused a fire on railway truck four miles away, the location of which was plotted by central control within four minutes. Also Zeppelin crashes to north of London observed and accurately plotted. Sighting reports were forwarded to London Air Defence Area headquarters in Horseguards.

Nottingham Road Observation Post was also fitted with “sound detectors” (giant horns) to track enemy aircraft.

Water Tower Observation Post had automatic equipment to record bearing and azimuth of targets and weather reports.

Norman Brice

Air Raid Defences in and around Croydon: Timeline

4 August 1914: Britain declares war on Germany

24 August 1914: Special Constables start guarding “vulnerable points” including water, gas and electricity works; telephone exchange; railway bridges (later gradually reduced to release manpower for air raid duties)

19 January 1915: first time Special Constabulary alerted for air raid

13 October 1915: raid by Zeppelin L14 Kapitanleutnant Bocher. Bombed Croydon. 9 killed, 15 injured

Monday, 5 March 2018

Public Reaction in Croydon to the Zeppelin Raids of October 1915

Norman, one of our volunteers on the Fighting for Air project, discovered a very interesting and important item in the Museum of Croydon. A handbill for a public meeting only a week after the devastating raid of 13/14 October. Norman writes:

Bomb damage at 69-73 Stretton Rd Croydon, at which 3
people were killed: Eliza Walter (52), Daisy Walter (23) and
Sidney Walter (15). Photograph Home Office October 1915.
© IWM (HO 29)
The actual number of casualties and material damage caused by the first Zeppelin raid were totally insignificant in terms of military losses on the Western Front and elsewhere. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records the deaths of 1,074,612 service personnel between 4 August 1914 and 11 November 1918 – an average of 689 for every single day of the Great War. And as the Prime Minister pointed out in a debate in the House of Commons on “Home Defence”, more Londoners died from traffic accidents in the blackout than from enemy action.

But the public did not see it that way. These were innocent and defenceless women and children, slaughtered in their beds as they slept.  Anti-German feeling ran high. These were “Baby Killers” and anybody with a Germanic-sounding name was a potential spy. Shops owned by these people were ransacked whilst the British Bobby stood passively by.

Croydon reacted by calling a public meeting, chaired by the Mayor, on 22 October 1915. Two motions were passed:

Mr William Joynson-Hicks M.P. proposed and Lord Willoughby de Broke seconded called for reprisal raids by British aircraft against German cities as the only effective means of defence against Zeppelin attacks.

The second motion was proposed by the Editor of the Globe, Mr Charles Parker, calling for an independent air arm to replace the separate Royal Flying Corps (Army) and the Royal Naval Air Service. In this, he was two years ahead of the official report to the Government of 1917 by General Smuts which, when accepted, led to the creation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918.