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.

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