13 June 1917 marks the centenary of the first daytime air raid on London. On this day, 20 Gotha bombers dropped more than 100 bombs on the capital, killing 162 people. This was the highest death toll from a single raid on the UK during the First World War. Notable buildings damaged during the raid include the Royal Hospital Chelsea, pictured above, and the workshops of the Royal Mint.
In this guest blog post, Chris Kolonko from the Home Front Legacy project looks at the places attacked during the raid, and explains how you can record the stories of individuals and sites affected.
- The Raid
A formation of Gotha bombers approached London from the East on the morning of 13 June 1917, having made landfall at the mouth of the River Crouch in Essex. The first salvo of bombs landed on East Ham and the Royal Albert Docks.
The bombers continued on their journey west, where a second round of bombs was jettisoned. A bomb hit the area around Liverpool Street Station at 11.40am, with three bombs hitting the station itself. One bomb failed to explode, the second landed on Platform 9 and the third bomb hit a passenger train about to depart the station. This Lives of the First World War Community commemorates those that were killed in the raid at Liverpool Street Station.
By 11.42am a total of 72 bombs had been dropped on the capital. The Gotha formation now split in two, with one section heading north and the other south of the city. The section of aircraft heading south crossed the Thames at Tower Bridge and proceeded to drop bombs on Bermondsey and Tooley Street, while the Northern section attacked Dolston, Saffron Hill, Stepney and Poplar.
- “Schoolmates in Life, in Death they were not divided”
By far the most tragic event of the day occurred at Upper North Street School in Poplar (now Mayflower Primary School). Eighteen children were killed when a bomb hit the school, and 30 were wounded – they are united in this Community with their teachers who bravely helped during the raid.
A commemorative card was produced at the time, dedicated to “The Poor Victims … Schoolmates in Life, in Death they were not divided”. Today, a monument can be found in the East London Cemetery where most of the children are buried; the official memorial is located on the site of the school and there is another in Poplar Recreation Ground.
- Fighting back
Although anti-aircraft defences around London had been enhanced and co-ordinated as a result of the earlier Zeppelin raids, it proved difficult to intercept the high-flying Gothas and no bombers were shot down during the raid. Home Defence squadron aircraft scrambled to intercept the raiders but were also unable to destroy any of the bombers.
According to an account in Captain Joseph Morris’ 1925 book German Air Raids on Great Britain 1914-1918 there was at least one fatality among the Home Defence squadrons that attempted to engage the raiders. Captain Cole-Hamilton and Captain Keevil of No 35 Training Squadron, based at Northolt, took off to intercept the Gothas. They pressed home their attack against 3 of the bombers above Ilford, where Captain Keevil was killed by return fire.
The raiders headed back to the coast, leaving 162 people dead and a further 432 injured.
Researching personal stories for Lives of the First World War may reveal Home Front sites that you can record through Home Front Legacy 1914-18. Home Front Legacy 1914-18 is a UK-wide recording project coordinated by the Council for British Archaeology with funding and support from Historic England.
The project enables individuals, community groups, schools and youth groups to record local sites linked to the First World War Home Front. The locations mentioned in this blog post will be recorded on the project’s ‘Map of Sites’. The stories of people connected with these sites can also be recorded to build up a picture of life on the Home Front.
Find out more about the Home Front Legacy project here