In our series The Great War – Through a London Child’s Eye, we’re following “The Private Diary of Edward Hampton” to learn about life as a child in London 1916, half way through the First World War.
Britain was attacked from the sky for the first time by German airships in 1915.
Until this time, no one had expected air raids, so the country was unprepared. The bombs they dropped were not very accurate but still caused much injury and damage.
On 19th January 1915, two German airships – Zeppelins – attacked the eastern coastal towns of Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn, killing four civilians but causing little significant damage.
On 31st May, London was attacked from the sky for the first time when the sinister airships dropped 89 bombs and 30 grenades in the East End, killing 7 people, including four children.
And on the nights of 13th and 14th October, five airships accounted for the lives of 71 Londoners across South London.
To help warn people of air raids, whistles would sound the alarm and people learnt to run for cover, taking shelter in the London Underground, at home, in cellars or basements.
For many, there was both excitement and fear during the airship raids, and children would satisfy their curiosity by going out to inspect the damage once the raids were over. Seeing an airship was very exciting and when one crashed, fragments were kept as souvenirs.
Seeing an airship was very exciting and when one crashed, fragments were kept as souvenirs.
During air raids, policemen shouted warnings as they walked around the streets wearing a sign saying “Take Cover!”
And when an attack was over, bugles would be blown to tell everyone it was safe to return to the streets. At Croydon Museum you can see a bugle once owned by Mr Charles Epps. He cycled around Croydon after air raids and sounded the all clear on a bugle as he went to let people know they were safe.
The airships were Zeppelins, named after Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin, the German inventor who designed them.
They were long, thin tubes, like straight sausages. Inside their tough, outer skin were large bags filled with hydrogen gas.
Hydrogen is lighter than air so the huge Zeppelins floated easily.
Underneath was a small compartment where the crew sat. From here they controlled the engines, steered the airship and dropped bombs.
Everyone in Britain was shocked when the Germans attacked from the air. Suddenly, the war was very much closer and it was frightening.
Until the air raids, the British had worried about their loved ones fighting in the army and navy. Now children, women and older people at home were also in danger.
The raids changed the way people lived.
In some parts of Britain, it became illegal to have a light showing from your house after dark.
As air raids started, soldiers and pilots were called on to defend the country.
By 1916, pilots from the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service were fighting the German raiders in the skies, helped by soldiers manning guns and searchlights.
A ring of barrage balloons 50 miles long was put in place around London. Anchored to the ground with steel cables, these huge gas-filled balloons floated above the city making it impossible for German aircraft to fly close enough to drop bombs.
From high places, observers watched for signs of an attack and prepared to raise the alarm. Searchlights helped gunners spot the airships or planes, and shoot them when they were close.
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The Great War – Through a London Child’s Eye is supported by The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.