Gotha Daylight Raids A second attack on 5 June 1917 was diverted to Sheerness in Kent but a third attack on 13 June resulted in the first daylight raid on London, causing 162 deaths and 432 injuries.
Among the dead were 16 children killed by a bomb falling on Upper North Street school, Poplar. The following day, a report of the attack appeared in the press:
“Having found that Zeppelins are of no use for summer time, the Germans are now making superhuman efforts with their aeroplanes, having made three visits to this country within a short time. Their last visit was on Wednesday [13th June 1917] just before noon, when the bombs which descended unseen from the sky wrought terrible havoc, as the following figures painfully demonstrate:-
Killed 55 men; 16 women; 26 children. Total 97.
Injured 223 men; 122 women; 94 children. Total 439. Grand total 536.
The above is the information issued by the Press Bureau early on Thursday morning [14th June 1917], and may be increased by deaths. Still there was no damage of a military or naval nature. There was, on Wednesday, however, a serious explosion at a munitions work at Ashton-under-Lyne, which, of course, had no connection with the raid.
The London area bombed by the German aircraft was clearly pretty extensive, and the difficulty of immediately getting together anything like a reliable estimate of the loss of life and damage will be recognised as very great. The populous East End of London provides an unequalled field for the horrid operations of the Hun murderers.
The raid will cause much heart-searching. The public will right desire to be informed how it occurs that so large a phalanx of enemy aeroplanes could reach their objective though one must not forget that, in spite of all the enemy efforts at the seat of war, Allied raids on an extensive scale are of almost daily occurrence.
The most painful feature of the raid was the dropping of a bomb on a school in the East End under the control of the County Council. It penetrated the roof, and after killing a little girl passed through the top storey floor into the room below, which was occupied by a class of senior boys, several of whom were killed. The missile finally exploded in a class of infants with terrible effects. The 64 children in this room were hurled in all directions, some of the little mites being terribly injured. One five-year old boy was blown from the extreme end of the room into the corridor. Police and medical aid were shortly afterwards on the scene, and the dead and injured, some of the latter minus an arm or leg, were taken to Poplar Hospital. The force of the explosion hurled forms, tables, and desks into a chaotic mass.
Many of the children were terribly mutilated. Soldiers who had seen many painful sights at the front at once began the work of rescue and almost broke down at the spectacle. The teacher – a woman – escaped with slight injury, and at once gathered together the few who could walk and marched them out of the room over the smashed furniture, and the remains of her little school fellows.
From the second floor also two little ones were taken out dead, both from near the spot where the bomb went through the floor. A reporter saw the exercise book in which one of these children had done her last sum; it was a little thing in simple addition, and it had just been marked “Correct”.
The anguish of the mothers was painful in the extreme. They rushed round regardless of danger to themselves, directly the bomb dropped on the school. Admission was impossible for a time, police and ambulances being already and give first aid. In their desperation the mothers tried to climb the walls. In due course six tiny bodies were taken to the mortuary, where they were identified. Other identifications could be made only from fragments of clothing.
Railway premises were hit by bombs, one of which dropped at the eastern end of Liverpool Street station, and fell on the end of a train standing at the side of the platform. The woodwork of the carriages was smashed up, and the next carriage had the windows blown to atoms. One poor fellow had his clothing torn completely away down to his waist, and his body was spotted like a leopard’s, only the marks were bloody red and sooty black.
There were many angry demonstrations after the raid outside the premises and houses of enemy aliens in the East End, the police having to disperse some women. An English shopkeeper in this neighbourhood has to join up in a fortnight, and next door is an alien in his trade, which might go to him. Two policemen had to guard this alien’s premises.
A constable named Smith was killed. Three hundred girls rushed from a warehouse and he got them back. No sooner had he barricaded the door from the outside than he was killed. He had been called back from the reserve. Apparently his only injury was in the leg, death being due to shock. A constable who rushed to him when he fell remarked, “The poor chap never said a word.”
An incendiary bomb dropped on a printer’s instantly raised a sea of flames, and the building was soon burned out. An elderly man sustained severe cuts. At an adjoining house it was stated that a bomb shook the premises as if it were a toy and swept several people off their feet. Close to the fire next door a church was opened for service, at the close of which the hymn “Passing Souls” was sung by the kneeling congregation, followed by the National Anthem.
In a publisher’s building, when a bomb fell outside a cashier was making up the cash in an upper room. A bundle of cheques and postal orders was blown far and wide and came down in a shower on a roof two streets away. A postal order bearing the firm’s name was picked up nearly a quarter of a mile off. The only articles in the shop window, which were not damaged, were two texts in glass frames. One ran: ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ!'
There were numerous incidents which might be recorded, and hereunder are a few of them:-
Three bombs fell 100 yards from a police station.
People fell down in streets from the shock of the explosions.
When the bombing began all the pigeons in London flew westward.
Waitresses in a teashop carrying plates had them thrown form their hands.
One or two mothers rushed to a school to demand their children, but the teacher was firm.
Missiles were dropped at regular intervals almost in a straight line for about three miles.
Outside a bank a dray was destroyed the driver being seriously injured and the horse mangled.
Hearing a bomb a man leaned out of a window and another bomb so startled him that he fell out and was badly injured.
In one street a bomb went through all the five floors of an office building. Pieces of typewriters and furniture could be seen in all directions.
One busy corner that suffered an early raid was again unlucky, but the part that was damaged before escaped, and the part that escaped before was wrecked.
“On the opposite side of the streets a bomb exploded,” said an employer. “I did not feel a breath of air, yet five people three yards from me were flung on their faces.”
Wax dummies dressed in the latest garb lies in a heap in an outfitter’s shop, their arms broken and the trunks lying in grotesque positions, at first glance providing a somewhat terrifying sight."
This was the deadliest air raid of the war. No Gothas were lost. In 1938, Air Commodore Lionel Charlton described the raid as "the beginning of a new epoch in the history of warfare. News of the raid was received enthusiastically in Germany, and Brandenburg was summoned to Berlin to be awarded the Pour le Mérite, Germany's highest military honour. On taking off for the return journey, the engine of his aircraft failed. Brandenburg was severely injured, and his pilot, Oberleutnant Freherr von Totha, was killed.
The reason for the relatively large numbers of casualties seems to have been ignorance as to the threat posed by aerial bombardment of a city in daylight. Lt Charles Chabot, a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilot on leave recorded that: ...Raids hadn't become a very serious thing and everybody crowded out into the street to watch. They didn't take cover or dodge.
As there had been little planning, early attempts to intercept the Gothas were ineffective. Large numbers of British aircraft were put into the air but were unable to climb high enough to engage the bombers. Captain James McCudden was part of the engaging force of 92 aircraft but due to the limited performance of his machine had no success in intercepting the bombers.
Amongst the victims was former Nottingham woman, Olive Noakes. Her family published a remembrance notice in the local paper:
“Noakes. – In loving memory of Olive, the loving daughter of Thos. And Emma Spencer, Count-street, killed June 13th, 1917. Her duty called her, she was there to do her bit, to take her share; her heart was good, her spirit brave, her resting place a heroine's grave. – From her sorrowing mother, father, sisters, brothers Albert and Tom (in France).”