German Gotha bombers attacked London in a deadly daylight raid one hundred years ago on July 7th 1917. Gotha planes which could fly higher and undetected in daylight had replaced Zeppelins and Londoners were unprepared for the attack. Witnesses mistakenly assumed the planes were their own until they saw the deadly bombs drop over the East End and London city. 57 people were killed and almost 200 injured.
Annie Wheeler cabled her friend Mary Trotman in Rockhampton because she knew she would be anxious when she heard about the raid.
There were no warnings and the first Annie knew of the raid was the sound of guns in the distance at about ten-thirty in the morning. When the sounds came nearer and nearer she realised “the enemy airplanes were overhead and thought it time to go down to the basement.” Annie told Mary Trotman “everyone – even the little children – was quite calm”. She reassured Mary, “no bombs were dropped in Victoria Street” where she was living.
95 British aircraft were sent up to defend the capital. Annie realised the guns she had heard were “our own anti-aircraft.” After a while Annie went up to the roof to see what was happening and counted about “thirty enemy planes” overhead. “We just got on the roof in time to see the last one disappearing.” The British planes chased the enemy aircraft over the channel bringing down one plane but losing two of their own. Three young British airmen died.
Eleanor Bourne, the first Queensland woman doctor working at the Endell Street Military Hospital also watched the raid. The bombs hit the General Post Office and the roof caught fire. “The daylight raid was rather exciting and it was hard to believe that the buzzing planes looking like a swarm of flies, might really drop something dangerous; on this occasion the hospital was showered with bits of burnt paper from the nearby General Post Office which got hit.”
Londoners were angry and scared and demanded better defences and warning systems. Many directed their anger at the Germans living in London and riots broke out across the city. 3000 people vented in Upper Holloway, 1500 in Tottenham attacking German bakeries and tailors. Windows were broken, money and goods stolen, police were injured and arrests made.
Even though press reports were limited, these raids spread fear and caution among Londoners who until now had thought the raids more an entertaining spectacle. More people headed for the basement rather than the roofs as air raid procedures and better warning systems were developed.
Annie Wheeler’s letter to Mary Trotman, published in the Capricornian on the 15th September 1917has been digitised by the NLA and is available online -https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/69801339/6829485
Eleanor Bourne’s papers, (OM81-130 Eleanor Elizabeth Bourne Papers) held in SLQ, have been digitised and are available online – http://www.slq.qld.gov.au
New Scotland Yard Reports of the riots in London on the 7th July 1917 have been digitised by The National Archives UK are are available online – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/firstworldwar/spotlights/p_riots.htm
The photograph of bomb damaged buildings in St Pancras Road – (c) IWM HO76 – is part of the Imperial War Museum Collection.