4th April 1916 Tuesday
All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.
Douglas had been back with his friends at Mesplaux with 130th (St.John) Field Ambulance for a few days and then on the fourth he was on the move again, although the Ambulance diary failed to record the event. Douglas received news from home, where life was proving a little exciting for his family.
“I remained at Mesplaux doing routine work – attending to sick in hospital and orderly officer duties – until April 4th when I was sent up to our Advance Dressing Station at Marais where Capt. Ffoulkes was in charge. An officer and twenty-five men of the 132nd Field Ambulance were up there too for instruction. The A.D.S was in quite a substantial house absolutely untouched by shell-fire. We had two well sandbagged steel shelters behind the house in case of accidents!
Here is a letter from Freda (my sister) dated 3rd April*.
‘ What a night we’ve had. About 10 o’clock the electric light went down all over the town. This is the warning for a Zeppelin raid. It was an absolutely clear night just like summer. We retired to our beds at the usual hour and I put my coat ready in case of accidents. The cable cars had all stopped and policemen were stopping all vehicles in the streets and making them put out their lights. At midnight I woke to find Dorothy hanging out of the window. She said there was a Zeppelin sailing around. I could hear the engines of the thing quite clearly. It was to the north of the city and the sky in the east was lit up by a huge fire somewhere. The Zepp came round to the south until it was behind St. Georges (UF) Church. Suddenly we saw a blue light rushing to earth and then a dreadful bang. Then a quick fire was set on it from the Castle. It was absolutely topping to hear it still in the air. The Zepp then went west until we could hear it no longer and then it turned and came back straight across the city in about a line with Murrayfield and with the Castle. We saw the light of another bomb descending and then the awful explosion. By this time we thought it was high time to retire to the basement. So away we all trooped – dog and all. Dorothy, Randolph and I stood at the front door and watched some more bombs dropping. At last all was quiet – the Zepp had left for home. Dorothy, Randolph and I dressed and went away down Leith St to try and get a view of the fire. Some people said the docks were on fire. It was some blaze. The police wouldn’t allow us any further than Abbeyhill, but we could see the flames and the smoke. The streets were crowded. Randolph went up to school today but has just returned … as the place is in a dreadful mess (George Watson’s College) a bomb landed in the playground and burst all the windows etc. The windows in Castle Terrace and Lothian Street are all smashed and one bomb fell on the Castle Rock. The houses in Marshall Street are smashed and there is a great hole in Nicholson Street. I was quite amazed at myself for being so calm. I hope you will get leave soon, but I hope there will be no raid when you arrive.’
Here is a report of the events of Sunday 2nd April 1916.
The letter from Freda unwittingly perhaps, bore testament to an unfortunate and tragic, but nevertheless historic event. The first ever air raid on Scotland. The events that she describes in her letter are born out to be accurate representations of the event as told by newspaper reports the following day.
The police report tells us the extent of the damage to buildings and streets and of the injury and loss of life including some children and babies. The Zeppelins became widely known as the “baby killers”, but although they did indeed cause plenty of structural damage, the damage to morale was probably just as destructive.
The Zeppelin Company weren’t the only manufacturer of airships, some being made by the Luftschiffbau Schütte-Lanz company and others but the name Zeppelin soon became the generic term.
On the night of the 2nd April four Zeppelins, the L13, L14, L16 and L22 set off from their base at Nordholz in Germany. It seems that the directional capabilities of Zeppelins at the time was erratic in the least. On one occasion a raid that set off to bomb London ended up dropping its deadly payload on Hull. On this occasion L16 seems to have initially got lost and found its way eventually into Northumberland. The L13 developed technical problems and returned to base. The L22 eventually made it to Edinburgh but caused little damage after disgorging her bombs in a field somewhere near Berwick-on-Tweed.
The L14 however did make it to Edinburgh under the command of Kapitanleutnant Aloys Bocker with the intention of damaging not only Edinburgh but the Forth railway bridge and the British Naval base at Rosyth. It was this ship that the Page family witnessed on its murderous task. They were lucky in their pursuit of the airship not to be killed or injured as others had been on the night.
The police report states that following a phone call at 7pm from an intelligence source, the City was put on a high state of alert. All leave was cancelled and all available officers were called out on duty.
A total of 24 bombs were dropped on Edinburgh, 18 high explosives and 6 incendiaries. It is possible that Freda and her siblings saw the incendiaries fall as they would have left a trail of blue smoke. In reality the incendiaries of the day were not all that successful, consisting mainly of Kerosene and tarred rope. Before Edinburgh was targeted nearby Leith and its docks were attacked by 9 high explosives and 11 incendiaries which may have been responsible for the large fire that destroyed a whisky bonded warehouse at Leith Docks. There were a further two deaths in Leith with the loss of a man and a child. The uninsured loss of the warehouse, was eventually compensated by the Government to the tune of almost £44,000 an enormous figure in those days.
George Watson’s College was indeed hit by a high explosive bomb, but thankfully causing less damage than it might have. Another high explosive fell about 150 yards away in Lauriston Place.
In total it seems that ten people died including a child and twenty three were injured.
A piece of the bomb casing was used to make a plaque to mark the event near some damaged masonry in the old boys’ school which was in those days situated in Archibald Place not far from the Castle and today the site of the modern Edinburgh Dental Institute.
Pictures reproduced with the kind permission of George Watson’s College Edinburgh. Thanks to the help of The Head Archivist Fiona Hooper.
*We should point out here how amazing the postal service was back then. Sister Freda must have posted the letter on Monday 3rd April and Douglas received it on the 4th. More details about the Army Postal Service can be found on the excellent Postal Heritage website.
The next post follows tomorrow 5th April
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The author of this blog Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.
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