22nd-24th September 1917 Saturday, Sunday and Monday

A Hellish journey back to Hell

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“I left Edinburgh again for France at 10 pm on September 22nd, and didn’t get to Calais until 4 o’clock on the afternoon of the 24th, owing to missing the leave boat train at Victoria on the 23rd, as the North Express ran very late. I stayed the night in Calais putting up at the ‘Hotel de Commerce’ and dining at the Hotel Sauvage with an officer friend. We intended visiting a picture house after dinner, but just as we were going into the place all the lights went out, and ‘L’Alerts’ sounded – Hun planes overhead. The Frenchies got horribly excited, and rushed through the streets for their houses. No bombs were dropped, but the aeroplanes made over the Channel to England.”

After a gruellingly tiring journey to London in which the train was severely delayed, Douglas missed his connection for returning servicemen to Dover.

After booking into the Hotel du Commerce a visit to the cinema was interrupted by an air raid alert. What his friend and himself were actually witnessing was a bomber raid setting off to England.

A squadron of sixteen German Luftstreitkräfte Gotha bombers had set off from their base on the banks of the River Sambre close to the Belgian /Franco border. Of the sixteen three were lost, possibly shot down and most dropped their deadly cargo on Dover and random places in eastern Kent. Five made it to London in the start of a wave of bombings by fixed wing aircraft to add to the concurrent Zeppelin raids. This was the start of a number of raids where a few aircraft made it as far as London, causing panic amongst the citizens and saw over 300,000 scurrying for shelter at Underground stations.

 A postcard of the German Gotha V bomber (public domain)

A postcard of the German Gotha G5 bomber (public domain)

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here