31 January 1916 – We Lost 174

Zeppelin  raid

Liverpool is today the primary target of the largest air raid of the Great War to date. Nine Zeppelins encounter heavy rain and icing over the North Sea and make landfall at various points between the Wash and Happisburgh from 16:50 to 19:10.  They range over an area bounded by Scunthorpe, Burslem, Shrewsbury, Bewdley and Huntingdon. Bombs are dropped on Loughborough, Ilkeston, Scunthorpe, Derby, Burton-on-Trent, and the Tipton-Wednesbury-Walsall area.  A total of three hundred eighty-nine bombs being dropped.  Engine troubles hamper four of the Zeppelins and contribute to the loss of L19.  Seventy civilians are killed and one hundred thirteen injured by the two hundred incendiary bombs dropped.  Of greater impact is the demonstration that enemy aircraft can wander at will over the country for twelve hours. The raid is a disaster for the defenders with six aircraft destroyed and two squadron commanders fatally injured. At Northolt, visibility is minimal when Major Leslie daC Penn-Gaskell, commanding officer of #11 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron takes off at 19:35 to investigate conditions before allowing less experienced officers to fly.  His plane disappears and seconds later hits a tree at the western end of the aerodrome, plunges to the ground and catches fire.  Two corporals from a nearby flight shed lift the pilot from the wreckage before the on board bombs explode, but he is badly injured and he will die five days later.  At precisely the same time, twenty-seven miles southeast, Major Ernest Frederic Unwin takes off from Joyce Green, also in the fog and with the same objective of assessing the fitness of the weather for flying. This morning he has taken command of 10th Reserve Aeroplane Squadron. Exactly what goes wrong is not known, but he is probably trying to find the aerodrome having failed to break into clear weather.  At 19:50 his aircraft hits trees on Erith Marshes, south of the Thames Ammunition Works and catches fire.  Although thrown clear, Unwin is also seriously injured and he will die on 23rd March.  He is the son of the Reverend C E Unwin.

During the airship raid on Wednesbury in the middle of the Industrial West Midlands Zeppelin L-21 dropped numerous bombs on the towns of Tipton, Bradley, Wednesbury and Walsall that its commander believes to be Liverpool.  A Mrs. Smith leaves her house to see what the noise is and a little way down the street sees what she presumes to be an explosion at the local munitions factory. She begins to walk towards the first explosion but bombs begin to fall behind her.  She turns and hurries home to find her house demolished and all of her family killed – her husband Joseph, and children Nellie aged 13, son Thomas, aged 11 and daughter Ina, aged 7.  The unprecedented scale of this raid is meant to show the British that nowhere is safe from aerial attack  Even distant Liverpool has become, to use a phrase which will become commonplace in later wars, a legitimate target.  The last bomb lands right in the town centre of Walsall, outside the Science and Art Institute in Bradford Place. This bomb claims three lives including the best known victim, 55 year old Mary Julia Slater, the Lady Mayoress of Walsall. She is a passenger on the number 16 tram. She suffers severe wounds to the chest and abdomen. She is taken to hospital and dies several weeks later on 20th February from shock and septicemia.

Today’s highlighted casualties include:

  • Lieutenant Colonel Jasper Fitzgerald Radcliffe DSO (Devonshire Regiment commanding 10th Essex Regiment) is killed at age 48. His son will be killed in April 1917 and he is a veteran of the South African War.