Saturday 23 September 1916 – We Lost 513
The next successes against Zeppelins take place again over Essex tonight when a number of Zeppelins, including the new Super Zeppelins (L31, L32, L33 and L34), raid London and the Home Counties. These new airships 650 feet long, 75 feet in diameter and displacing some 50 tons are capable of a maximum 65 miles per hour and carry a bomb load of 5 tons. L32, commanded by Oberleutnant Werner Peterson of the German Naval Airship Division, set out with the intention of attacking London, but the heavy barrage from anti-aircraft guns forces him to jettison his bombs over the River Thames. Flying from Suttons Farm, Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey on routine patrol in a BE2c spots L32 picked out by searchlights and commences an attack. Firing repeatedly into the Zeppelin and despite being fired on by the enemy he is rewarded by the awesome spectacle of a rosy red glow within the heart of the airship. Seconds later L32 is rocked by explosions and the vessel plunges earthwards, crashing at Snail’s Hall Farm, Great Burstead, near Billericay. There are no survivors. For his actions Sowrey will awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
Picked up in the beams from the search-lights, the action had been watched by cheering sightseers who rush to the crash site in the thousands to gaze at the scene and gather what souvenirs they can, pieces of the Zeppelin being sold off at sixpence (6d) a time. The bodies of the twenty-two crew are buried at Great Burstead with full military honours, but in 1966 they will be exhumed and re-buried at the German cemetery at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire.
The L33 commanded by Kapitan Alois Bocker, is on its first mission and bombs London causing the deaths of a number of civilians; but eventually it is hit by an anti-aircraft shell causing considerable damage. The Zeppelin turns over the Essex countryside and above Chelmsford is attacked by a squadron of night fighters from Hainault Farm. Notwithstanding several hits the Zeppelin manages to elude its attackers. Despite jettisoning guns and equipment from the stricken airship, Bocker realizes his craft is doomed and cannot make the journey across the North Sea to its base. The airship continues to lose height and eventually crash lands near New Hall Cottages, Little Wigborough, much to the alarm of the inhabitants who witness the dying moments of the giant airship. Deciding to set the ship on fire, Bocker knocks on the doors of the cottages to warn the families of his intentions. However the terrified people refuse to open their doors and finally Bocker gives up and sets fire to the Zeppelin. He then gathers his crew together and in a body they marched off down the lane toward Peldon. Travelling on his bicycle in the opposite direction, attracted by the fire, is Special Constable Edgar Nicholas who is surprised by the sudden appearance of a body of men marching along a lane at that hour of the morning. He dismounts and flashlight in hand asks Bocker whether he had seen a Zeppelin crash. Bocker in perfect English asks him how many miles it was to Colchester. Nicholas replied, “About six”. He is thanked by Bocker and Nicholas in his subsequent report on the incident states that he ‘at once recognized a foreign accent’. The Germans continue their march followed by Nicholas. As they approach Peldon they are joined by Special Constable Elijah Taylor and Sergeant Ernest Edwards from Hatfield Board Oak, who are enjoying a few days rest in the area. The men consider their next move and eventually decide to escort the Germans to Peldon Post Office where they find the local constable, Pc 354 Charles Smith, who is busy trying to contact the military garrison at Colchester.
Today’s losses include:
- The man purported to be the first member of the British Expeditionary Forces to land in France in August 1914
- A victim of Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron)
- The grandson of a member of the clergy
- Multiple families that will lose two sons in the Great War
- A family that will lose four sons in the Great War
- A well known New Zealand boxer and footballer
- Brothers killed together
Today’s highlighted casualties include:
- Captain Kenneth Algernon Brook-Murray (Army Service Corps attached Royal Flying Corps) dies of wounds received in action one week earlier. He is purported to be the first man of the British Expeditionary Force to land in France in August 1914.
- Second Lieutenant Robert Shirley Osmaston (Sussex Regiment attached Royal Flying Corps) is shot down and killed behind German lines at age 21. He is the grandson of the Reverend Thomas Field Rector of Bigby.
- Sergeant Herbert Bellerby (Royal Flying Corps) dies of wounds received in action at age 28 when his Martinsyde G.100 is shot down by Manfred von Richthofen near Beugny.
- Corporal William Jennings MM (Cambridgeshire Regiment) is killed in action. His brother will be killed in August 1917.
- Lance Corporal Keith Lintott (New Zealand Engineers) is killed at age 21. His brother was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
- Private John Hartnett (Canterbury Regiment) dies of wounds received in action at age 40. His brothers Denis, Cyril and Phillip also fell.
- Private James Ernest Warnock Allan (Canterbury Infantry) dies of wounds at age 20. He is a well-known boxer and football player.
- Private Arthur William Dyer (Essex Regiment) is killed at age 27 after a fortnight at the front. His brother was killed in November 1915.
- Privates and brothers F and H Walsgrove (Royal Sussex Regiment) are killed together.
- Gunner William Adams (Royal Garrison Artillery) is killed at age 26. His brother was killed last April.