|A Zeppelin airship|
The Zeppelin Raids had begun a year earlier when Germany's ruler, Kaiser Wilhelm II, gave his approval for airships to cross the English Channel and target military establishments in places such as East Anglia and the south coast of England. He initially forbade the bombing of London due to the risk of killing a member of the royal family! King George V was his first cousin after all. However by the end of the year, raids were being carried out over the capital city.
|The airship falling over Cuffley|
As the crow flies, Cuffley is about eight miles from East Finchley and judging by newspaper accounts of the day, the event was witnessed by thousands of Londoners:
"The most amazing fact in connection with the downing of a Zeppelin on Saturday night, was the immense number of people who witnessed the spectacle despite the lateness of the hour. Warning of an imminent raid was given out early, and spread with astonishing speed by hundreds of channels which each fresh raid increases. Thus many thousand Londoners remained out of their beds out of curiosity awaiting development, in the hope that, if the raid materialised, they would see what was to be seen.
When the raiders approached the capital, the firing of guns and the dropping of exploding bombs seemed to wake up half London. Thus the actual burning was witnessed from every suburb and almost from every street. The Zeppelin's height enabled the watchers for miles around to gaze at the awe-inspiring spectacle, and its absorbing brilliancy as the airship fell."
|Esther May and Gladys, c.1917|
|The Zeppelin L31 falling|
over Potters Bar
I'll never know which airship Esther May saw falling from the skies. I like to believe it was SL11, the first and most famous of the airships shot down over Britain. Either way, my grandmother did witness a bit of history in the making. But we mustn't forget that even though a burning airship would have been a dramatic spectacle to watch, it was also a tragedy, as all the German airmen died in horrible circumstances. The Zeppelin Raids aren't well remembered due to the overwhelming horror of the Blitz and the destruction wrought on Britain by the German air raids of the Second World War. So let us not forget the 500 civilians, all over the country, who died when a bit of World War One came to their shores.