The above map of the London area, with its larger-scale inset or Central London, has been carefully compiled to show with approximate accuracy where the bombs fell in the many air raids which the metropolis endured throughout the war. It is based upon official information, with-held until after the cessation of hostilities, and upon supplementary data specially supplied by the Fire Brigades of the London area. It will be noticed that all parts of London suffered, though some districts received a worse visitation than others, particularly the East and North-East. Many public buildings were hit, including the Central Telegraph Office, Charing Cross Hospital, Benchers’ Buildings of Gray’s Inn, Examination hall of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Hall and Chapel of Lincoln’s Inn, Ministry of Munitions, Embankment Gardens, Royal Academy Buildings, Somerset House. From the map it will be seen what narrow escapes were experienced by both Westminster and St.Paul’s Cathedral. Each dot on the map indicates where a bomb fell. - Published c.1920
When war was declared in 1914, aviation was still very much in it’s infancy. The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, built the first successful aircraft and took the first flight in North Carolina in 1903. Competition to build bigger and better aircraft was high over the next decade but the military showed little interest until the outbreak of the war. In 19th century Britain the Royal Navy was incredibly powerful and the world had never seen a war on such a scale before. During the course of the war Germany developed submarine technology that made the Royal Navy incredibly vulnerable and, in some cases, obsolete. The military desperately needed new technology and fast. Over the next four years, the growth of the Air Forces was dramatic. In 1914, France had 150 aircraft, Britain 50 and Germany 250. In 1918 France had 3,222, Britain 1,799 and Germany 2,710. Over the duration of the war, the French had built a staggering 68,000 planes and 52,000 of these were lost in battle. (Please note that not all of these aircraft were for military use).
In the 19th century, war had been on a much smaller scale and very much involved face-to-face combat on a battle field. For the first time, aeroplane technology bought the war to the home front. Civilians came face-to-face with dead and wounded on their doorstep. Although the casualties on the home front were minimal compared to the Western Front, the psychological impact, and the fear it created, was very damaging. No-one, and nowhere, was safe.
The early bombings of the home front were largely undertaken by the German favourite, the airship, nicknamed the “Angels of Death”. Count von Zeppelin, a retired German army officer, flew his first airship in 1900. A lesser known company, Shutte-Lanz, were also developing this technology. A metal frame is filled with hydrogen and a control room, called a gondola, is suspended below. Early airships were roughly 160 metres long and 15 metres in diameter. Terrified of its size, by the end of the war Germany was making airships three times as big. Able to carry 1000kg of bombs, there were 58 Air Ship raids on Britain, killing 498 and wounding 1,236. The first airship raid on Britain was on the night of 19th-20th January 1915 at Great Yarmouth, Sherrington, Kings Lynne and surrounding villages. 24 bombs were dropped. “Bombs Away!“ - crews on the first airships literally dropped the bombs over the side of the gondola by hand . Later models had automatic release mechanisms. The first airship raid on London, in May 1915, killed seven including three year old Elsie Leggatt, who burnt to death after a bomb fell on the roof of her house, Henry and Caroline Good in Balls Pond Road, Dalston and sixteen year old Leah Lehrman and eight year old Samuel Reuben in Christian Street, Whitechapel. Most people died from fire.
The war was mainly being fought on the East and Western Fronts and Britain, and London, had little defence at the break of war. Defending the coastline, rather than it’s airspace, was the norm. Air raid shelters were few and far between and there were no warning systems in place to make sure you got there. One raid on London killed 162 civilians, including 16 children, when a bomb fell three floors in to the basement where they were hiding. In February 1916 the first Black Out regulations came in to force and special constables would go from door to door on foot ensuring that no artificial light escaped in to the night sky so that enemy bombers could identify targets. Barrage Balloons - a tethered balloon attached to several cables, also referred to as a blimp- were introduced and by 1918 London’s barrage defences stretched for 50 miles. The cables made approach difficult and were designed to deter low-flying aircraft avoiding collision with the cables.
The development of aircraft lead to a new type of warfare - not just reconnaissance but aerial warfare. Aircraft technology, including camera and radio technology, was being rapidly advanced. In 1914 war planes were slow, fairly unreliable and incapable of carrying heavy loads. Head of the Air Department at the Admiralty, Captain Murray Seuter, recognised the need for more powerful aircraft that could not only defend our coast and naval ports but also fly long distances to attack the German Navy and High Seas Fleet. Aircraft designer Frederick Handley Page created the first prototype, the Handley Page Bomber, in 1915. A four-engine bomber it was capable of carrying 2,000kg of bombs and to stay airborne for 14 hours. Effective against ships and used at night to bomb factories, railways and ports in Germany. The German Gotha had the same capabilities. Another warplane of note was the German Fokker - able to machine gun through the front propeller without destroying it. When these pilots aimed their plane at the enemy, they were also aiming their gun. August 1918 saw the largest Allied counter offensive against Germany, where nearly 2000 French and British warplanes supported the ground attack. Over the course of the war 50,000 air crew were killed on all sides and the average life expectancy of a pilot on the Western Front was a horrifying two weeks. More pilots would have survived had it not been policy to scrap parachutes. Army commanders decided that if the pilots had parachutes they may jump out when under attack instead of staying with their planes.
The home front made Britain unrecognisable. Previous to the war upper-class women did not work and working-class women were employed mainly in factories or domestic services. The war opened up many more opportunities for women, in 1919 Oxford University allowed women to study for degrees for the first time. When war first broke out the Government was reluctant to allow women to work in the job vacancies that had been left when the men went to serve. Emmeline Pankhurst campaigned rigorously to allow women to be involved in the war effort. 60,000 women took part in a ‘Right to Serve’ procession in 1915. Eventually the Government was forced to allow women to take traditionally male jobs. Some work was incredibly dangerous. Munitions factories were periously unhealthy and working with highly toxic chemicals turned the factory workers skin yellow. These women became known as the canaries. Women in munitions factories increased from 200,000 to 900,000 by 1918. Women gained the right to vote at age 30 in 1918 but it wasn’t until 1928 that women were allowed to vote at 21, the same age as men. At the end of the war, 600,000 women returned to their domestic duties.
In 1917, the heavy toll of dead and wounded male soldiers, meant the Government was again forced to allow women to work in traditionally male roles, this time in the Armed Services. They took over administration and clerical work normally undertaken by men, who had left to serve on the Western Front. 100,000 women were employed in these roles. The Government also tried to encourage women to work in the Women’s Land Army - farmers were in short supply and they desperately needed women to work the land to provide food for Britain. The German U-Boat campaign meant food imports were scarce and a food supply was vitally needed. The Government never raised enough volunteers for the Women’s Land Army and rationing was bought in mid-1918 due to food shortages. Meat, butter, sugar and margarine were all rationed and the price of a loaf bread doubled, with the Government demanding a 25% cut.
World War One, and it’s new powerful weapons and advances in technology, bought about a whole new type of war never before witnessed. In World War One there were a total of 2,000 civilian deaths which led to 66,000 in World War Two.