Dereham Zeppelin Raid

8th September 1915

Kapitänleutnant der Reserve Alois Böcker.

The commander of Zeppelin L14, Kapitänleutnant der Reserve Alois Böcker.

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the Zeppelin raid over Dereham. What follows in this blog is the story of that raid from contemporary reports from 1918 when the censors allowed the story to be told.

Zeppelin L14, commanded by Kapitänleutnant der Reserve Alois Böcker, attacked Dereham on 8th September 1915 although Dereham itself was not the specified target and L14 was not the only Zeppelin to bomb England that night.

L14 was one of four Zeppelins of the German Naval Airship Division that set out on this raid. Zeppelin L9, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Odo Loewe, headed to the North of England and bombed a benzol and iron works at Skinningrove just south of Redcar although minimal damage was sustained. Zeppelin L11, under the command of Kapitänleutnant zur See Freiher Horst Treusch von Buttlar-Bradenfels, had problems with its engines and had to turn back before reaching its target. And L13, commanded by Kapitanlieutenant Heinrich Mathy, went to London and dropped a total of 15 high-explosive and 55 incendiary bombs on the city making it the largest number dropped on Britain up to that time and killed 22 and injured 87 people.

L14 also intended to attack London but like L11 ran into engine trouble as it made landfall at 8.10pm over Blakeney and so Böcker tried to follow a line that he believed would take him to Norwich but he appeared over Dereham instead.

‘The Zeppelin was first noticed by the people of of Dereham at 8.30 or thereabouts. It was coming from the direction of Great Ryburgh and soon made its presence felt by dropping both incendiary and explosive bombs into the town and surrounding fields. It was reported at the time that soldiers had been signalling from the tower of the parish church and it was believed that this had attracted the hostile aircraft.’

From the EDP on 18th December 1918

L14 dropped bombs all the way from Bylaugh Park to Dereham and many craters would be found in fields after the raid, which included a number of unexploded bombs. Bylaugh Church had all its windows blown out by falling bombs and a total of 75 bombs were dropped very rapidly over the town. They fell in a very confined space around the Market Place, comprising of Church Street, the High Street and Commercial Road. Damage was caused, including several buildings which were completely demolished, and a number of houses suffered damage to their roofs within 100 yards of the Corn Hall. Between 8 to 9 bombs fell on the Vicarage which was now being used as a Red Cross Hospital.

‘As the bombs fell around the Red Cross Hospital the patients ran out and wounded soldiers, clad only in their nightshirts, were dodging the bombs amongst the trees in the Vicarage grounds. Some of them said it was more terrifying than the falling of shells at the front, for they had a chance of retaliating, but in this case there was an absolute feeling of helplessness.’

The EDP 18th December 1918

Luckily not one bomb that fell here exploded.

The Red Cross Hospital at the Vicarage in Dereham.

The Red Cross Hospital at the Vicarage in Dereham.

Another bomb fell close to the Guildhall in Vicarage Lane and this struck the road and made a hole 4 feet deep and 6 feet across. It brought down part of the outbuildings of the Guildhall and damaged the roof of the infant’s school on the other side of the road. The concussion also broke windows in the church.

‘The house occupied by Miss Vincent, which adjoins the Guildhall, remained intact and a very old cottage nearby, dated 1800, were not touched. A telegraph pole nearby was cut in two, and the wires were brought down, which interrupted telegraph communication with the town for some hours.’

The EDP 18th December 1918

Damage caused to the 5th Norfolk’s Orderly HQ at the corner of Quebec Street

Damage caused to the 5th Norfolk’s Orderly HQ at the corner of Quebec Street

Serious damage was caused at Church Street. The roof of the White Lion pub was destroyed and all the windows blown in. Two customers, Mr and Mrs Johnson, were sitting in the pub and were seriously injured. An office owned by Mr Beck was badly damaged and a big hole was made in his garden with an apple tree uprooted. Mr Hammerton’s grocer shop was blown out and his goods scattered into the road.

‘The entire place, indeed, was in ruins and the walls of the buildings opposite side of the road were as full of holes as pepper-box. It was just here that a soldier was killed and a portion of his body was found on the roof of a building by the side of the Corn Hall.’

The EDP 18th December 1918

The soldier mentioned in this report was Lance Corporal 2872 Alfred Ernest Pomeroy of 2/1st City of London Yeomanry.  Charles Robert Mott, a cinema operator and a witness to his death, told the Coroner that Pomeroy had left his shop at about 9 o’clock and a few minutes later he heard an explosion. He went out into Church Street and saw Pomeroy lying dead in the centre of the street and saw the Zeppelin and bombs being dropped from it.

The Corn Hall Corner of the Market Place. Gertrude Ayton, nee Weir, is holding the two baskets of fruit. Her father was a market gardener and they lived at Littlefield Nursery.

Damage at the Corn Hall Corner of the Market Place. The girl holding the baskets is Gertrude Ayton and her father was a market gardener.

Telegraph poles were brought down in this vicinity and the orderly rooms for the 5th Norfolks were seriously damaged with the force of the explosion shattering the windows of the King’s Arms Hotel and all of the buildings nearby. The 3 banks in the town suffered considerable damage and Mr Aldiss’ shop on the corner of Church Street was wrecked with his other business also suffering damage.

‘The Corn Hall had a lucky escape. While bombs fell all round it, none actually struck it but the glass roof was shattered by the concussion. Other damage was confined to broken windows and battered walls. The bomb probably intended for the Corn Hall fell on a house by the side and in front of it, occupied by Mr Catton, agent for Singer’s sewing machines. There was no one inside, for Mr Catton had run out half a minute before the building collapsed but a soldier had passed it at the same moment seeking shelter, and the house fell upon him. He was got out alive but subsequently died. The same missile killed Mr James Taylor, a china and earthenware dealer, who was picked up dead in the street.’

The EDP 18th December 1918

The soldier mentioned here was Private 3081 Leslie Frank McDonald who died in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on 11th September 1915. James Taylor was recorded as dying from a piece of shell case that had hit his abdomen. Harry Patterson, a jeweller, was also killed at the same moment while he was on an errand and his body was found lying in the entrance to the Norfolk Depot. He was also killed by blast damage and had a wound to the right side of his chest caused when a piece of shell casing had penetrated that area.

The Cowper Memorial Chapel in the Market Place also suffered damage and an incendiary bomb fell on the premises of Utting & Buckingham, an iron mongers, which set their oil stores alight and set off cartridges which became a hazard to the firemen who attended the scene.

A number of witnesses were interviewed after the event and a woman living on Church Street stated,

“I had been doing a little papering and cleaning up and did not finish until late. I then sat down and said to my daughter, ‘Now I think I have done and if the Germans come all my work will be in vain.’ My daughter replied, ‘Mother the Germans will never come here.’ But before she finished speaking bang went a bomb, and now look at the result.”

L14 flew off towards Scarning where it dropped nine high explosive bombs. These all fell on fields. It then turned north towards Fakenham and was seen over North Elmham, Ryburgh and Pensthorpe before moving towards Walsingham and then out towards Holt and then back out to sea at around 10 p.m. Efforts to intercept L14 by the RNAS ended in failure with two aircraft having to return because of engine failure and the third tragically crashing with the pilot being killed when the bombs he was carrying exploded.

Perhaps one of the most famous images from the raid. This shows Barbara and Margaret Kemp – posing with a large unexploded high-explosive Zeppelin bomb at Church Farm at Scarning.

Perhaps one of the most famous images from the raid. This shows Barbara and Margaret Kemp posing with a large unexploded high-explosive bomb which was dropped near to Church Farm at Scarning.

A total of four people were definitely killed and the Coroner’s inquest jury recorded that, ‘…death was caused by a bomb, “unlawfully dropped from a Zeppelin aircraft.”

Both Alfred Pomeroy and Leslie McDonald are commemorated on the “Rough Riders” Memorial at St Bartholomew the Great Church, Smithfield. Alfred now lies in Dereham Cemetery and Leslie is commemorated on Screen Wall. 31. W. 2. in Hammersmith Old Cemetery.

In total 6 people were wounded in the raid.

We then have Private H G Parkinson was also wounded during the raid by the L14 and is recorded as dying of those wounds. In the report it states,

‘Private H G Parkinson, 2/1st City of London Yeomanry. Died of shrapnel wound.’

But after that he is not mentioned again. And sadly although he is mentioned in all accounts I have read there is no record of this soldier. In one article printed by the EDP on 7th January 2015 he is listed as being named as Hardress Gerald William Parkinson. All records for this person show that one man with this name died in 1962. And I have been told that a Father and Son both served in the 2/1st City of London Yeomanry with that name and both survived the war.

So who was this man?

This was Private 2068 Humphrey G Parkinson who died of his wounds 21 days later on 29th September 1915. He is listed in the daily casualty lists as. ‘Casualty Status – Wounded – Air Raid.’ However, although I have tried searching, he is not listed on any other database which includes the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This, to me, is quite sad because everyone else who died in the raid have their details recorded for all to see. So I dedicate this blog to his memory.

My thanks go to two people who assisted me with information for this blog.

First Kitty Lynn who is currently writing a book about Dereham in WW1. Had it not been for Kitty then I would not have found out any information of Humphrey Parkinson. Kitty also provided other information such as the information on Hardress Parkinson. So thank you Kitty I could not have completed this without you!

Secondly thanks go Sue Walker White who supplied me with the images used in this blog and they come from the Bishop Bonners Cottage Museum collection.



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