Zeppelins Over Norfolk

The Baby Killers


The War Illustrated dated 30th January 1915 with the headline ‘The Coming of the Aerial “Baby Killers”.

The term ‘Baby Killers’ which became the insult for the Zeppelin crews in WW1 is often reported as coming into being after the death of three year old Elsie Leggett in her home in Stoke Newington on 31st May 1915 when Zeppelin LZ38 appeared over North London. But this term had been used earlier in the aftermath of the raids on Norfolk.

Walking Wounded

One of the images from War Illustrated on 30th January 1915 showing you one of the injured from the King’s Lynn raid.

The raid of 19th/20th January 1915 was discussed at a national level and The War Illustrated reported on the raid on 30th January 1915. It ran with the headline ‘The Coming of the Aerial “Baby Killers”.

WI No 3

The routes of L3 and L4 as depicted in War Illustrated on 30th January 1915. The route for L4 is incorrect as they flew past Norwich and were last seen over Acle exiting out via Great Yarmouth.

It went onto state, ‘The amount of damage done was small – no more than has happened often in a gas explosion – the loss of life slight; but loathsome blood-mad fiends who could do this foul work and rejoice stirred every Briton’s heart to sterner resolve …’ The article continued, ‘Germany is gloating over the proof that their Zeppelins can cross the North Sea and kill English children of four years old and English women of seventy.’ In reality, no children aged 4 died in the raids on King’s Lynn and Yarmouth and it just shows how certain truths can be twisted to suit a specific aim.

WI No 4

Part of the account in War Illustrated which reported the effect that the raids on Norfolk had and also reported the loss of a four year old. This was not correct the youngest victim, Percy Goate from King’s Lynn, was 14 years old.

Percy Goate was the youngest victim, who was aged 14 years old, and he was one of two victims from the King’s Lynn raid. Certainly he was a child but not a baby.


Percy Goate’s grave in Hardwick Cemetery in King’s Lynn. He is buried next to the other victim of the raid Alice Gazley.

I feel this is certainly another story that if not looked into properly can be confused with events that happened later and to me it is perhaps that London was the bigger prize and story in relation to the raids that came after the ones on Norfolk. But as you have seen, and my copy of War Illustrated is an original, the term came a lot earlier than is reported in other accounts and books.


A Chief Constable Before His Time


Major Egbert Napier

Chief Constable Norfolk County Constabulary 1909-1915


Major Egbert Napier seen centrally with a group of his mounted officers prior to WW1.

There were lots of accusations about spies guiding Zeppelin L4 towards King’s Lynn during the raid that was carried out on the night of 19/20 January 1915. And afterwards there were numerous investigations and enquiries into that. The findings tended to refute these claims.

But the rumours that spies were rife around the North Norfolk coast resulted in one man utilising his resources in hunting them down.

Egbert Napier was born on the 12th August 1867 in Mold Flintshire and was the son of Colonel Edward and Mrs Martha Louise Napier. He was educated at Wellington School and became a member of the civil staff of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police at the age of 21.

He joined the army in 1896, becoming an officer in the militia, before he received a commission in 1900, joining the 3rd Battalion Gordon Highlanders. With the rank of Captain he saw action in the Boer War. He then returned to the UK in 1901 and rejoined the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s staff. However, in 1909 he became the Chief Constable for Norfolk where he implemented some ground breaking changes.

He standardised the registry of correspondence, implemented a weekly leave day for officers and brought in new equipment, including telephones. He also improved the terrible housing conditions that most of his officers resided in. In 1910 he submitted new force orders, modelling them on the Met, and allowed officers to retire after 29 years service, lowering this from 55! In short, the changes he made were unheard of in a county constabulary.

When war came in 1914, he waited to be recalled to the army, but this was not forthcoming. However, this did not stop him taking an active part in protecting the home front and he utilised all his resources in counter espionage. So much so that his efforts were praised in a book, printed in 1915 by William Le Queux, entitled GERMAN SPIES IN ENGLAND AN EXPOSURE, where he noted.

‘Outside London, the county constabulary are making praiseworthy efforts to find spies, but when men in uniform set out to make inquiries — as they unfortunately do in so many cases — then the system becomes hopeless. 

The same thing happened in a small coast town in Norfolk where signalling at night had been noticed. Indeed, in two instances in the same town, and again in Dunbar, the appearance of the police inspector caused the flight of the spies — as undoubtedly they were.

As regards the county of Norfolk, it has long received the most careful attention of German secret agents. At the outbreak of war the Chief Constable, Major Egbert Napier, with commendable patriotism, devoted all his energies to the ferreting out of suspicious characters, spies who were no doubt settled near and on the coast in readiness to assist the enemy in case of an attempted landing. By Major Napier’s untiring efforts a very large area has been cleared, more especially from Cromer along by Sheringham, Weybourne — a particularly vulnerable point — and from Cley-next-the-Sea to Wells and King’s Lynn.

This was very much propaganda of its time with the allegation of a spy on every street corner! Other ‘Official’ evidence of this can be found in police officers’ pocket notebooks and also in the fact that a number of county constabulary officers were commended for their work, one example being Edward Woodson whose personal record notes that he was,

‘Specially commended by the War Office and Home Office for work in connection with the aliens and suspected persons in this County prior to and since the outbreak of war.’


Superintendent Edward Woodson M.B.E who was specially commended in the search for spies in WW1.

William Le Queux gives us an excellent insight into what this entailed and was extremely praiseworthy of his quest to root out the German spy system in Norfolk.

‘Major Napier engaged, at my instigation, a well-known detective-officer who, for some years, had been engaged at the Criminal Investigation Department at New Scotland Yard, specially attached to deal with German criminals for extradition back to Germany. He was a Russian, naturalised English, and spoke German perfectly, being born in Riga — and an ideal officer to inquire into the whole German spy system in Norfolk.

Well, after Major Napier had asked him to go forth on his mission, I saw him and wished him all success. Within a fortnight this shrewd officer returned to me with a hopeless story. Wherever he went the Coastguard refused to tell him anything, or any of their suspicions, as they said they were sworn to secrecy, while the superintendents and inspectors of the Norfolk Constabulary — with few exceptions, even though he bore proper credentials signed by the Chief Constable himself, actually refused to give him any assistance or information whatsoever!
This keen and clever detective-officer returned to the Chief Constable of Norfolk and told him that he was certain spies still existed along the coast, but expressed regret at the hopeless state of affairs. If any Government authority would like to question the officer upon his experiences, I shall be pleased to furnish that department with his private address.’

Other records can be seen in my book where the report of spies came thick and fast, especially in the north of the county. But all of this can be written up as the genuine fear of its time and you can pretty much dispel all of the allegations as false alarms or fantasy which includes Le Queux’s reports.

But spy hunting was not enough for Major Napier and after not being called back to the colours, he felt that he had no option but to volunteer. He could have lived out the war in a secure post, but instead he chose to go and serve his King and Country. He therefore resigned from Norfolk County Constabulary on 7th May 1915 and received a commission in the Northumberland Fusiliers.

We will look at what happened to Egbert Napier after he re-joined the Army later on this year when a Centenary event occurs in November 2016.

Zeppelins Over Norfolk

Part 6

Blitz Ghosts

Blitz Ghost 1

St Peter’s Villa on St Peter’s Plain in Great Yarmouth. The original image was taken on the morning on 20th January 1915. This is the aftermath of Bomb No 4 dropped by Zeppelin L3. The owner. Mr Edward Ellis, had a very lucky escape due to the fact that he was in the rear of the property when the bomb fell. Sam Smith and Martha Taylor were not so lucky and became the first fatalities in an air raid on England in WW1.

Last year for the Centenary of the Zeppelin raids over Norfolk I posted the raid as it happened over Twitter. That used original photos and photos from the present. I have a friend called Nick Stone who is, in my opinion, an expert with all things photographic.

Nick owns a website called ‘Blitz Ghosts’ where he marries up ‘then and now’ photos of subjects such as the Baedeker Raids on Norwich in WW2 and some excellent photos of the D-Day beaches. He has also made some excellent colourised photos of the WW2 raids on Norwich.

Nick was kind enough to create some WW1 Blitz Ghosts of the raid made by Zeppelin L3 and here are four of those images. All of these images are copyrighted to Nick so if you are going to use them for anything then please ask for his permission. You can contact him via the link at the bottom of this page and that will also take you to his excellent website.

Blitz Ghost 2

A soldier of the Norfolk Regiment pointing to bomb damage on the corner of Drakes Buildings on the morning of 20th January 1915. As you can see this house still survives today.

Blitz Ghost 4

St Peter’s Plain on the morning of 20th January 1915 and the present. Edward Ellis’s house is on the left where the first group of men are stood on. The multicoloured houses on the right are where Pestell’s Buildings once stood.

Blitz Ghost 3

Men of the Norfolk Regiment stood outside the Drill Hall on the morning of 20th January 1915. They are proudly displaying the high explosive bomb that did not explode at the back of 78 Crown Road.

Nick’s website is below.


Zeppelins Over Norfolk

Part 5

A Tale of Two Towns


The blue plaque on what was known as St Peter’s Villa in Great Yarmouth.

We have two claims in Norfolk as to which town received the first bombs when Zeppelins L3 and L4 attacked targets in Great Yarmouth, North Norfolk and King’s Lynn. If you visit Great Yarmouth and Sheringham both lay claim to receiving the first bombs. So who is right? In this blog I will answer that question.

In reality, if you want to be really picky the first Zeppelin bomb, an incendiary, dropped by L3, landed in a field near Ormesby Church. But if we ignore that one and look at actual physical buildings being targeted then it is fairly simple to work out. And if we look at Ormesby we know that L3 was over that area at about 8.20 p.m. Five minutes later L3 was over Great Yarmouth and the first bomb to land, Bomb No 2, which was another incendiary, landed to the rear of Norwood Suffling’s house on Albermarle Road.

We also have reports from police officers who attended the scene of Bomb No 4 which was the high explosive bomb that landed on St Peter’s Plain. This is part of a report from Constable Charles Brown of Great Yarmouth Borough Police.

Constable Brown Report

So we can more or less put Zeppelin L3 over Great Yarmouth at 8.25 p.m. and know that at 8.30 p.m. Constable Brown has found the body of Sam Smith. At 8.35 p.m. it is all over for Great Yarmouth as L3 made its exit out to sea.

L4 was not over Sheringham until 8.35 p.m., when the first bomb to be dropped, another incendiary, landed on Wyndham Street. So L4’s bombs are falling when L3 is making its retreat.

Sheringham Sign

The blue plaque at the entrance to Wyndham Street in Sheringham which is incorrect.

So sadly the blue badge plaque at Sheringham is not correct and Great Yarmouth can lay claim to being the first town to receive Zeppelin bombs in WW1. In fact the plaque tries to state that it was the first bomb to land on Britain in WW1. When if you remember Part 1 of these blogs you will have read that the first bomb to fall on Britain actually fell on Dover in Kent.

I would very much like the Sheringham Preservation Society to contact me with their rationale and proof as to why they made this plaque and claim.

The final part of my blog on the Zeppelin raids will look at ghosts.










Zeppelins Over Norfolk

Part 4

The Casualties

Taylor & Smith

Martha Taylor and Samuel Smith who became the first casualties to be killed in a Zeppelin raid on England.

The unfortunate men and women, as quoted in the coroner’s summing up of the raid on Great Yarmouth, are now buried in Kitchener Road Cemetery in Great Yarmouth, Caister on Sea Cemetery and Hardwick Road Cemetery in King’s Lynn.

In total four people lost their lives in the raids on Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. Martha Taylor, aged 72, and Samuel Smith, aged 53. Both died as a result of blast damage when Bomb No 4 landed on St Peter’s Plain. In King’s Lynn it was Percy Goate, aged 14, and Alice Gazely, aged 26. Both are reported to have died from shock and, in total, the raid on King’s Lynn injured thirteen others.

Their deaths have been widely reported in various books and I will not dwell on that any further. But I do want to write about one of them. Last year for the Centenary of the raids a service of remembrance was held at Kitchener Road Cemetery which I attended. During this service Sam Smith’s renovated grave was dedicated and a wreath was laid by the Mayor of Great Yarmouth.


Sam Smith’s grave in Kitchener Road Cemetery in Great Yarmouth

Sadly the same thing cannot be said for Martha Taylor. Nobody visited her grave on the day except for me. Her grave is in a part of Caister Cemetery which, unless you know where to look, you will not find her. Her grave was not renovated for the Centenary and is falling into disrepair.


Marth Taylor’s grave in Caister Cemetery. Note the damage to her grave. She is laid to rest with her twin sister Jane.

I was saddened by this and told that her grave would be cleared and a service held later on after the Centenary. Again this saddened me. So I want to draw attention to this and if you do live locally please give her a thought and perhaps consider visiting her.


The inscription on Martha Taylor’s grave which is now falling into disrepair noting that she was a victim of the air raid on 19th January 1915.


Zeppelins Over Norfolk

Part 3

Zeppelin L4

L4 Snettisham

Zeppelin L4 over Snettisham Church from a painting by local artist Ben Mullarkey

Zeppelin L4, under the command of Kapitanleutnant Count Magnus von Platen-Hallermund, navigated the Norfolk coast and dropped a flare and 2 incendiary bombs on Sheringham which caused a lot of damage but no casualties.

Having flown back out to sea L4 then reappeared where it dropped another incendiary in a field between Brancaster Staithe and Hunstanton. A fourth incendiary was then dropped close to Brancaster church which landed in a road close to the Red Cross hospital. The Zeppelin flew onwards and the fifth bomb is reported to have been a high explosive bomb aimed at the wireless station at Hunstanton. However, there are conflicting reports over this bomb, and it is suggested that this may not have even been dropped.

Therefore the next two confirmed bombs to fall landed at Heacham, one exploded in Lord’s Lane where a number of people had narrow escapes and the seventh bomb failed to explode and was found in a field where it was eventually taken to the Woolwich Arsenal.

‘Towards the end of January I was woken one night by what sounded like twenty motor cycles charging down a neighbouring hill, but proved to be the first Zeppelin raid on England. The airship, flying very low, crossed the coast at our village, giving Heacham the distinction of receiving the first bomb ever dropped on English soil. It was an incendiary and appropriately dropped into a washerwoman’s soft water butt. What she said about “Them there Jarmans” might have stopped the war had the Kaiser heard it. The second bomb was a 50 kilo H.E. which did not explode.‘

Captain Arthur Neville-Rolfe 

Bomb number nine landed at Snettisham, near the church which, it was believed, was the actual target. The Zeppelin flew between Wolferton and Sandringham before flying over Dersingham. What is interesting about this aspect of the raid is that there was the belief that the intended target was the Royal Family.

Zeppelin L4 did not target the house and there is no evidence to show that they were the targets, but part of the propaganda after the raid was directed at the belief that the sole purpose of the raid was to bomb the house. Queen Alexandra wrote to Lord Fisher and part of the letter actually requests rockets with spikes or hooks to be sent or invented so that Norfolk can be defended! Unfortunately, although attempts were being made to do so, the lights at King’s Lynn were not put out immediately and L4 was able use the railway line to reach the Gaywood District. The first bomb to land fell in a field at the rear of Tennyson Avenue.

The next fell on allotments but the next one caused fatalities when it hit houses on Bentinck Street killing Percy Goate aged 14 and Alice Gazely aged 26. Both are reported to have died from shock. L4 dropped another bomb on some terraced houses where it made a large hole and wrecked a blacksmiths but caused no fatalities. The fifth bomb to fall on King’s Lynn fell in a garden by the docks failing to explode the sixth destroyed an engine at Alexandra Dock.

The last two bombs fell at and around Cresswell Street where the family at No 63 had a lucky escape when an incendiary hit the house causing a fire which was extinguished by neighbours. This final bomb was placed in water by the police and taken into their care. In total the raid on King’s Lynn led to two fatalities and thirteen injured. After the raid L4 headed east and actually flew past Norwich, which was luckily shrouded in fog and had its lights out and then was seen to pass Acle and then flew out to sea to the north of Great Yarmouth.


A propaganda postcard showing you areas around King’s Lynn that were targeted.

Of all the accounts I have read on the opinion of the raid the most outspoken has to be the Borough Coroner J Tolver Waters, who although cited that the raid on Great Yarmouth was murder, knew this could not be the verdict given by the jury, but in his closing summary he stated,

‘The unfortunate man and woman were victims of so-called warfare, but I do not call it so. It is the offspring of German culture. It is contrary to International Law to attack any unfortified place, such as Yarmouth is. But the Germans are past masters of regarding anything in the form of writing as a mere ‘scrap of paper’

In the next part of this series we will look at these victims and where they now rest.





Zeppelins Over Norfolk

Part 2

Zeppelin L3


Ormesby St Michael Church and the field where the first Zeppelin bomb landed on 19th January 1915.

Zeppelin L3, under the command of Kapitän Leutnant Hans Fritz, crossed the Norfolk coast between Happisburgh and Winterton and as it did so it dropped parachute flares to navigate its way from Martham towards Great Yarmouth. The first bomb, an incendiary, landed in a waterlogged field on George Humphrey’s land at Little Ormesby close to St Michael’s Church causing no damage. The next bomb, another incendiary, fell to the rear of Norwood Suffling’s house on Albermarle Road in the shared garden area known as Norfolk Square, near the Wellesley recreation ground, the explosion caused a crater two feet wide but no casualties. The first high explosive bomb to land hit the pavement at the back of 78 Crown Road, but it failed to explode.

It was recovered by Army reservists and was later defused. The fourth bomb fell on St Peter’s Plain and the Spinster Martha Taylor and shoemaker Sam Smith became the first civilians to be killed in an air raid with two more being injured. We will look at their story in another blog.

The blast also blew out the front of St Peter’s Villa and seriously damaged Pestell’s Buildings. The fifth bomb failed to explode and was recovered from a stable owned by the butcher William Mays in Garden Lane, near South Quay.

Bomb No 6 fell outside the First and Last Tavern on Southgates Road and the third incendiary to be dropped fell between two vessels and caused some damage to Beeching’s South Dock. Luckily there were no casualties.

The eighth bomb bounced off the Stone Quay at Trinity Wharf, narrowly missing a sentry and a crane turntable, before it fell into the river. Bomb number nine, another explosive bomb, fell behind the Fish Wharf, causing extensive damage to the rear as well as destroying the Fish Wharf Restaurant Rooms and bursting a water main, one person was slightly hurt by flying glass.

The final two bombs dropped by L3 damaged the steam drifter Piscatorial and struck the road running along the back of the old racecourse grandstand on South Denes, killing a large black dog and destroying a fence.


A postcard made after the raid depicting the bomb damage on Great Yarmouth. I’ve always found it strange that the central image is a beach scene!

L3 had effectively dropped ten bombs in ten minutes and encountered no resistance. Kapitän Leutnant Hans Fritz then navigated L3 out to sea where it is recorded in Der Krie Zur See that they left the English coast in rain and fog.

We will come back to Great Yarmouth’s raid in another blog.