Zeppelin that rained death from the sky on Sheffield
One hundred years ago on Monday (September 26), the first Sheffielders to be killed in an air raid died when a German Zeppelin dropped bombs on the city.
Here, David Capewell from Sheffield and District Family History Society looks back at that terrible day and how it was reported at the time.
I’ve driven along Effingham Road many times. The road runs off Attercliffe Road towards town.
Under two disused flower baskets, near the now closed Baltic Works entrance, there is a memorial embedded in the wall, commemorating 29 deaths during the First World War. The memorial was unveiled on Armistice Day in 1922.
The inscription reads:
THE GREAT WAR
“LEST WE FORGET”
ON SEPTEMBER 26TH 1916
AND TEN CHILDREN
WERE KILLED BY A GERMAN
AIR RAID ON SHEFFIELD
ONE OF THE BOMBS FELL
CLOSE TO THIS SPOT
Zeppelin raids targeted towns and cities regularly in 1915 and 1916.
However, often the Zeppelin crew weren’t even sure which town they were flying over, as navigation was not easy.
Blackouts, poor visibility due to weather conditions and a lack of navigation aids meant bombs were often dropped in an indiscriminate manner.
Zeppelin crews had to follow landmarks, such as coastlines, rivers, railway lines, to reach their intended target.
Significantly Corby Street, where there was great loss of life, runs parallel to the Sheffield to Rotherham Midland Railway and is very near the River Don.
The Zeppelin raid was reported in great detail on September27 in the Sheffield Independent.
However, due to wartime reporting restrictions, there was no mention of Sheffield in the article, just a ‘Midland town’. In fact, it wasn’t until December 3, 1918, more than two years later, when the article was repeated in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph, that Sheffield was mentioned.
Sheffield had a system of air-raid alarms to be used if a Zeppelin came in the vicinity.
The ‘buzzers’ were sounded five times in 1915, 12 times in 1916, three times in 1917 and three times in 1918.
September 26 was the 13th occasion and unlike previous air-raid warnings, the threat was not a false alarm, and was to become real and deadly.
The details of Sheffield’s first air raid are harrowing.
There were 36 bombs dropped from the Zeppelin, 18 high explosives and 18 incendiary, in a 15-minute period.
The bombs caused devastation on the closely-packed houses in the Burngreave-Darnall area.
Several houses took direct hits and were demolished.
Many residents had heeded the authorities’ advice by sheltering in their cellars.
The death toll included nine people on Corby Street and 13 people on Cossey Road.
A hotel, a chapel and 89 houses were seriously damaged and 150 other houses were less damaged – broken windows, slates dislodged.
There was very little damage to any factories.
An article from the Sheffield Evening Telegraph on September 27 describes the raid.
“A young woman living in the neighbourhood, the wife of a soldier, tells the graphic story of her experiences of the raid.
“She had gone to see a neighbour two doors away, leaving her three-year-old boy asleep in bed.
“She heard a bomb drop, and made a dash to leave the neighbour’s house, but the explosion had damaged the fastenings of the back door, so that it would not open. She had to run out of the front door and up a passage in order to reach her own yard. Just as she got there, another bomb fell, smashing up houses close by.
“The shutters of her back window were fastened, but they were burst open, and “flapped like the wings of a bird”. She stood a moment, hardly knowing what to do.
“I could see the Zeppelin,” she says. “He had a blue light on the front of his machine, glaring enough to blind you, and as the machine moved away, and the glare passed, the outlines of the airship could be seen.
“He did not put the light on till he got to dropping the bombs. After dropping them, he went away.
“I said “He’s off now,” and I went for the baby, and found that he had slept through it all.”
Other residents were not so lucky. William and Sarah Ann Southerington of 24 Cossey Road made the fateful decision to join their six neighbours in their cellar at number 26. The Sheffield Independent article makes distressing reading.
“Three houses together were hopelessly demolished, number 26 (28 and 30), and the same fate befel (sic) number 10 lower down the street. The …terrified people…had evidently congregated in the cellar of one house and here eight of them were found huddled together dead at the bottom of the cellar steps, three children at least being in the party.
“The bomb evidently struck point blank, penetrating the buildings and then exploded in the cellar, blowing everything to smithereens.
“In this group of victims there were husband, wife, two children and two grandchildren and all were killed.”
There is a letter in the Sheffield Archives that gives another eye witness account.
Maggie writes to her Aunt Ellen two days after the raid. “Just a line to let you know we are still living although we thought our number was up on Monday night.
“We had a Zepp Raid and were heavily bombed. We saw a great red flare go across the sky and a second later a terrific crash, then another.
“They were high explosive shells and they shook the earth. Then a number of pale green lights like lightning with terrible crashes after each one.
“They lit the whole sky up. They were incendiary bombs.”
The letter mentions Alf, Elsie, Willie and Harry. When the Zeppelin approached Highfields, Maggie writes: “Elsie clutched hold of Harry’s arm and screamed out. They are here. She trembled like a leaf. I could not move. I felt numbed.
“But the havoc among the poor slum houses is awful, one street, Corby Street, four houses were completely demolished and all the inmates buried.
“Early in the morning, they had recovered the bodies, but later in the day they brought a baby boy about three years out alive and conscious. He was buried 14 hours.’
The full death toll was as follows:
Martha Shakespeare, aged 36, of 143 Corby Street, buried 2 Oct, Burngreave
Joseph Henry Tyler, 44, 146 Corby Street,bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
Selina Tyler, 41, 146 Corby Street, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
Joseph Henry Tyler, 14, 146 Corby Street, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
Ernest Tyler, 11, 146 Corby Street, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
Albert Tyler, 8, 146 Corby Street, bur 30 Sep,Burngreave
Amelia Tyler, 5, 146 Corby Street,bur 30 Sep,Burngreave
John Tyler, 2, 146 Corby Street, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
Richard Brewington, 11, 134 Corby Street, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
Levi Hames, 23, 10 Cossey Road, bur 30 Sep, Abbey Lane
Beautrice Hames, 22, 10 Cossey Road, bur 30 Sep, Abbey Lane
Horace William Hames, 14m, 10 Cossey Road, bur 30 Sep, Abbey Lane
William Southerington, 37, 24 Cossey Road, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
Sarah Ann Southerington, 47, 24 Cossey Road, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
Nellie Rhodes, 28, 26 Cossey Road, bur 29 Sep, Burngreave
Phyllis Irene Rhodes, 6, 26 Cossey Road, bur 29 Sep, Burngreave
Elsie Mary Rhodes, 4, 26 Cossey Road, bur 29 Sep, Burngreave
George Ashley Harrison, 60, 26 Cossey Road, bur 29 Sep, Burngreave
Eliza Ann Harrison, 48, 26 Cossey Road, bur 29 Sep, Burngreave
Vera Harrison, 12, 26 Cossey Road, bur 29 Sep, Burngreave
Albert Newton, 28, 28 Cossey Road, bur 29 Sep, Burngreave
Alice Newton, 27, 28 Cossey Road, bur 29 Sep, Burngreave
Thomas Wilson, 59, 73 Petre Street, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
Elizabeth Bellamy, 57, 43 Writtle Street, bur 29 Sep, Burngreave
Ann Coogan, 76, 11 Grimesthorpe Road, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
Margaret Taylor, 59, 11 Grimesthorpe Road, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
Frederick Stratford, 49, Ct1 11 Danville Street, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
William Guest, 32, 9 Ct 1House Kilton St, bur 30 Sep, Burngreave
The coroner opened then adjourned the inquest on September 28. The harrowing details of 28 deaths were reported in the Sheffield Independent on 29th September 1916. Sheffield was not mentioned in the report, neither were the names of the victims. However, it is obvious that ‘Screams were heard to come from two women who lived together, and immediately afterwards the house collapsed, and both were found dead.’ This refers to mother Ann Croogan and daughter Margaret Taylor. Similar deductions can be made from the other reports.
The inquest was reconvened on October 12. The jury were instructed to bring in a verdict “that the 28 deaths were due to injuries caused by the dropping from hostile aircraft of explosive bombs”.
This verdict is not as obvious as it sounds, as one inquest in another part of the country had decided on a verdict of “wilful murder against the Kaiser of Germany”.
The 28 deaths were eight men, 10 women and 10 children. This does not agree with the memorial inscription on Effingham Road, which commemorated 29 deaths. Did a man die after the date of the inquest due to injuries sustained from the bombings?
The Zeppelin raid on Sheffield was not a military success in that no armaments factories were destroyed.
However, the effect on the Sheffield population was severe. The air-raid warnings would occur 10 more times before the end of the war, causing fear and panic, especially in the minds of those who had witnessed the carnage of the Zeppelin raid 100 years ago.
* This article first appeared in the society magazine, Flowing Stream. The society’s website is www.sheffieldfhs.org.uk