Service of ‘reflection and recognition’ for victims of air disaster and battle
German victims of an air disaster over Suffolk 100 years ago were remembered with the same quiet dignity as the local men who never returned from battle.
Villagers marked the centenary of the zeppelin crash, which killed 16 of the 19 German airmen when it came down at Theberton, near Leiston, in the First World War.
The service at St Peter’s Church was attended by local resident and former BBC Breakfast host, Bill Turnbull, as well as MP Therese Coffey and German air attaché, Colonel Hermann Hauke.
The 196.5metre airship, L48, was grounded at 2am on June 17, 1917. It was part of a fleet of four sent to attack London – flying at 13,000ft over Orford Ness, having dropped bombs around Harwich and Martlesham, when its engines failed and compass froze, dropping to 8,000ft and in range of anti-aircraft guns.
The hydrogen-filled ship drifted over Saxmundham and Leiston, crashing in a cornfield at Holly Tree Farm, where villagers retrieved the dead and buried them by the church. The bodies were later moved to the German cemetery at Cannock Chase.
The 19 German airmen’s names were read alternately with those of 19 local soldiers who died in the war, before Mr Turnbull read an account of the ‘final terrible minutes’, as told by one of the three survivors, Otto Mieth.
John Rea Price, one of the organisers, said: “We were very encouraged by the number of people in attendance for this act of reflection and recognition.
“At least seven villagers in the Theberton and Eastbridge parish had lost their lives in war by the time of the crash – by the end of the war, it would be 19. Many were farm workers, who volunteered to seek something more exciting, without knowing it would turn into a living hell.
“Men would have been returning with stories from the trenches when this crash suddenly happened. The atmosphere in the village must have been extremely mixed – but villagers rescued the survivors and played their part in giving a respectful burial and service at our church.
“Second in command, Otto Meith, was taken to a military hospital in Leiston, where one imagines he was greeted with great hostility by the British war-wounded. But, when it came to his discharge, one nurse said he had endeared himself to everyone, and that the steps were lined with people to see him off.”