Remembering Bury St Edmunds’ first Zeppelin raid 100 years on
On April 30, 1915, the First World War – previously confined to continental Europe – arrived in west Suffolk with devastating effect.
Today marks 100 years since Bury St Edmunds suffered its first terrifying Zeppelin raid.
Having already bombed Ipswich, the airship made its way to Bury, entering the town from the east and following the road on what was a bright, moonlit night.
The Zeppelin – a new, improved type which was on its first operational flight over Britain – dropped a couple of incendiary bombs at the train station and then flew over the town centre, dropping more bombs as it went.
One of the incendiaries destroyed a group of four buildings in the Buttermarket next to the current site of Waterstones (the Suffolk Hotel as it was in 1915) at about 12.30am.
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The bomb went through the roof of one of the shops, all the way down to the ground floor, and burst into flames. The resultant fire then spread.
The two occupants in the building at the time – a tobacconist and her assistant –managed to escape with their lives, but a dog was not so lucky.
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In his book Zeppelins Over Bury Gareth Jenkins says the dog was a Collie belonging to one of the shopkeepers, Ellen Wise, a ladies’ outfitter.
But it was a second Zeppelin raid a year later, which proved to be more deadly, taking the lives of seven people.
Ron Murrell, a heritage officer at Bury’s Moyse’s Hall Museum, which currently has an exhibition on the Great War, said the purpose of the raid 100 years ago was to terrorise people.
“They were growing used to the idea that their men, their loved ones, were fighting in Europe and it was done deliberately to raise the morale of the German people.
“They were showing they could actually strike the British homeland, thumbing the nose at the Navy effectively.”
He added: “They weren’t striking a deliberate military target. They were terror raids.”
He said that after striking Ipswich, bombing Bury had been an “opportunity”.
Boby Works, an engineering firm, which made torpedoes amongst other things during the war, was targeted while locations such as the headquarters of the Suffolk Regiment in Newmarket Road and a chicken house also bore the brunt of the attack.
Mr Jenkins writes that the Zeppelin destroyed a chicken house in the garden of 9 York Road, owned by Frederick Taylor, headmaster of Risbygate Boys’ School.
He writes: “Reginald Gooch, then aged 10, remembers him running to and fro in his nightshirt with buckets of water.”
The Zeppelin dropped a number of explosive bombs, but most of them were incendiaries.
One of the 41 incendiary bombs recovered after the attack is now on display at Moyse’s Hall Museum.
Mr Murrell said: “It [the first raid] was quite big news because we all talk about the Home Front with such familiarity, but this was the first time it became the Home Front.”
He added: “It hadn’t been done. It was revolutionary new warfare.”
A work of art that is now on display at Moyse’s Hall by artist Sara Muzira, from Bury, portrays the town’s first Zeppelin raid.
The mixed media piece, which uses print, charcoal, chalk, paint and ink, is on display in the main hall and tells the emotional and moving story of how the town’s people got through the first attack.
The dog is represented through its spirit rising through the air.
She said: “Through the work, I wanted to capture the intensity of the raid and bombing and the range of reactions and emotions from anxiety, horror and shock, to despair and perhaps even a sense of terrified excitement for such a small town as Bury St Edmunds.
“By studying the history of the raid, looking through old photographs and being moved by images of modern day warfare, I wanted to show how people survive such an atrocity, the strength and hopefulness of the human spirit in the aftermath, as people put their lives back together.”
Ms Muzira added: “Moyse’s Hall itself was also an inspiration and is represented in the work as the building stood strong throughout the raid, preserving it 900-year history.
“The staff within, would have witnessed, first hand, the destruction and chaos in the centre of the town.”
Mr Murrell said the Zeppelin – LZ 38 – which terrorised Bury on April 30, 1915, became the first Zeppelin to bomb the east end of London.
It was later destroyed on the ground in Germany.
• Ron Murrell is giving a talk at Moyses’s Hall Museum on the evening of July 3 on World War One – The Home Front, arranged by the Friends of the museum. The talk will be taking place from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.