Air Raids on South-West Essex in the Great War, Alan Simpson

Air Raids on South-West Essex in the Great War, Alan Simpson

Looking for Zeppelins at Leyton

At first glance this might seem to be of largely local interest, for readers in south-west Essex, but in 1914-18 large parts of north-eastern London were still within Essex, and the area was also on the approach route for German raiders approaching London (unlike in the Second World War, where many attacking aircraft came from occupied France and approached London via Kent and the south coast). What we thus have here is a study of one part of the German aerial assault on London during the First World War, covering the approaches across rural south-west Essex (including those bombing raids that hit this area), and the more familiar impact of the raids on the London suburbs.

This 'first blitz' was on a rather small scale by later standards, and as a result Simpson is able to follow just about every Zeppelin raid that crossed the area (and in some cases almost every bomb!), and a large proportion of the aircraft raids.

A large part of the book looks at the British reaction to these raids, starting with the shock caused by the first raids and on to the later far more sophisticated air defences of  London, where many of the concepts used during the Second World War were first developed. There were some fascinating debates during this period, with prolonged arguments about the wisdom of having air raid warnings of some sort

The text is supported by a good selection of eyewitness accounts and newspaper reports, which help give a feel of the impact of these raids at the time. Unsurprisingly the raids produced a wide range of responses, from excitement to anger or fear.

The book covers a wide range of subjects, including some rather unusual ones - the section on the impact of raids on school attendance for instance, along with the varied reactions of the authorities, or the looting of any businesses run by people suspected to be German (it is also interesting to see that quite a few German run businesses were still going well into the war).

This is a useful snapshot of the 'first blitz', looking at both the war in the air and the impact on the ground. 

Chapters
1 - Peril from above
2 - Our nerves are on edge
3 - The Zeppelins were able to escape
4 - Take Cover
5 - Knocking the chimneys down
6 - A big cigar in front of the moon
7 - A huge hostile air fleet
8 - Attendance this week has suffered considerably
9 - The bomber will always get through

Author: Alan Simpson
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2015


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