Monday, 11 February 2019

The Beginning and End of ‘The Spirit of the Wind’

This is the story of two racing drivers and their record breaking cars.

Ernest Eldridge was born in 1897 at 13 Burton Road Kilburn and baptised at St Paul’s in Kilburn Square. The family lived in several local addresses; Gondar Gardens in 1901, and by 1921 they were in 17 Fairhazel Gardens. After a number of different jobs, his father became a financial bill broker and had enough money to send Ernest to Harrow for his education. 

When War broke out Ernest left school and joined up, serving as an ambulance driver on the Western Front. He spoke very good French and after the War he lived in Paris. He liked the excitement of driving fast cars, and gambling with the chance of winning £60,000 at Monte Carlo – he lost on the turn of a card. 

Ernest Eldridge (r) with rival John Parry-Thomas (l)
Beginning in 1921, he made his name by driving huge modified cars fitted with aero engines at races in Brooklands, Paris and the Indianapolis 500. His Fiat with an aeroplane engine made so much noise that a French journalist nicknamed it ‘Mephistopheles’.
Eldridge and 'Mephistopheles'
In 1927 Ernest suffered a serious crash during a race at the Montlhery track in Paris. While travelling at 130mph the car somersaulted and he was thrown out. After being unconscious in hospital for ten days, he recovered but lost the sight of his right eye. Soon after this he went into partnership with George Eyston where he designed the cars and George drove them. Ernest realised that record-breaking attempts rather than racing, would get them publicity and more work.

George Eyston was born to a wealthy family in Bampton, Oxfordshire, in 1897. He was educated at Stonyhurst College and then Trinity College, Cambridge, a process interrupted by WWI when he served in France throughout the war. He was wounded at the battle of Arras, became a staff captain, won the MC, and was twice mentioned in dispatches. When the War ended, he resumed his engineering studies at Cambridge.

In 1921 while on holiday near Le Mans, Eyston visited the racing circuit and the thrill of speed transformed his life. In England he bought a second-hand Sunbeam grand prix car which he stripped down and rebuilt. Eyston met Lionel Martin who allowed him to drive an Aston Martin at the 1923 Brooklands Whitsun meeting. ‘The Captain’, as he was known, won two races and came second in two others. The following year Eyston married Olga Mary Eyre, the daughter of a New York banker, and they had two daughters. They lived at 52 Lennox Gardens in Chelsea.

George Eyston
During the 1920’s and 30’s Eyston raced MGs and Bugattis and he was the first man to drive over 100mph in a standard car. In 1935 he and his partner Ernest Eldridge designed The Spirit of The Wind which was built at the Delaney motor works in Carlton Vale by father and son team, Terry and Tom Delaney. They had opened their factory at Nos.115-129 Carlton Vale in 1910. Later they moved to Cricklewood.

Delaney and Sons Works, 115 Carlton Vale

Position of the Delaney factory, area now redeveloped

The Spirit of The Wind was fitted with a V-12 Rolls-Royce Kestrel aero-engine. Extremely advanced for the 1930s, the car had automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, and independent suspension. In September 1935 Eyston and Eldridge took it to the salt flats in Bonneville Utah where they broke the 24-hour record with an average speed of 140.52mph. They were now ready to attempt to break the world land speed record of Malcolm Campbell. 
Spirit of The Wind in Carlton Vale
The Spirit of the Wind at Bonneville Utah
But shortly after returning home Eldridge caught pneumonia and sadly died in a nursing home at 38 Courtfield Gardens Kensington on 27 October 1935. The following year Eyston took The Spirit of the Wind to Bonneville and broke Campbell’s record with an average speed of 162 mph.

Eyston and Eldridge had also designed a second car called Thunderbolt, which was built at Tipton Staffordshire. This was a streamlined seven-ton monster with two Rolls aero-engines and a total capacity of 56 litres; it had four front wheels and twin rear tyres. Returning to Bonneville in November 1937, Eyston set a new record at an amazing 312mph. Then his old friend and rival John Cobb took the record, but by 1938 Eyston had regained it at 357.5mph.

The Thunderbolt at the Bonneville falts

During the Second World War Eyston worked as a regional controller for the Ministry of Production. After the war he became a director of Castrol Oil. Eyston died on 11 June 1979 in a railway carriage while travelling between Winchester and London. He was described as ‘the perfect gentleman, well-dressed, softly spoken and modest, courteous but firm in dealing with fools’.

The end of the The Spirit of The Wind came when it was destroyed by a WWII bomb at Eyston’s workshop in No.3 St John’s Works at the Kensal Green end of Kilburn Lane. After travelling to Utah several times, ironically the car ended its life about 1.5 kilometres from where it was built.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Two Women Pioneers of Aviation

This is the story of two women who lived in Finchley Road and who made headlines in the early years of aviation. Amy Johnson is the best-known but Grace Drummond-Hay also had a very interesting career.

Lady Grace Drummond-Hay
In 1929 Lady Grace Drummond-Hay was the first woman to fly round the world in a Zeppelin airship. Born Grace Marguerite Lethbridge in Toxteth Liverpool on 12 Sept 1895, she was brought up in the West Hampstead area. Her father Sidney Thomas Lethbridge was the managing director and later chairman of Spratt’s, the firm that made dog biscuits and animal food. The Lethbridge family lived at several local addresses; 28 Kingdon Road (1901 to at least 1904), 11 Lydford Road off Willesden Lane (1911), and then at 14 Avenue Mansions, Finchley Road from about 1918 until Sidney’s death there in 1937. 
Lady Drummond Hay
In Hampstead on 9 June 1920 aged 25, Grace Lethbridge married the diplomat Sir Robert Hay Drummond-Hay, who was nearly 50 years older than her. He died in October 1926 at 34 Nottingham Place, Regents Park, and left Grace £12,430 (today worth about £775,000). As Lady Grace Drummond-Hay she began to work as a journalist and travel writer, first in England and then for the Hearst newspaper group in America. She interviewed leading figures such as Mussolini, Mahatma Gandhi and Herman Goering.

In 1926 she met Karl Henry von Wiegand, the chief overseas reporter for Hearst. Although he was married with a family, they became lovers. Born in Hessen Germany in 1874, Karl’s family emigrated to American when he was a child. In October 1928 Grace and Karl travelled on the maiden intercontinental flight of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin from Germany to America. During the flight the airship was hit by a storm. Crockery crashed off the tables and damage to the fin section had to be repaired in mid-Atlantic.

The following year Hearst co-funded the round the world flight of the Graf Zeppelin and Grace and Karl were the main reporters for Hearst newspapers. The airship took off from Lakehurst in New Jersey in August 1929 and returned 21 days later after circumnavigating the world with stops in Germany, Tokyo and Los Angeles. Grace gained huge publicity as the only woman on board. There are two short films of the airship’s arrival in New York on Pathe News. In May 1936 she was on the Hindenburg’s maiden flight from Germany to America, followed by lecture tours of the US.

Grace at the wheel of a Zeppelin
At the beginning of the 1930’s she learned to fly and gained her pilot licence. In 1932 Grace was at No.116 Finchley Road, before moving further up the road to No.23 Mandeville Court where she lived from 1935 to 1939. During WWII she worked as a reporter with Karl in China and Ethiopia where Emperor Haile Selassie presented her with a valuable jewel. Karl and Grace were in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded on 2 January 1942 and his sight was badly damaged from a bomb blast. After a period of house arrest, they were interned in Santo Tomas and other Japanese prison camps for almost two years. With 1,500 other people they returned to New York on 1 December 1943 on the Swedish ship the SS Gripsholm.

Karl and Grace working on the SS Gripsholm
After recuperating from their ordeal, Grace and Karl continued to work as reporters in Spain and Portugal until the end of 1945. They returned to America where Grace died suddenly of a heart attack in the Lexington Hotel in New York on 12 Feb 1946. Her ashes were returned to England by Karl von Wiegand.

In August 1991 her account of the 1928 Zeppelin flight across the Atlantic and other memorabilia were put up for auction at Christie’s and sold for £6,413.

A recent film was made of the 1929 round the world flight. Called ‘Farewell’ it was made by the Dutch director Ditteke Mensink and researched by Gerard Nijssen. It uses fascinating documentary film of the Zeppelin trip including shots of Grace and Karl, but the narrative voiced by English actress Poppy Elliott, is a fictional and romantic account supposedly taken from a diary written by Grace which does not exist. In 2010 it was shown on BBC4 as ‘Around The World By Zeppelin’. The complete 80 mins film can be seen here:

For a discussion about the film see the blog:

The British airship R101, crashed in Northern France on 5 October 1930 on its maiden flight from Cardington in Bedfordshire to Karachi in India. Sir Sefton Brancker, the Director of Civil Aviation, was one of the 48 people who died of the 54 on board. He was a friend of Amy Johnston. On 6 May 1937 the LZ129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed as it docked in Lakehurst, New Jersey, 35 of the 97 people on board died. The two sensational disasters effectively ended the future of airships. Pathe News has films of both airships; the footage showing the Hindenburg crashing in flames is particularly harrowing.

Amy Johnson
Born in 1903 in Hull and educated at Sheffield University, Amy Johnson moved to London in 1927. After working at the Peter Jones department store in Chelsea she became a typist at a City law firm. Her spare time was devoted to her passion for flying. In April 1928, she joined the London Aeroplane Club at Stag Lane, Hendon and by the end of 1929 she was the first woman to get a engineer’s certificate from the Air Ministry. The same year she received her pilot’s licence and became friends with the popular actor and comedian Will Hay. He was obsessed with flying and had a plane at Stag Lane. Amy’s father, a major herring importer in Hull, supported his daughter financially and she was able to leave the law firm to concentrate on flying.

Amy briefly rented a room at West End Mansions 315 West End Lane and later shared a room at 24 Castellain Road, Maida Vale. When she obtained her pilot’s licence she was living at 2 Brentmead Place, Golders Green, close to today’s Brent Cross. In November 1930 she moved to Flat 15 in the newly-built Vernon Court at the junction of the Hendon Way and Finchley Road, (which today has a blue plaque to commemorate her).

Amy Johnson in Jason
On 5 May 1930, after less than 100 hours’ solo flying, Amy set out from Croydon in her two-year-old Gipsy Moth, Jason. She was attempting to fly from England to Australia and break Squadron Leader Hinkler’s 1928 record of fifteen and a half days. On 10 May she was still two days ahead of Hinkler’s time when she arrived at Karachi, India, even though bad weather had forced her to land for two hours in the desert. After reaching Calcutta Amy hoped to fly non-stop to Rangoon and on to Singapore but was delayed at Rangoon and then again in Java by bad weather, shortages of fuel and damage to the plane. Finally, having landed at Port Darwin, Australia, after nineteen and a half days, ‘Johnnie’ was given a tumultuous reception despite missing the record. Her flight aroused widespread enthusiasm: congratulations came from King George V and she was appointed CBE. The press dubbed her ‘The Queen of the Air’ and the Daily Mail made her a gift of £10,000. A very private person, Amy found all the press and public adulation embarrassing.
Jim Mollison and Amy in happy times
In Australia she met the handsome Jim Mollison, a record-breaking aviator. This was the beginning of their romance and they married on 29 July 1932. Amy left Vernon Court, and the couple lived first at the Dorchester Hotel and then the Grosvenor Hotel. In 1934 they became the first husband and wife team to cross the Atlantic westbound and in 1936 Amy broke the Cape Town speed record. But the marriage was already foundering, as Jim drank heavily and enjoyed his playboy image and constant womanizing. Amy was granted a divorce in February 1938 on the grounds of Mollison’s adultery. Pathe News has several short films of Amy, recording her famous flights, some showing her with husband Jim Mollison. Jason is on display at the Science Museum.

In 1939 Amy was the author of Skyroads of the World but by this time she was beginning to move out of the limelight. During WWII, in March 1940 her friend Pauline Gower asked Amy to join the select Air Transport Auxiliary. In this role she shuttled planes back and forth from Hatfield, near the ATA base at White Waltham, to Prestwick. On a routine flight on 5 January 1941, she encountered difficulties in poor weather conditions and fog, and is believed to have drowned after bailing out over the Thames estuary. She was aged only 37, her body was never recovered and there are several versions of the events that led to her plane plunging into the sea. Her death remains a mystery. In 1941 a film based on some of the flights by Jim Mollison and Amy Johnson called They Flew Alone was made, starring Robert Newton and Anna Neagle.

Here is a 10 mins contemporary film about Amy:

The two women were role models in the 1920s and 30s when men dominated the world of aviation.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Hastings Banda and his English Mistress

This is the little-known story about the controversial president of Malawi and his time in Kilburn when he lived with his mistress and her husband.

Hastings Kamuzu Banda was born about 1898 in a small village in Nyasaland to a poor family. After his initial education from African teachers of the Livingstonia Mission of the Free Church of Scotland, he went to Rhodesia and then South Africa. He worked as a miner and then a clerk at the Witwatersrand deep mine. There he met black American members of the African Methodist Episcopal church, which he joined in 1922. The leader of the church, Bishop Vernon, was so impressed by the young man that he agreed to sponsor his education in America. In 1925 Banda travelled to Ohio where he completed his high school education. Then he went to the universities of Indiana and Chicago and obtained a degree in history and political science in 1931. He graduated as doctor of medicine in 1937 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Banda came to Britain, but his American qualifications did not allow him to practise here, so in 1938 he went to Edinburgh, where he obtained a medical degree in 1941. His intention was to return to Nyasaland as a government or mission doctor. When the British colonial government refused to employ him on the same terms as European doctors, he abandoned his plan and instead set up a practice in the poorest part of Liverpool, and soon gained a reputation for free care for the poor, even paying the rent of those facing eviction. He refused military service as a conscientious objector, but was drafted to North Shields, where people flocked to his surgery because of his abilities and charm.

Merene Margaret Ellen Robbins was born in 1911 to a large farming family in Barnstable Devon. She came to London to work as a nurse and met William Henry French, who she married in Hackney in 1934. He was born in Northumberland in 1910 and was working as a teacher in London. Their son Peter was born in 1940. They lived in Stamford Hill until WWII, when William was called up, and using his foreign languages, became a major in British Intelligence.

In 1944 when William’s mother became ill, Merene went to look after her in North Shields and met Dr Hastings Banda who was the local GP. They began an affair, and after the War Banda followed Merene to London, where he worked as a GP. At first he lodged with Merene, William and son Peter, at No.18 Ridley Road in Willesden. Then Banda bought No.8 Aylestone Avenue, a large semi-detached property off Brondesbury Park where they all lived from 1947. Initially, William French accepted the relationship between Hastings and Merene, but then left in 1949. He finally sued for divorce in 1955 citing Banda as correspondent. Banda and Merene stayed together and she became his receptionist and housekeeper. Banda was a very popular doctor at a time when racism was quite blatant. Always impeccably dressed in a dark three-piece suit and a Homburg hat, he won the trust and respect of his patients.

Banda was deeply involved in the politics of Nyasaland and visiting African politicians regularly came to the house. With the founding in 1944 of the Nyasaland African Congress, Banda became the London representative, and he took up its concerns with the Colonial Office, and with various members of parliament. The 1949 plan for the federation of Nyasaland with Northern and Southern Rhodesia brought Banda into conflict with the British government as he saw it as a scheme designed to maintain white supremacy. He denounced the proposals and threw himself into the anti-federation campaign. Banda masterminded the Congress’s policy of bringing together chiefs and commoners in an alliance, only to be defeated in 1953 when the Central African Federation was finally imposed. In the same year, disillusioned with British democracy, he went to live with Merene French in the Gold Coast, now moving towards independence as Ghana under his friend Kwame Nkrumah, where he set up his medical practice in Kumasi. 

Thirteen year old Peter French was sent to a merchant navy college and spent the holidays with his father William in a cramped East London flat where he slept on a camp bed. Banda remained in the Gold Coast until July 1958 when he returned home as leader of the Nyasaland African Congress. It was impossible for Merene to accompany him and she returned to England. (It has not been possible to find a picture of Merene).

With exceptional energy and skill, Banda created a nationalist party with himself as its undisputed leader. As the campaign gained in popularity, disturbances broke out in May 1959 and Banda was arrested along with over 1,000 Congress leaders and taken to Gwelo gaol in Southern Rhodesia. He remained in prison for over a year, until the new colonial secretary, Iain Macleod, was convinced that without Banda no settlement in Nyasaland would be possible and he was released on 1 April 1960.

Hastings Banda, 1968
Once freed from prison, Banda asserted his control over the Nyasaland African Congress’s successor, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), becoming life president of the party in 1960 and the centre of an extravagant personality cult. After the MCP won the elections, Banda was appointed prime minister in February 1963 by the last British governor Sir Glyn Jones. A year later, in July 1964, he led the country to independence as Malawi (a name chosen by Banda to commemorate the pre-colonial Maravi state). Elected president under the new republican constitution in 1966, and life president in 1971, Banda introduced a personal style of government where he ruled through a small group of shifting confidants. The most important of these were his new companion, the oddly titled ‘Official Hostess’ ‘Mama’ Cecilia Tamanda Kadzamira, who had replaced Merene French on his return to Nyasaland, and Cecilia’s uncle, John Tembo. For almost thirty years no criticism of Banda or the MCP was tolerated, and his opponents were gaoled or killed; ‘food for the crocs’ as he coldly put it.

Harold Wilson and Hastings Banda with trademark fly whisk
Pressurized by a growing popular movement inside the country as well as from outside, Banda was forced to hold a referendum in June 1993, in which Malawians voted decisively for multi-party democracy. In the following May, he and the MCP were defeated in Malawi’s first democratic election. He was placed under house arrest in 1995 for the murder of the four politicians twelve years earlier but acquitted for lack of evidence directly linking him with the killings. He died of pneumonia in a Johannesburg clinic aged 99 on 25 November 1997 and was given a state funeral.

During his presidency he tried to hide his relationship with Merene. Philip Short, a journalist who had worked in Malawi wrote a biography of Banda for Longmans. Banda sent two lawyers and asked his now retired friend Sir Glyn Jones to meet representatives of Longmans in London. They persuaded the publishers to drop the book because of the suggested reduction of their large educational sales in Africa. However, Longmans sold the typescript to Routledge & Kegan Paul. At a meeting between Routledge, Jones and Banda’s lawyers, they looked at the points which Banda most objected to, including his relationship with Merene and being cited as correspondent in her 1955 divorce case. This was not well known in Malawi, and those who knew did not talk openly about it. In fact, there were only two short passages about Merene; Routledge decided these were true and published the book in 1974.

When Merene returned to London she first worked in a public heath laboratory. She rarely spoke about Hastings Banda even when he appeared on TV in the newly formed Malawi. Nor do we know what she thought about his despotic rule, so different from the ideals formed over the kitchen table in Brondesbury Park when she helped him draft the Malawi constitution. Merene died in poverty in Greenock Scotland in 1976.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Obsession, Love and Death in Kilburn

Esmond Road is a short, quiet, street on the Brent side of the Kilburn High Road near Paddington Cemetery

On Tuesday 6 November 1894, the top floor of Number 48 was the home of Alice and James Simms and their young children. About 11.15 that morning Mrs Simms opened the front door to William Carter who forced his way upstairs. 

Soon afterwards, the landlady Mrs Mary Bates was talking to a neighbour when they heard shots. As it was the morning after bonfire night, they weren’t alarmed, thinking it was just children letting off fireworks. But then they heard the faint cry of ‘Murder!’ and they saw Alice Simms on the landing covered in blood. 

Mary stopped a man on the road and said something terrible had happened and could he please help. He went upstairs and saw William Carter lying on the floor. PC George Allen X334 arrived soon after to find William Carter was dead with a revolver in his hand. He had shot Alice, intending to kill her and then shot himself through the temple. Alice who remained conscious, was taken to St Mary’s Hospital in Praed Street, Paddington.

Newspaper illustration of the case, Nov 1894

What had caused the tragedy?
William Carter was a clock jobber, a repairer who travelled to homes, winding and fixing clocks and watches. In 1881 he had married Mary Ann Robson and they had five children. At the time of the shooting they were living in Elliott Road Lambeth.

James Simms had married Alice Thatcher in 1885 and they had three children by 1894. He worked his way up from labourer to be a ticket collector at the Metropolitan Railway Station in Edgware Road.

About two years before the shooting, both families lived at 9 Maida Vale, near Little Venice. Alice Simms, described as a small, dark, pretty woman, flirted with William Carter. James Simms, who was a jealous man, got into an argument with Carter about his relationship with Alice, and hit him on the head with a stick. He also threatened Carter with a revolver and the police were called. But Alice persuaded William to drop the charges against her husband.

Because of the friction between the families, the Simms moved from Maida Vale to Messina Avenue in Kilburn and then four months before the attack, to Esmond Road. But Carter was obsessed with Alice and traced her to the new addresses. Perhaps Alice had encouraged William, as Mary Ann told police Alice had written to her husband several times. From her hospital bed, Alice strongly denied she had given William any encouragement.

48 Esmond Road (Dick Weindling, Dec 2018)

William Carter was jealous, drinking heavily and in debt. His employer found that William had been pawning clocks taken from homes ostensibly to be repaired at the workshop. The week of the shooting, William had been given a week’s notice. He was not eating and could not sleep. He had left home on the 6th telling his wife he was going to the hospital. But instead he had gone to Esmond Road to see Alice. In his depressed state he had decided to kill her and himself. 

After the inquest jury had seen the body and heard evidence, they returned a verdict of suicide from a self-inflicted pistol wound.

After some time in St Mary’s, Alice recovered and returned to her husband and children. The bullet had glanced off her cheek bone and lodged in her neck, without causing serious damage. The Simms family moved to Acton and Chiswick where James continued as a ticket collector. Mary Ann Carter was left to bring up her children on her own, and by 1901 she was again living in Lambeth and working as a lavatory attendant.

This was a very sad case which shocked the Kilburn neighbourhood.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Kilburn Animal War Memorial Dispensary

The recent commemoration of the centenary of the First World War has focused many people’s thoughts on the service men and women who fought, died and survived the conflict. But millions of animals and birds also died alongside the troops.

The memorial to ‘Animals in War’ in Park Lane was unveiled on 24 November 2004. An inscription reads, ‘They had no choice.’ However, Kilburn is home to a much earlier memorial to the nation’s service animals. 

The Kilburn Clinic at 10 Cambridge Avenue (Dick Weindling)

 Horses, dogs and donkeys were the most commonly used animals – mainly for transport and haulage, but camels, elephants, pigeons, bullocks, dogs and goats were all pressed into service. They suffered from exposure, lack of food and disease, dying alongside their human companions.

The Park Lane memorial was the fulfilment of an idea that dates as far back as the early 1920s when the RSPCA proposed a memorial for animals that had served in WWI. A committee was set up, funds were raised and the site chosen was Hyde Park corner. In 1925 photographs of the proposed memorial were submitted to Westminster City Council but there the project appears to have stalled.

Instead the RSPCA decided on a more practical commemoration, in the form of the Animal War Memorial Dispensary, where, ‘the sick, injured or unwanted animals of poor people could receive, free of charge, the best possible veterinary attention, or a painless death.’ 

It took many years to find a suitable site. The RSPCA acquired 10 Cambridge Avenue Kilburn, in March 1931 and that May, the freeholders allowed a change of use from a private house to a ‘free dispensary for sick and injured animals.’

The memorial inscription on the Kilburn building is echoed by that in Hyde Park: 

‘To all animals who suffered and perished in the Great War knowing nothing of the cause, looking forward to no final victory, filled only with love, faith and loyalty, they endured much and died for us.’

Thirty-one sculptors entered the competition for a memorial design for the main facade of the building. Frederick Brook Hitch of Hertford was the winner and his wonderful bronze plaque is above the main door.
RSPCA plaque above the Kilburn Dispensary (Dick Weindling)

A local paper recorded the official opening on 10 November 1932, by the Countess of Warwick. But the dispensary had been at work for over a year, during which time 6,000 animals had been treated. The ceremony was preceded by a meeting at St Augustine’s School in Kilburn Park Road, presided over by the Chairman of the RSPCA, Sir Robert Gower.

By the mid-1930s, more than 50,000 animals and birds had received attention at the Kilburn Dispensary. 

At the rear of the well-equipped premises were glass fronted kennels and catteries with a loose box for horses. There was accommodation on site for a vet and an assistant, providing 24-hour care. In 1936 alone, 9,756 animals passed through the doors. 

Unfortunately, the clinic in Cambridge Avenue was closed in 2016 as part of the RSPCA reorganisation of its London veterinarian services.

The main door is flanked by two marble memorial panels. They record that 484,143 animals were killed by enemy action, disease or accident and that 725,216 animals were treated by the RSPCA during WWI. We now know the overall mortality figures were far higher, with an estimated 8 million horses dying in WWI.
Dead horses in 1918 (The Imperial War Museum)

The horse is the animal most often associated with the European conflict. In 1914, the British and German armies had a cavalry force of some 100,000 men.
The development of trench warfare made cavalry charges redundant, but horses and mules were still needed to transport materials and supplies and to pull guns and ambulances.

Dogs accompanied sentries on patrol, carried messages and worked as scouts, ‘sniffing’ out the enemy ahead. Others acted as medics, sent onto the battlefield equipped with basic supplies that allowed a wounded man to tend to his own injuries. They might also stay with a fatally injured soldier until he died.

Pigeons were very reliable when it came to sending messages. It has been calculated that they had an astonishing 95% success rate getting through to their destination. The Government even issued a special ‘Defence of the Realm Regulation’ to prohibit the shooting of homing pigeons. Offenders were warned they faced six months imprisonment or a £100 fine.

A pigeon named ‘Cher Ami’ was awarded the Croix de Guerre for work in the American sector around Verdun in 1918. On her last mission, Cher Ami was shot but delivered a message that gave the co-ordinates of 194 soldiers cut off behind enemy lines. The men were rescued. Cher Ami recovered and was sent back to the USA where she died in 1919. Her body was put on display at the Smithsonian museum, Washington D.C.

There is newsreel footage of animals in service during WWI; but be warned many of them make for unpleasant viewing.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

A Hundred Years Ago Bombs Fell on Kilburn

This is a short piece following our recent story about Zeppelins (scroll down to see the previous story).

During WWI when the Germans stopped their Zeppelin raids in 1917, they continued to attack London using Gotha heavy bombers.

German Gotha Bomber

In the raid on the 28/29 January 1918, Gotha GV 938/16 approaching from the north, commenced its attack shortly before 10.00pm and dropped three bombs along Belsize Road close to the railway line. Two people were killed and two others were injured. 118 houses were damaged. The Princess of Wales pub at No.121 Abbey Road on the corner with Belsize Road, (today the site of the Lillie Langtry pub), was wrecked. Robert Hill, the landlord since 1911, survived the attack. When the pub was repaired he continued there for another 10 years, until his son took over.

Princess of Wales pub in the 1890s (Marianne Colloms)

Three more bombs from the Gotha landed in St George’s Road (today’s Priory Terrace), Mortimer Road and Greville Road, damaging a total of seven houses.

On its homeward flight across Essex, the bomber was intercepted by two Sopwith Camel fighters of 44 Squadron. These were piloted by Capt. George Hackwith and Lt. Charles ‘Sandy’ Banks. Despite heavy fire from the Gotha, they shot the bomber down and it crashed in a ball of flame near a farmer’s house in Wickford.

The bodies of the three crewmen were recovered from the burnt-out wreckage of the aircraft. They were Lieutenant Friedrich von Thomsen (commander and navigator), the pilot Karl Ziegler, and the gunner Walter Heiden. The three young men were given a military funeral on 2 February. This was the first victory in combat between aircraft at night, and the two pilots, Hackwith and Banks, were awarded the Military Cross by King George V.

A Second Attack
Kilburn was hit again in a Gotha raid on the night of 19/20 May 1918. Three bombs were dropped about midnight, and a 300kg bomb destroyed the Carlton Tavern in Carlton Vale, killing Arthur Stribling the publican and his seven-year son. His wife Elizabeth and sister-in-law Florence were rescued from the debris and although injured, they survived.

Carlton Tavern about 1913, showing Arthur Stribling and his family.

Heading home across Kent, GV 979/16 first came under attack from Major Frederick Sowrey, both his guns jammed but he wounded the pilot. Just before the bomber reached the coast, it was shot down by a Bristol Fighter of No. 141 Squadron from Biggin Hill, crewed by Lieutenants Turner and Barwise. The Gotha crashed between Frinsted and Harrietsham in Kent. The three-man crew was pilot Albrecht Sachtler, observer Joachim Flathow and gunner Hermann Tasche. Only the gunner survived and was taken prisoner. Turner and Barwise received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

People looking at the wreckage of the Gotha near Harrietsham

The Carlton Tavern was rebuilt by Charrington and Co. in 1920/21 at a cost of £11,610 (worth about £490,000 today). Its sudden illegal demolition in April 2015 by Ori Calif, the developer and owner of CLTX, was widely reported. After a public enquiry, Westminster City Council ordered the pub must be rebuilt, to the original design.

Carlton Tavern just before demolition, 2015

In August 2018 it was believed work had started. There was a high hoarding surrounding the site, with a giant notice which said, ‘Carlton Tavern: Coming Back Soon’. But today, it is difficult to see what progress has been made.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The Day a Zeppelin flew over Kilburn

During WWI the Germans began Zeppelin airship attacks in 1915. Because they had never seen anything like it, people came out to stare in wonder at these huge flying machines, but they soon became more cautious as the bombs started to fall.
Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (1838 -1917)

On the 19 October 1917 a group of 13 airships left Germany to attack the Northern industrial cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield. Climbing to 16,000 feet they encountered extremely strong winds which forced them off course and made it very difficult for the commanders to establish their position. Lt. Waldemar Kolle was in L.45 aiming for Sheffield, but he found he was being blown rapidly south. He dropped a number of bombs on Northampton, but around 23.30 the crew saw a large number of lights and realised they were over London. Kolle dropped several bombs which damaged the Grahame-White Aviation Company in Hendon. Continuing south-east, he dropped further bombs which landed near Cricklewood Station.

These Zeppelins were a new class of airship which flew so high that British fighters and anti-aircraft guns couldn’t reach them. Some of the crew got frostbite and others suffered from altitude sickness. The height and the thin cloud cover also meant that people on the ground couldn’t see or hear the airship and this attack became known as ‘the silent raid’.


The airship flew over the Kilburn High Road but no bombs were dropped. Passing over St John’s Wood towards central London, the Zeppelin crew dropped bombs at random: but the effects were devastating. The first fell close to Piccadilly Circus where a huge 660lb bomb smashed the front of department store Swan and Edgar’s and caused further damage in Regent Street, Jermyn Street and Shaftesbury Avenue. Flying glass and shrapnel cut down 25 people and seven died. L.45 continued over South London bombing Camberwell and Hither Green, killing another 20 people.

Despite the strong winds, Lt. Kolle flew his Zeppelin across the Channel and with only two engines working and short of fuel, landed in Southern France. He set the ship on fire before surrendering to a group of French soldiers. This proved to be last Zeppelin attack on London; subsequent raids were carried out by Gotha and Staaken Giant bombers.

The Staaken Giant Bomber

Marianne owns a postcard, which will have been printed in thousands. An inky black sky is pierced by the beams of search lights which light up a small, elongated white oval, meant to be a Zeppelin. The date ‘Wednesday 8 September 1915’ is printed bottom right, when London experienced its most severe Zeppelin raid, almost all the damage inflicted by just one Zeppelin, the L.13. Bombs were dropped on Golders Green and in Central London as far as Liverpool Street Station. Printed at the bottom left was, ‘Zeppelin Raid as seen at …’ (blank), so people could buy the card as a souvenir and send it to a friend or relative, filling in the blank with their location.

The Hindenburg bursts into flames (May 1937)
After the War the Zeppelins and other airships continued to be used for long-range commercial flights. But the crash of the British R101 in France on its maiden overseas flight on 5 Oct 1930, and the Hindenburg disaster when the German LZ 129, burst into flames in Lakehurst New Jersey on 6 May 1937, effectively ended interest in airships.

There is a short Pathe film clip here:

The map and information about the raid come from an excellent book by Ian Castle, London 1914-17: The Zeppelin Menace, Osprey Publishing, 2008.