In this feature to commemorate the First World War, we will bring you the news as it happened in 1915, as reported by the Morpeth Herald. All material is published with kind permission of the Mackay family. We thank them for their support and generosity in allowing us access to their archive.
GERMAN AIR RAID
FLIGHT OVER NORTHUMBERLAND VILLAGES
BOMBS DROPPED: NO LIVES LOST
On Wednesday evening a sensation was caused by the appearance of a Zeppelin airship, which was seen simultaneously, looming from seaward, by some thousands of people who were assembled in the Blyth Market Place at a recruiting meeting which at the moment was being addressed by the Rev. Mr Ogden of Newcastle.
It was just after 8 o’clock, and the great object could be seen very plainly. The airship was watched with a quiet, curious interest for fully ten minutes as it hovered round the coast, travelling in a northerly direction, and at times diverging from its course as though taking its bearings.
At one time it turned and hovered over the north end of the town, where its enormous proportions were plainly visible as for some minutes it seemed to remain almost stationary.
At this time the Zeppelin, which seemed fully 600 feet long, was the object of lively comment by Mr Ogden and the chairman (Mr C. Hunter), and the people were advised to disperse calmly to their homes.
PREPARATIONS FOR EMERGENCIES
Superintendent Irving and the military authorities gave effective directions for the extinguishing of all lights and control of the streets.
The ambulance brigade had made ample provision at a meeting on the previous evening for such a possible contingency, and had divided themselves into eight sections to deal with any injury that might be caused to anyone.
All these arrangements were completed, but, happily, were not required, for the occupants of the great gasbag, though under the most suitable weather conditions, pursued their erratic course without doing any damage to life or limb and giving a forcible illustration of the ineffective destructive power of these much-vaunted engines of war sent on such a mission.
SEEN AT SEA
The airship had been seen from the tug “Jupiter,” Captain Jewells and his crew saw the Zeppelin high in the clouds as it approached the land. Information was given as soon as possible to the authorities at Blyth. The neighbouring towns and villages were promptly apprised of the arrival of the aerial visitor, and due precautions were taken.
Meanwhile the great object, silhouetted against the still shimmering sky, began to move rapidly in the direction of Bedlington Station and Choppington Station, both places being fully lighted at the time — between 8.10 and 8.20pm.
Soon terrific explosions were heard, which turned out to be bombs dropped from the airship.
At Blyth the reports were so loud that they were thought to be quite close. The picture halls and hotels were closed in quietness and order, and great credit is due to the tact and sensible manner in which those present in places of amusement were made aware of the air danger.
BOMBS DROPPED AT CHOPPINGTON
About 8.15pm reports of bombs exploding were heard at Blyth, Ashington, Newbiggin, and as far south as Dudley.
Soon ten or twelve explosions took place in as many minutes. Not less than five bombs were seen to be falling in the locality of Choppington.
Mr Ramshaw, a relief clerk, was in charge of the station at Choppington. He described that no less than five explosions took place near the station, but no damage was done at the place, although the office shook with the force of the explosions and the lamp swung from the ceiling again and again.
THE FIRST BOMB
Mrs William Smith, whilst on the highway, noticed the great airship overhead, which could be plainly seen and the engines heard, and presently the first bomb dropped with a terrific noise just behind the Workmen’s Social Club near Choppington Station. The club, however, suffered no damage, nor was there any injury done to any other building or person, though five or six other bombs fell. Three of these fell in Mr Huntley’s field close by.
They were incendiary bombs. Part of one was seen by our Blyth representative. In one case a big flame was emitted from the shot when the deadly thing fell.
A plate glass window at the Railway Inn, Choppington Station, was broken by the concussion caused by a bomb in the clay pit hard by the house. In once case the bomb had sunk over five feet into the ground where it had fallen. In another case a boy found a bomb in the hedgeside close to the Social Club, where it had fallen but had not exploded.
The people were naturally alarmed for a while, and Inspector Hutchinson had the police and special constables called out who were promptly in their places, but their services were very light, for in a few minutes the airship had passed away over Bedlington and towards the Tyne without having killed even a baby or without leaving anyone a penny the worse.
CHOPPINGTON RAILWAY HOTEL DAMAGED
Our Choppington correspondent writes:— About 8 o’clock a Zeppelin passed over the Choppington district. When first seen it was coming from the coast and seemed to have come up the river.
In a few seconds a large crowd ran down near to Mr McHugh’s sale rooms, where the Zeppelin was plainly visible, the noise being like that of a steam thrasher.
Just at the point mentioned the machine was seen to hover over the Social Club on the opposite side of the road and proceed in a southerly direction. Immediately afterwards there was a flash and report, quickly followed by others.
It was at first thought that bombs had been dropped on to the Whinney fields, but no shells have been discovered there. One bomb dropped close to the Choppington Social Club, which stands close to the railway station, and buried itself in the hedge. The impact was such that a large window in the Railway Hotel was shattered to pieces. Beyond that there was no damage done.
Bombs were also dropped near Mrs Auld’s, Windmill Holding; and also near to Mr Huntley’s, Glebe Farm. One of the bombs was picked up by a young man named Smith belonging to Barrington, but was afterwards taken possession of by the police.
Needless to say, the district was alarmed, but nothing in the nature of a panic occurred.
All lights were extinguished; clubs, picture halls, and public houses were closed, and the people were advised to return to their homes. Excellent work was done by the special constables, who were all on duty in less than ten minutes from the first alarm. The local constables, assisted by an officer from Bedlington, were also on duty.
The bombs dropped were those of the incendiary type and resemble in shape an arc lamp.
ACCIDENT TO A SPECIAL CONSTABLE
On Wednesday night Mr Andrew Short, a special constable at Choppington, received a nasty blow upon the head. Mr Short was hurrying towards Choppington Station when a man who was running towards Scotland Gate unfortunately caught Mr Short and flung him upon the road. He was quite dazed by the shock and had to have his wound dressed.
AN EYE-WITNESS’S STORY AT CHOPPINGTON
A gentleman who saw the unwelcome visitor as it passed over Choppington declared that there could be no doubt about it being a Zeppelin. The gentleman was Mr James G. Henderson, a commercial traveller at present staying at the Tyne Hotel, Newcastle. In an interview with a newspaper representative he said:—
At about 8.18pm I heard someone shout out that there was a Zeppelin. I was talking to Dr Lee, whose surgery is next to the King’s Head, and we rushed into the yard and could hear the engine going. How high the Zeppelin was going I could not say, but you could easily make it out against the sky. There were no lights showing from the Zeppelin.
I stood watching the airship perhaps a couple of minutes, and then I had to rush away to catch my train for Newcastle, which was due to leave Choppington Station at 8.27. It was a good seven minutes’ walk to the station and I started to trot. The Zeppelin was going in the same direction as I was — towards the station.
At 8.22 there was a flash, and lightning was not in it. I kept on running towards the station, and approximately fifteen seconds after I had seen the flash there was a tremendous crash. By the time I got to the station at 8.27 there had been eight such cracks, and whilst I was waiting at the station for my train, which was about ten minutes overdue, I heard two more cracks, making ten in all. The last one I heard was at 8.29, and it was somewhere between Choppington Colliery and the railway line, but one could not swear to that.
Although there were altogether ten cracks such as I have described, I saw 13 flashes and that led me to assume that the flashes indicated the discharge of a missile, and that the crack was the explosion of the missile on the ground. With my stop watch I timed the period between the flash and the crack, and found it always practically 15 seconds, and it struck me as extraordinary that a missile should take that length of time to reach the ground from the Zeppelin. They may, of course, have been discharging time-fuse shells. With each crack there was simultaneously a smaller flash than the one I saw in the sky.
I cannot say what damage was done, but whilst I was standing on the station platform, however, a blaze broke out a little way down the line. That may have been caused by a farm building of a hay stack having been struck and fired.
About 8.30pm what is believed to be a German airship passed over Dudley.
The sound of the engines overhead first attracted the attention of the residents. Although the district for some time past has been in a state of semi-darkness, lights were speedily extinguished and every precaution taken.
The machine was visible to many people within a short distance of Dudley, and three lights were seen to be burning all within a radius of fifty yards. On enquiry later, these were found to have been dropped from the machine, the framework of which contained the lights were embedded in the ground. The machine, after these lights sprang up, travelled westwards, and within a few minutes a loud report was heard as if an explosion had taken place.
Shortly after this the machine returned and made towards the coast.
The behaviour of the people was all that could be desired and many there were who ventured out to catch a glimpse of the airship. As far as could be ascertained no damage had been done in Dudley.
A Zeppelin passed over Cramlington about 8.15 on Wednesday evening, dropping bombs during its passage.
Four of the missiles were recovered. One of them fell upon a house in Bell’s Yard, setting it on fire, but the flames were promptly extinguished.
Police-sergeant Marshall, of Cramlington, and Constable Middlemiss, of Shankhouse, had a narrow escape. They were passing through a field when a bomb fell near them, but, flinging themselves to the ground, they escaped injury.
A bomb was dug out of a hole about three feet deep in another field.
All the lights were turned out at the first indication of danger, and much excitement prevailed, but there was nothing in the nature of panic.
When last seen the airship was travelling in the direction of Newcastle.
Another report states:— The Zeppelin was seen plainly at Cramlington. The height at which it passed is given as “not more than 1,000 feet.”
In passing over the village a bomb was dropped and it struck the gable of Pilary Farm, damaging the gable and the granary top, which was fired.
Mr Coulson, the Urban District Council surveyor, hurried out with the hose and fire engine, which were sufficient to cope with this, the only damaging effect of the raid.
THREE EXPLOSIONS NEAR CRAMLINGTON
A good view of the German airship was got at Cramlington by hundreds of village residents.
Mr G. Sims states that at 8.30 he was in the Wesleyan Chapel, attending a choir practice. The choir-master heard the report of an explosion in the near vicinity, and everyone rushed out of the chapel into the street. The Zeppelin could then be distinctly seen over the chapel, and the noise of its engines appeared comparatively close.
Mr Sims described its appearance as a big black cigar-shaped vessel, a horrible thing to look at. It was discovered that the bomb which had been dropped into a field on the West Farm, occupied by Mr Hall, had no damage beyond ploughing a hole in the ground.
Within two minutes after the first explosion another bomb was dropped. This fell into a field on the Village Farm, occupied by Councillor Bell and did more harm than the first. It struck a barn, penetrating the roof, and set fire to the interior. Fortunately, the fire was soon extinguished, though there was a danger that the consequences might have been serious, at two cottages abut the barn.
The third bomb was thrown within a few minutes, the three being within the space of ten minutes. It fell harmlessly into a field in the neighbourhood of West Cramlington. There were flashes from the sky as if the Zeppelin was using a searchlight, but no further incident took place, the airship appearing to make a bee-line for Newcastle.
The bombs that fell in the fields made holes about four feet in diameter.
There was considerable excitement in Cramlington during the Zeppelin’s brief visit. The troops turned out, and a number of shots were fired in the direction of the Zeppelin. Sergeant Marshall and the special constables did everything possible in the way of darkening the village and making the aim of the airship as futile as possible. No one was injured.
At about 8.15 on Wednesday night a bomb fell into a garden at the back of Seaton Burn House, but, fortunately, no damage was done.
Bombs were also dropped at Annitsford, Killingworth, and Hebburn. At the latter place two bombs were reported to have been dropped in a shipyard.
There was small damage done at Choppington, and at Bedlington the damage was happily less.
The police authorities were informed by telephone from Blyth that the Zeppelin was travelling towards the “Terrier Town” and all necessary preparations were made. Special constables were called to be in readiness, and others who might be useful, and in the short time allowed many people were, from the favourable altitude, able to get a good view of the airship before there was a single bomb dropped.
One bomb which fell near the Manse created some excitement, but no damage was done to any person or animal, and the same might almost be said in regard to property. There was a rumour that a man had been injured by a bomb, but this is hardly so, the slight injury to a finger being from another cause probably.
Only one of the bombs which fell in the Bedlington area has been recovered intact. This is an explosive missile, and it has been taken charge of by Supt. Irving. Inspector Hutchinson, the officer in charge of the Bedlington Police Station, has also in his possession the remains of four incendiary bombs. These are of cylindrical shape, about 24 inches high, with perforated zinc tops and bottom supported by a metal standard. The insides are filled with high explosives packed in thin lead piping, and the whole is enclosed in tarred rope.
When the bomb which was thrown out at West Sleekburn was being got out of the ground on Wednesday night by Constable Carr and others, it gave the men a great shock by flaring up suddenly. They left the spot and waited until the fire had subsided before again trying to extricate the explosive.
At Cambois Colliery, the exploding of bombs was heard with considerable alarm.
A lance-corporal, stationed at Cambois, had a very narrow escape of being one of the victims of the German attack. He was walking beside the railway at West Sleekburn when a bomb dropped a couple of yards or so from him. He was momentarily stunned and fell to the ground. When he came to himself again he rose and ran to his billet, a distance of nearly two miles, and brought back six of his comrades, with whose help he unearthed the bomb.
Considerable excitement was caused in Morpeth about 8.45 on Wednesday evening, when all the street lamps and lights in private houses and picture halls were suddenly and unexpectedly extinguished.
Although speculation was rife as to the cause none thought for a moment that a German airship was doing a round of part of the north east coast at the time.
The night being dark, pedestrians had no little difficulty in finding their way about the streets.
Persons who were about Morpeth Railway Station observed the airship as it passed over Hepscott, and loud explosions were heard coming from the direction of Choppington. The craft soon disappeared out of sight.
There were no signs of any panic in the towns.
We are requested by Mr R. Lockey, manager and secretary of Morpeth Gas Co., to state that when the gas is turned off again like as it was on Wednesday night, it will be turned on at daylight, and users must protect themselves by seeing that their gas cocks are all turned off.
THE ZEPPELIN RAID
The all-absorbing topic here is, of course, the aerial visitation on the north east coast by a German Zeppelin, which did its best to cause injury and death; but which in its diabolical task failed ignominiously.
The adventure, intended to make the flesh creep and to encourage the discomfited German people, has done good in as much as it has given further evidence of the impotency of the vaunted power of Count Zeppelin’s airships, and it must have given us real lessons in the way of watchfulness and stimulated the manhood of the nation to do their part in withstanding the desperate enemy, whose erratic and futile mission is further evidence of the lengths to which they are prepared to go to strike a blow at this land of ours.
If the great airship ever succeeds in returning to the Fatherland it cannot but dispel the illusions of the Germans who have so long boasted of the disasters their great airships are capable of inflicting in this country.
MORPETH TOWN COUNCIL
A meeting of the Morpeth Town Council in committee was held last Friday evening. The Mayor (Councillor T.W. Charlton) presided.
Alderman Brown asked if it was the intention of the military to use the Common for shooting or as a parade ground.
The surveyor stated that the “Commercials” were using the Common as a parade ground.
Mr Duncan said that they were all inclined to do their best for the military authorities. He pointed out that there was a great deal of damage to grass land there — to the extent of twenty to thirty acres. The amount they were getting at present was not an adequate return for the damage done. There was no reason why Morpeth should be bled. To his mind this should be a national charge.
Alderman Carr said he understood that farmers were going to receive adequate return for all damage done, and they should also receive the same consideration.
The Town Clerk stated that he would write to Colonel Crawford and state that this was a convenient time for him to come over and come to some arrangement with regard to the matter.
Mr Grey asked if it was the military authorities’ intention to use the Common as a camping ground.
The Town Clerk: We tried before. I wrote to the authorities at Newcastle and York and they said that they did not require a camping ground at present.
WAR BONUS TO WORKMEN
The Mayor suggested that their workmen should be given a war bonus of 2/- a week. He thought it was only right that the men should receive something extra, as the cost of living was very much higher.
On the motion of Mr Swinney, seconded by Mr Fearby, it was agreed that the workmen in the council’s employ receive a war bonus of 2/- a week each.
Alderman Carr, alluding to the Corporation property, said a number of the houses were let to tenants who were serving their country, and they were not charging any rent. He did not know if the income tax had been paid or not. If it had they ought to reclaim for those houses for which they were receiving no rent. There might be some difficulty, but he knew that it had been done successfully.
Town Clerk: I will make application, Alderman Carr, but do not be disappointed if we do not get it.
DRUMS AND FIFES FOR FUSILIERS
An interesting ceremony took place on Saturday last at Alnwick, when Mrs George Renwick, of Springhill, Morpeth, handed over to the 16th (Service) Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers, the drums and fifes which she had so kindly presented to the battalion while in Newcastle.
The battalion paraded at full strength, and Colonel Ritson, commanding, addressing Mrs Renwick, said: “On behalf of the officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the 16th (Service) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, I beg to thank you for the most excellent drums and fifes.
“On the formation of our battalion, in our dull grey uniforms, we needed something to cheer and inspire us, and you nobly and generously came to the rescue.”
Mrs Renwick, in reply, said it had been a real pleasure to do what she could to cheer those who had given their services to the country, and she was sure the 16th battalion would bring credit to Northumberland. The eyes of the women of Northumberland, Mrs Renwick said, would be on the locally raised battalions.
Colonel Ritson and officers afterwards entertained the guests to luncheon. Amongst those present were Mr and Mrs Renwick, Mr and Mrs Herbert Shaw, Major Temperley, Mr and Mrs A. Munro Sutherland, Bishop Ormsby, Major and Mrs Graham, Mr Crossling, and Mr T. McBryde.
To the public of Morpeth and surrounding districts. All chimneys are risen in price owing to material and living being dearer.
James A. Pape,
24 Oldgate Street,
MINERS’ PICNIC ABANDONED
It was announced on Tuesday at Burt Hall, Newcastle, that Messrs Morton and McHugh, scrutineers for the Northumberland Miners’ Association, had completed the count of the votes recorded for and against holding the miners’ picnic this year.
The following is the result of the voting:—
Against holding picnic — 285
For picnic — 238
Majority against — 47.
BELGIAN RELIEF FUND
The Mayor (Councillor T.W. Charlton) asks us to state that he has received a sum of 5/6 towards the Belgian Relief Fund from the Misses Maria and Maggie Hall. Their first subscription amounted to £1 2s 6d. They have realised this money by cushions made and sold by them.
ST JAMES’ CHURCH INSTITUTE, MORPETH.
Another enjoyable whist drive was held in St James’ Church Hall on Thursday evening, April 8th, arranged by the members of the above for our soldiers stationed in the town.
A goodly number of civilians and soldiers took part and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, the time being all too short, as the soldiers had to be back into billets shortly after nine o’clock.
Thanks and great credit is again due to the members of the communicants’ union and their friends who so willingly and ably looked after the refreshments, which were admirably served at the interval.
The Rev. F.C. Hardy presented the prizes to the successful winners, and thanked all who had helped to the success of the evening. The institute is indebted to the Constitutional Club for the loan of extra cards, and to Mr T.J. Smith, cabinetmaker, for the loan of the tables.
RECRUITING MEETING AT SCOTLAND GATE
On Tuesday evening an open air meeting under the auspices of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee was held at Scotland Gate.
Previous to the meeting commencing, the band of the West Cornwall Regiment paraded the streets headed by a number of Boy Scouts.
The meeting, which was presided over by County Councillor A. McHugh, was one of the largest ever held in the district. Several recruits brought a successful meeting to a close.