The Norfolk Zeppelin raids

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m writing the next Thomas Radwinter story, and in this one, Thomas investigates the ancestry of his wife Kylie. Her father is Tobagan and her mother English, and to begin with he looks at the English side of her family and discovers that her grandmother as a little girl was living near Great Yarmouth during the first World War and was caught up in a bombing raid by German Zeppelins… Zeppelins, part of the German Imperial Navy (not the air-force as I had thought)  L3 an L4 to be precise.

On January 19th 1915  L3 and L4 had left Fuhlsbüttel near Hamburg in Germany to attack military and industrial targets on Humberside – the original target had been the Thames estuary but bad weather prevailed. These massive airships could fly for thirty hours, carrying bombs and incendiary devices. You might think that their first target would have been London; however the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II would not give permission for the capital to be bombed for fear of harming his cousins, the royal family of Britain, nor on the historic buildings of the country. He wasn’t very keen on bombing Britain at all, but eventually relented and allowed for strategic attacks to take place, the first being on Humberside in the January of 1915.

I mentioned above that my fictional character, Kylie’s grandmother, was living near Great Yarmouth in 1915, so my imaginary world comes into contact with real, actual history. The two zeppelins, L3 and L4 were driven south  from their original plan because of bad weather, and changed their targets to the coast of Norfolk. They flew over the coast of East Anglia in the dark, north of Great Yarmouth –  L3 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Hans Fritz, turned south-east towards Great Yarmouth and  L4 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Count Magnus von Platen-Hallermund,  heading in the opposite direction,  north-west towards Kings Lynn. How did the pilots navigate to their targets? They dropped incendiary bombs to light their way.

L3 bombed Great Yarmouth killing and injuring the first British civilians ever to have died in this way. Now in the twenty-first century we are so used to the idea of air attacks, our news is full of the dreadful bombings and air-raids happening in other tragic countries. It must have been an unbeleivable horror and shock in 1915 to have this attack coming seemingly from nowhere, hundreds of miles from the war zone. Zeppelin L4  continued its route along the coast,bombing places I knew so well as a child, visiting them on ‘trips to the seaside’, Brancaster, Sheringham,  Heacham, Snettisham, until it reached Kings Lynn. L4 was  downed a month later by bad weather, a lighning strike setting the mighty beast ablaze.

I had to research all this, just as my character Thomas Radwinter does; people ask me if I plan my stories… well, no, I may have a general idea, but as the story evolves new things occur, sometimes thoughts arise from nowhere and I pursue them – like the zeppelin raids!  I had originally set this part of the story in Brighton, 1880-1911, but for various reasons had to change it. For some reason the historical action moved to Norfolk, and while I was researching I came across the zeppelin raids!

I know each writer has their own particular way of working, and what is perfect for someone is hopeless for another – and when I’m teaching about writing, I share the different ways people can approach their craft, but in the end it is what works and is successful for them… and for me (and Thomas Radwinter) my rather random way works very well!




As part of my failed (probably) attempt to complete 50,000 words in the National Novel Writing Month challenge, I have been writing about my life and family history, through associations with various rivers… and this has led onto not just rivers but seas and other bodies of water too.

I was down in Looe (not literally, only in my research) with Edwin Clogg, an interesting character who during the first world war was a conscie – a conscientious objector. I don’t know if it was a religious or personal reason, so I can’t yet tell whether his family supported him, were horrified or ashamed, but I came across a contemporary report in a newspaper from 1915, when Edwin would have been twenty-nine:

Thursday 24 August 1916



Col. L.C. Foster read a telegram at Looe Urban tribunal from Commander-in-Chief emphasising that every effort should be made to secure as many men as possible, and that all men previously rejected should be sent before the Medical Board for re-examination.
Mr. W. McLean was appealed for by Mr. Coleman secretary to the Looe Gas Co). It was stated that Mr. McLean was the only gas fitter left. Five of the company’s men had joined the service. – Col Foster said the matter rested between Mr. McLean and another employee of the company, Nichols. One of the two men would have to join. – The case was adjourned for a month, when both men will be called up, with a view to one being secured for military service.
October 1st (final) was the decision in the case of Mr. Robert Vincent, who had been granted time at a previous sitting on account of his wife’s illness.
An application was made for Mr. R.Wickett, slaughter man and cowman employed by Mr. Broad. – Mr. Broad said Wickett’s removal would entirely disorganize his business; he was the only help in his shop and on the land, – Sept 15th (final) was the decision.
Mr. Edwin Clogg was appealed on conscientious grounds and business hardship, was granted two months to arrange his business affairs, and passed for non-combatant service.
Exemption, whilst in his present occupation was granted to Mr. Richard Pearce, shipwright and boat builder.

It was interesting to see how these boards, or commissions, or courts had to consider different appeals, from the compassionate – Mr Vincent, practical – Mr Wickett and Mr McClean, exemption – Mr Pearce, and conscience – Edwin.

It struck me how difficult it must have been for some men to have joined up, for example, how could Farmer broad replace his slaughter-man? It is a heavy job, dealing with the  stock, doing the deed – which is an expert job, lifting and carrying carcasses? A woman or young boy couldn’t do it, an old man might struggle, and would there be any of these free to take on the job? In a company of seven working men and five of them already gone, how could it survive with just one man? In a job which needed expertise, experience and I would guess a lot of physical strength?

In small communities, the impact of losing most able-bodied men must have been immense; I’m sure many companies foundered and failed, and many people faced hardship without income and with maybe other members of the family away actually fighting. Edwin wasn’t married, I don’t know what his ‘business hardship’ was… I guess it was the family greengrocer/grocer business, and i don’t know if his brothers served or if they too were objectors; however compared to a slaughter-man or gas fitter, being a grocer is hardly grounds to object and in a way I’m surprised he mentioned it… but here am I, looking at the life of a man a hundred years ago, and I only know the tiniest bit about him.

My featured image is of Cornwall, but not Looe… it’s Fowey


A sombre day

There have been commemorative ceremonies and acts of remembrance both public and private, all across the country today; July 1st, 1916, was the first day of the Battle of the Somme. we remember it on a very personal level.

here is something I wrote some time ago:

The Bletchingley Colgates came from Kent originally, from Ightham a pretty little village near Sevenoaks. They moved to another Kent village, Plaxtol but it was from Penshurst that Henry Colgate moved to Bletchingley. He was married to Charlotte Jeal in 1846, he was about nineteen, she was a little older. There were families of Jeals already in the area although Charlotte was born in Horley and the Colgates settled in Bletchingley and their descendants are there to this day. Family tradition has it that she came from a richer family than Henry and he was her father’s coachman or gardener; however it seems more likely that they came from similar backgrounds and fell in love and married.

Henry and Charlotte had ten children, five girls and five boys , Mary, Martin, Henry, Catherine, John, Jane, Edwin , Charlotte, Susan and Thomas. Their children gave them at least thirty grandchildren, one of which was my mother-in-law Dorothy Colgate, daughter of John.

1970’s Bletchingley

Catherine Colgate, Henry and Charlotte’s second daughter married a young man of Irish descent, William Dagnell. His family came from County Wicklow, settling at first in Liverpool before moving to London. Somehow he ended up in Surrey and married Catherine, maybe he was drawn to her because his own grandmother was also called Catherine.

Charlotte and Henry’s youngest child was Thomas William, born in 1869 when his parents were in their forties, and in the same year as his own nephew, sister Mary’s son, Arthur. He was living at  number 3, Brewer street, and was a stoneman, no doubt at the local quarry when he met a young widow.  Emma Dodd, née Pither was probably  a couple of years younger than Thomas, and she had a one year old son Alfred. Alfred was born in Lambeth, London on July 1st, 1898 and after his mother married, he later took his step-father’s name.

Arthur and Emma married in 1899, and lived with seventy-five year old Henry, now a widower. Emma’s little son was now called Horace, but he still kept his father’s name of Dodd. Three years after their marriage they had their first child, Edith Gertrude. When Horace was seven and little Edith was three, Ruby Emma was born in 1905.  In 1907 Yates Thomas arrived, and the family was completed in 1912 when baby Raymond William John was born. By the time Raymond arrived the family were living in Barfields and they continued to live there to this present day.

In 1914, when Alfred, now Horace was sixteen, the First World War started, and Horace joined up in the Royal West Surrey Regiment . He went to Flanders as a private in the 7th battalion shortly after his 17th birthday, 27th July 1915. No doubt his family were proud of him, his little brothers, Yates and Raymond must have wanted to join their big brother to be a soldier, maybe Ruby and Edith thought it was romantic. Probably Thomas and Emma, though proud, were anxious for his safety, and as the conflict progressed and others in the village returned home wounded or did not return at all, they must have become increasingly worried for his safety.  He had been in France for nearly a year and it was Horace’s eighteenth birthday in 1916 when he went into action… and ‘in some foreign field,’ he was killed.


Recently we visited the National Memorial Arboretum, in Staffordshire; it is a memorial set in beautiful parkland  and commemorates with over 300 memorials not only the armed forces, but also civilian and voluntary organisations, the members of which have served the country. There are all sorts of tributes, and it is a wonderful way to remember and honour the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as those whose lives were affected or blighted by conflict.

One of the most moving areas, is the Shot at Dawn Memorial; it serves to remember the 306 British Army and Commonwealth soldiers who were executed by firing squad after courts-martial for desertion and other capital offences during World War I. it is very simple, but its simplicity makes it all the more moving. The Arboretum was created in 2001, and the Shot at Dawn Memorial was unveiled by the daughter of one of the men executed.

P1040621This statue was based on an actual soldier who was shot; Private Herbert Burden lied about his age to enlist at the age of seventeen, and was shot in 1915.P1040624Each post bears the name, age and date of death of one of those who were shot.

The Poppy Factory

Ever since I was a tiny child I have worn a poppy on Poppy Day. Poppy day, November 11th, is the day we remember those who have fallen during the two world wars although I believe other men and women who have given their lives or have had their lives affected by military service in other theatres of conflict are supported by the money raised. When I was a child the poppies were on a wire but now they are on a plastic stalk which is forever falling out of a buttonhole or becoming unfastened by its pin.

The idea of a connection between poppies and war was first made in a public way by the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, written in 1915 by Lt Col John McCrae, a Canadian who served in World War 1. However it wasn’t until 1921 when the British Legion (now the Royal British Legion) was founded and ordered nine million (yes, 9,000,000) red silk poppies which were sold to raise money for veterans of the conflict. Ever since November 11th has been Poppy Day.

Out and about in Richmond, Surrey at the beginning of the month we came across the Poppy Factory – I had never considered where they might have been made, but here was the factory where poppies have been made for over ninety years. I was quite moved to see it, and will think of the men and women who work there every time I buy a poppy in the future.



Before and after 1864

Like many Scandi literature/TV/film fans, I’ve been watching the Danish series ‘1864’ and I realise to my shame that I know very little about Danish history. I know the Danes ruled much of England before the Norman Conquest, and I vaguely remember there was the Battle of Copenhagen during the Napoleonic wars… and I have a rather muddled memory of studying the Schleswig Holstein question which we briefly looked at for our O-level history… I’ve visited Iceland and read up on Icelandic history so I know that Iceland once ‘belonged’ to Denmark…

But how appalling it is  that I know so little about a European country I have visited! This shocking revelation was brought into focus by ‘1864’; in the first episode Danish soldiers return from war… what war? When was it? Who were they fighting? Did they win? In later episodes the country goes to war again…

I am going to remedy this deficit, I am going to read up on Danish history! So to begin with I have found out that the war in the first part of the TV series took place between 1848-1851 and was over the German duchies of Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg, and I’m now finding about the conflict in 1864 in which  the  Chancellor of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck, known as the Iron Chancellor,  declared war on Denmark on behalf of the German Confederation.

This is just a very superficial grasp of a tiny snapshot of time, a couple of decades in the history of Denmark… but I shall read on!