“Scalps” secured by our airships

Even an idyllic seaside holiday for the Images was interrupted by the war.

Polcurrian Hotel
Mullion
S. Cornwall

Monday, Aug. 6, 1917

My very dear old man

O but this is a heavenly morning! Brilliant sky, such as I never saw in England before, in August – and the bay underneath my window of such glorious dazzling blue as I think would equal – or put to shame – South Seas or Tropics – and underneath it all, the sneaking deadly submarine. One came in here ten days ago, but had to quit re infecta, without any murders.

But a couple of young ladies from this hotel actually saw, last week, at the Lizard, 6 miles away, a U-boat torpedo strike a steamer and heard the explosion. And a man, who had cycled over, described to me the passionate race of 3 English destroyers to the rescue and our own Mullion airship hovering overhead. They did not get that submarine, though: or at least will not own to it. Discipline makes them very reticent. Still, in less guarded moments, hints are dropped as to several “scalps” secured by one or other of the airships….

Letters tell us … of two raids there – raids never mentioned yet in any newspaper!

Letter from John Maxwell Image to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

A bad air raid

The Clewer Sisters were distressed by the latest air raid in London.

24 September 1916
Bad air raid. Many were killed in London, but two enemy air ships were destroyed.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Shot in cold blood, and now “beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image was excited by the new tanks rolling into action; philosophical about air raids – and horrified by first-hand stories of the executions of young men for cowardice or desertion.

29 Barton Road
[Cambridge]

23 Sept. ‘16

Mon Ami!

I share your views about the ghastly War. With its slaughters and its expenditure, where shall we be left after it is over. Any peace that leaves Germany still united – united for evil – is a fool madness that deserves the new War it will render a certainty.

I am in a fever to see the photograph of a Tank in action. I can’t imagine its appearance. I don’t believe them lengthy like caterpillars – but more like mammoths, Behemoths – “painted in venomous reptilian colours” for invisibility – and “waddling on” over trenches.

Today’s paper speaks of a seaplane over Dover yesterday. This is the very general prelude to a Zepp raid: and we expect one accordingly tonight, if their courage hasn’t oozed out. There is a Flying Camp near here – at Thetford, I believe. Daily, Planes soar over us – a sight I view every time with fresh pleasure. Twice we have had an Airship – huge, but not like the pictures of the German Zepps. I may as well tell you of our own experience on Saturday 3 weeks ago. Peaceful and unsuspecting, we were sitting in the drawing room at 10.30 when suddenly the electric lights went down and left the house in darkness. This is the official warning of Zepps. So we went out into Barton Rd. Not a glimmer, nor a sound. Quite unimpressive.

We turned in to bed – all standing (in Navy language) – and I into the deepest slumber, from which I was eventually shaken to hear an agitated voice, “they’re here”. I bundled out, lit a match and read on my watch 2.50. There was no mistaking – a thunderous drone, such as I had never heard before – and, seemingly, exactly overhead. We hurried down into the road. The roar grew fainter, and then began – deep and dignified – the guns. I guessed them to be on the Gogmagogs – then sharp explosions, which we took for bombs, thrown haphazard by the Zepp which was undoubtedly fleeing for the coast.

Robinson’s Zepp had come to earth at 2.30. Possibly ours was the wounded bird, which dropped a gondola or something in Norfolk when making its escape?

At 4.5 our electric lights went up again, and we to bed. Decorous night-rails, this time.

The Signora has a wee aluminium fragment from the Zepp that was brought down at Salonica. It was picked up by a young soldier who had been in her Sunday School Class. We had a sudden visit from her youngest brother, Gilbert, home on 6 days leave from Salonica. You have heard me speak of him as the rising artist who at 20 years of age sold a picture for £100, and is now a Tommy at 1/- a day. I fell in love with him on the spot. So simple, so lovable, – above all, such a child – going about the world unprotected!

By the way Gilbert saw the Zepp come down in flames at Salonica.
He had many yarns. The one that most made me shudder was of the announcement at a morning parade, “Sergeant So-and-so of the Connaught Rangers was shot this morning by sentence of a Court Martial for refusing to obey an order”. Just that! I have heard of these shootings in cold blood, several times, at the Front in France. Always they made me feel sick. A boy (on one occasion) of 17 ½, who had fought magnificently at Hill 60: and then lost his nerve, when his 2 brothers were killed in the trench at his side. Pym (our TCC [Trinity College, Cambridge] chaplain) sat with him all night and gave him the Sacrament. He

“could only feel what a real comfort it was to know that the boy was now beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”.

Letter from John Maxwell Image to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

“Endless young men of foreign extraction”

Weapons manufacturer C W Laird wrote to Ralph Glyn with some impressions of life on the home front.

58, Pall Mall
London, SW
3/4/16

My dear Glyn

One of the things the War has certainly scotched is the polite sort of letter writing. Have intended to write you a dozen times since my last letter and then have not done so, not having a notion where you are or when you are likely to get a letter. I repeat what has been the burden of previous letters that I hope when you get back to town you will look me up.

We have had a bad spring for the farmers until quite recently. The constant wet made ground unworkable until very late and short handed as farmers have been in many districts even the splendid spots of quiet drying warm weather we have had recently haven’t enabled them to make up for lost time.

In London one is struck not so much by the numbers of military age unattested or not in khaki, as by the endless young men of foreign extraction, French, Belgian, Italians, etc, in the streets. Another salient feature is that the average female doesn’t look her best driving a delivery van or working a cycle under present dress conditions.

Have just been watching an airship carrying out elaborate training moevements in range of my windows.

Poor Ritchie has lost two of his sons. Archie is at the front having done fine work.

I am still shoving along at my Guns more than ever. [Command?] is what is wanted, but failing to arouse any enthusiasm in our enthusiastic circles.

Rumours of bombardments and fleet engagements more [frequent?] than ever. Told today that it was now certain there had been a big fleet engagement with serious losses on both sides because it had some things on the Tape at a Club, but then been suppressed. I asked what Club and was told the Conservative. As I dined and slept there without seeing any such thing in the tape this shows the circumstantial terminological inexactitudes that find currency.


C W Laird

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/23)

Cadets in training “lie on the floor, don’t need beds”

John Maxwell Image, the elderly Cambridge don who had married Florence Spencer from Cookham, wrote to a friend to express his frustrations with the lack of progress in the war, and to talk about wartime life in Cambridge.

29 Barton Road
12 March ‘16

I think I must copy you in reading the M[orning] Post. The rags we take in are D. Mail for me, and Times for la Signora, who won’t stoop to the Mail, tho’ aware that the letterpress in each is identical.
Jackson has once or twice indicated to me that his paper is now your MP. I used to value the Times for the letters written to it. But there are no good letter-writers now-a-days.

Perhaps the new man in East Hertford may wake up Independent Members next Tuesday, if there are any such in Parliament. The Air attacks, and the Naval attacks, which we must with certainty expect will involve novelties that our drones have never dreamt of.

We have more men, and better men, and more money. Yet there we stick, just to be attacked when and where Germany chooses. A fixed figure for the hand of scorn – yes, what scorn! All the trumps: but the player, Asquith! “What War needs is not men, but a Man”, said Nap.

The Zeps (or possibly a Zep) was over Camb[ridge] the other night. We slumbered peacefully and knew nothing till next day. One Airship was seen by the crew of the antiaircraft guns by Story’s Way on the Huntingdon Road. And the electric lighting was shut off at the works: so we heard from one or two people who tried in vain to turn on theirs that night. I don’t think that last precaution had been taken before, but I walked back to Trinity on the night of the Book Club Sale without a glimmer. I had ordered a taxi, and they phoned at the last minute that the fog (it was a sudden fog) was so blind that they dared not send a carriage out. I had in my pocket a flash torch – rapidly expiring – but it just lasted.

We are to have 400 Cadets (i.e. candidates for Commissions) in Trinity. I sat next Major Reddy, the Commanding Officer, who has most healthy ideas of taut discipline – e.g. 4 men to a set of rooms: “they lie on the floor, you know” said he: “don’t need beds”. They will begin in the New Court. How will you keep them quiet at night? I asked. They must be in College at 9.30, for they have to be up early, usw.

Our next door neighbours, the Comptons – he a young son of a Fellow of Caius, she, one of the most beautiful girls ever seen – are on very friendly terms. Alas, he goes off on War Work in May – and the home will be broken up. Yesterday the Signora [Florence] devoted herself to cutting out and sticking War clippings in our scrapbook, whilst I looked on….

Letter from John Maxwell Image to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

“The war is doing us a lot of good”

Maysie Wynne-Finch wrote to her brother Ralph Glyn in Egypt with the news that she and her wounded husband were going to be based in Windsor until he was well enough to return to the Front. Their aunt Sybil was still receiving letters from her son Ivar, written before his recent death in action.

Feb 11/16
11 Bruton St W
Darlingest R.

I had a mysterious message from Meg’s house today saying Colonel Sykes had called leaving a small parcel from you, & saying he was just home from the Dardenelles [sic]. I had the said parcel brought here, & it is a couple of torch refills apparently unused from Stephenson. I must get hold of Colonel Sykes for an explanation.

Our plans are now fixed up to a point. The doctor, [dear?] man, said John was not to return to France for 3 months, this being so the regimental powers that be used much pressure to get him to reconsider his refusal of the 5th Battalion Adjutancy, & so after being told they won’t try & keep him after he’s fit for France, he has said yes. There is no doubt it’s good useful work for home service, if it has to be, & I am glad for him, though I suppose I shall now see little or nothing of him at all. He begins on Monday. He went house hunting on Tuesday – a depressing job, as there are hardly any houses to be had, & those one more beastly than the other! However – nothing matters – it’s just wonderful to be there at all. We shall take what we can & when we can – that’s all. The house we long for, but it’s not yet even furnished, is one, & a charming old house done up & owned by that old bore Arthur Leveson Gower, you remember the man, we met at the Hague, years ago. Tony has been ill again with Flu, the 2nd time this year…

We’ve just had tea with Aunt Syb. She got another letter from Ivar written Jan 1, last Friday. It’s awful for her, & yet I think there is most joy, rather than pain, the hopeless silence is for a moment filled, though but as it were by an echo. Joan looks pale & oh so sad. She’s wonderfully brave & unselfish to Aunt Syb. Poor little Joanie…

I hear Pelly’s opinion is that Kut must fall. London was filled with rumours of a naval engagement on Monday & Tues, but as far as I can make out without foundation.

I met Ad[miral] Mark Ker[r] in the street the other day, & we had a long talk. I fear he’s not improved – & I think very bitter at being out of it all. He was interesting over Greece etc, but there is so much “I” in all he says, one cannot help distrusting a great deal. He’s very upset as he was starting to return to Greece a week ago & at the very last moment was stopped, & now he’s simply kicking his heels, not knowing what’s going to happen next. “Tino” now is of course his idol & here – I feel a pig saying all this, as I do feel sorry for him, & he was most kind. Yesterday he asked us to lunch to meet Gwladys [sic] Cooper, Mrs Buckmaster, how lovely she is, & seems nice, almost dull John thought! We then went on to the matinee of her new play. Most amusing, she is delightful, & Hawtrey just himself…

As you can imagine air-defence & the want of it is now all the talk. One of our airships has taken to sailing over this house from west to east every morning at 8.30 am. I hear we broke up 6 aeroplanes & killed 3 men the night of the last raid. All leave is now stopped from France. We’ve just lunched with Laggs Gibbs, who came over a day before the order came out. He says it’s said to be because of some new training scheme we have & not because of any offensive either way.

John had a Med Board today, & narrowly escaped being given another 3 months sick leave apparently. They implored him to go to Brighton & said he was very below parr [sic] etc, however he bounced them into giving him home duty, & they’ve made it 3 months, & “no marching”, etc, tc, etc. Of course as Adjutant he wouldn’t have that anyhow.

We think we have got a house, but can’t get in for a fortnight.

Bless you darling
Your ever loving Maysie (more…)

Balkan news causes perturbation

About to return to the Dardanelles, Ralph Glyn offered to take parcels out for various acquaintances who didn’t trust the post. Neill (later Sir Neill) Malcolm (1869-1953) was a senior officer in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.

1 Princes Gardens
SW
Sept 30, 1915

Dear Captain Glyn

I have just heard from my sister-in-law, Jeanne, that you say you will take out some warm clothes for Neill to the Dardanelles. It is most kind of you, – & I really can’t tell you how grateful I am! I have been rather worried about the clothes question, as Neill has asked for “woollies” etc, & there seems to be no safe means of sending them out. Jeanne’s message found me in the very act of sending off a parcel – rather hopelessly! – so I am extremely grateful to you for offering to take things.

I am leaving this with two parcels; I do hope you won’t think them too big – but it is such a splendid opportunity!

If it would be more convenient to unpack the parcels, & pack up the contents among your things, or in any other way – please do.

I had a letter from Neill this morning – still very well – it will be nice for him to get you back & hear all the news.

Thank you again, ever so much,
Yours sincerely

Angela Malcolm

Dear Glyn

Very many thanks for your letter. It’s good of you to write as I know how busy you are.

If I don’t answer, or answer only shortly, it’s because I know you hear the essentials and all I can add is a little “personal colour”, and really I prefer not to express my own opinions in a letter.

Recent Balkan news has caused us much perturbation. Minister Sofia’s suggestion for sending troops to Salonica & thence (I presume) to occupy the uncontested area seems rather [illegible]. I imagine it’s purely a political move & that if it fails we shall not attempt to embark on a third line of operations but shall withdraw.

Meanwhile I fancy the withdrawal of 2 of our & 1 French division will bring us down pretty low here. That it precludes any question of an offensive va sans dire [goes without saying].

G Lloyd has had a great success over his coal in the Black Sea Campaign and is being sent home this K-M to confer in London & thence go on to Russia. It’s quite one of the most important questions here.

I have little or nothing in the way of news to give as nothing is doing. Only a few visitations by [Turks?] who are trying to do in Sykes old air ship & also drop their “shorts” on our heads. I have much enjoyed renewing an acquaintance of 20 years ago with Willie Percy. Goodbye old boy. I wonder where your next task is to be?

[Illegible signature]
30/9/15

Letters to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C31/25-26)

Aimless trenches in the sand

After his stay in Yorkshire, John Maxwell Image spent his summer holiday on the south coast. He found the resort unaffected by the war in some respects – but very much so in others, with hysteria over lights at night and suspicion of foreigners.

Hastings
Tuesday [3 August 1915]

The town looks as usual by day – swarms of naked legs on the sands, Pierrots, and a sea as well filled as ever I saw it with steamers and sailing brigs and schooners and ketches nonchalantly in the offing. War? Not a trace of it – by day, unless perhaps khaki gentlemen digging aimless trenches in the shingle (and it is to be hoped, useful ones elsewhere).

But at night – not a street lamp glimmers! Just now there is a full moon: else one must grope with a flashlight, I suppose, out of doors. Indoors every window veiled with opaque curtains so that nothing is visible seaward. Seven people were hauled on one day last week, and fined a guinea apiece for shewing momentarily a light. The Zeppelins are like the Proctors. Patriotic magistrates are making quite a purse. On my first night a Policemen knocked and sent up a message that the “fluttering of my blind (the window was open) bore the appearance of signalling”!!!

On Sunday morning the town was placarded with a long printed notice re German submarines: how to detect their presence, and where: reward of £100 if your information leads to capture, etc, etc.

A destroyer – poor dear, I know her by sight now well – on her daily monotonous patrol along the coast. Last evening it was blowing a quarter gale – not a ship visible except only one – the faithful Destroyer.

Sometimes a Parsifal airship hangs over the sea, glistering like a huge silver fish.

We are taken care of!

Also on arrival at Hotel or Lodging you are presented with a paper to be signed. Name, sur and Christian, and nationality are all that are required of a Briton: but aliens of whatever nation have to answer all manner of rude questions. Penalty for lying or refusing, £100….

Ever affect.
Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/1)

Germans checked!

There was a terrible accident when the hydrogen balloon of a British airship exploded in its shed at Wormwood Scrubs. Florence may have heard about this before the papers got hold of it, as the airship programme was run by the Admiralty, her husband Henry’s employer.

27 July 1915
Better news about Russians. Germans not taken Warsaw yet. They [are] checked. Explosion at Wormwood Scrubs!

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Death of a VC

Just ten days ago, Florence Vansittart Neale rejoiced over Reginald Warneford‘s feat. Now she heard of his tragic death.

18 June 1915
Death of Warneford, VC, trying an airship in Paris.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Is it an airship or just a star?

The fear of bombing meant even a natural phenomenon like a bright star could cause mass panic, as witnessed by this incident recorded by our friend William Hallam in Swindon:

11th February 1915
Frosty again to-night. Janus was exceptionally bright and scintillating to-night. So much so that a neighbour’s daughter came to call us out to look at the airship. Then almost 8 o clock I went to the Post office and met Carey (a neighbour) and he told me down the town crowds of people were collected and gazing at it and saying it was an airship or aeroplane coming over.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/23)