Great Yarmouth's Mayor, Marlene Fairhead, lays a wreath at the grave of Samuel Smith, killed in the Zeppelin raid of January 19th 1915. Watching are Sam Smith's great great nephews, Chris and Graham Roberts (3rd and 4th from left) Photo: Centenary News

Centenary Update: UK's first air raid victims honoured in Great Yarmouth

Posted on on 20 January 2015
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The victims of the first air raid on Britain, carried out by German Zeppelins during the First World War, have been remembered in the east coast town of Great Yarmouth.

Exactly 100 years to the day after the 1915 attack, descendants of Samuel Smith joined civic leaders in a poignant tribute at his graveside on January 19th 2015.

The 53-year-old shoemaker was killed when the town centre was bombed at the start of a series of strikes by two Zeppelin airships along the Norfolk coast. 

Great Yarmouth's Mayor, Marlene Fairhead, laid a wreath on his grave, a simple ceremony that will be repeated for the second casualty of the bombing, Martha Taylor, in the nearby village of Caister-on-Sea on January 27th.

This year's very public recognition contrasts with the discreet funerals held in 1915, carefully arranged to avoid publicity after the shock of the bombardment from the night sky and its possible impact on morale.

Among those present for the remembrance service were Chris and Graham Roberts, two of Sam Smith's descendants who still live locally.

Graham Roberts told Centenary News that it would probably have rather bewildered his great great uncle: "I think he'd be surprised to think that his death was being commemorated 100 years after his passing. He would probably wonder what all the fuss was about, but be very pleased that his life and death were being memorialised."

Dozens more people turned out for a second ceremony in St. Peter's Plain, a small residential street in the centre of Yarmouth, which suffered the greatest damage from a 110-pound (50kgs) bomb explosion.

Local historian Paul Davies (above) read an account of the wet and foggy night Zeppelin L3 attacked the North Sea port and resort, having narrowly avoided colliding with a Norfolk church tower after its flight from a base near Hamburg.

"You can imagine the scene, a loud throb of engines overhead. One witness said it was like 20 motorcycles revving up. A noise you never heard before. You rush out into the cold and darkness to see what is going on.

"A very large structure, nearly two football pitches in length looms over you. You've never seen anything like it before. You probably haven't even seen an aeroplane. And then an explosive drops from the air and all hell lets loose."

There were many escapes, including a child pulled alive from the rubble and a father and son who suffered no more than cuts and bruises after being blown to the ground. But Sam Smith and Martha Taylor, a 72-year-old widow, were killed.

At the inquest, the coroner declared that their deaths 'could be defined as murder.' Condemning the raid as 'a wicked and wilful act,' he said it was an outrage that adults and children should be attacked in their homes. Zeppelins became known as 'baby-killers.'

The Norfolk town of King's Lynn was also bombed on the night of January 19/20th 1915, leaving two more civilians dead. Zeppelin Week, a programme of commemorative activities, is being held in Lynn to mark the Centenary.

Zeppelins, pioneered by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin at the start of the 20th century, were first used to attack Liège and Antwerp, during the German invasion of Belgium at the start of the First World War. Raids on the UK intensified in 1915, spreading to other areas of the east coast and London.

Posted by Peter Alhadeff, reporting for Centenary News from Great Yarmouth

All pictures © Centenary News