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Attacks from the air
Balloons or airships had been used in wars before 1914 to spy on enemy territory and locations but Germany went further during the Great War. They used Zeppelins to drop bombs and incendiary devises on various British towns and cities. The first attack took place in January 1915 and the last in June 1917. They had limited success as they were vulnerable to attack and bad weather and the rapid development of aeroplanes gradually replaced them.
Background to the impact of the Great War on Scotland.
The effect of bombing raids on Edinburgh, 1916
The effect of bombing raids on Edinburgh, 1916
German zeppelin airships passed over the east coast of Scotland on the night of 2 April 1916, dropping bombs on several locations in Leith and Edinburgh.
A report was sent from the Chief Constable's Office in Leith to the Under-Secretary for Scotland at The Scottish Office, Whitehall, with detailed information about twenty incendiary and explosive bombs that were dropped during the zeppelin air raid.
Print a copy of the transcript of the Chief Constable's Office report, Rich Text Format, 11KB, new window
...I beg to state that about 11.25pm Sunday 2nd April 1916, a Zeppelin was sighted crossing the Firth of Forth... coming towards Leith Docks, and on arriving over the Edinburgh Dock, the first bomb (explosive) was dropped into the water... and sank two small rowing boats, and broke several skylight windows in two Danish sailing vessels lying in the dock nearby.
... the fifth bomb (explosive) fell on the edge of the quay of the harbour, damaging the quay wall near to the Custom House, and breaking a large number of windows in shops, offices and dwelling houses in that vicinity.
The sixth bomb (explosive) fell on the roof of the tenement at 2 Commercial Street destroying part of the roof and wall on the top flat. A piece of shell struck and killed a man... 66 years of age, residing in the top flat.
The seventh bomb (incendiary) fell through the roof at 14 Commercial Street into a room occupied by an old woman and through the floor of her house into the house underneath where it burst into flame. The old woman referred to calmly got out of bed and poured water through the hole made by the bomb and extinguished the fire, and thus prevented a serious fire.
...The eleventh bomb (explosive) fell on the roof of a whisky bond belonging to Innes & Grieve, wholesale spirit merchants, setting fire to the bond which was entirely destroyed. ...There were also a large number of windows in shops and dwelling houses in this vicinity broken. The premises were not insured against aircraft.
The twelfth bomb (incendiary) fell through the roof of the tenement at 15 Church Street into a house occupied by a soldier's wife and three children, and through the floor of this house into the house underneath occupied by a man and his wife and five children. Both houses were set on fire and a good deal of damage done before the fire was extinguished. None of the occupants of the houses were injured.
... The thirteenth bomb (incendiary) fell on the roof of St Thomas' church manse in Mill Lane, setting fire to the manse which was practically destroyed. Damage estimated at £1,000. The minister, his wife and servant were all in bed and had a miraculous escape.
...The eighteenth bomb (explosive) fell in a court at 200 Bonnington Road breaking windows and damaging doors. A child, one year old son of Robert Robb, residing there was killed in bed by a piece of shell which came in by the window.
(National Records of Scotland reference: HH31/21/8)
Safeguarding the Scottish Regalia, 1916
During the Zeppelin raid on Edinburgh one of the bombs exploded close to the castle. This caused concern about the safety of the Scottish crown jewels that were stored there. On 10 April 1916, the Secretary of State for Scotland set out plans to keep the Scottish Regalia safe.
...I have been advised by the Office of Works that the roof of the Crown Room could not be rendered bomb proof without very considerable expenditure...and have therefore advertised that the Crown Room will be closed to the public after the 11th instant. A new door will be fitted to one of the vaults in the Castle... and I propose to deposit the Regalia of Scotland in that vault... which I am assured will be bomb, fire and burglar proof.
(National Records of Scotland reference: HH31/21/1)
Notice to the public in the event of an aerial raid, 1917
The Chief Constable of Midlothian issued a notice to the general public in March 1917 when there was still fear of enemy attack from the air. If an air raid was imminent, supplies of gas and electricity would be cut off and this would act as a warning signal that hostile aircraft were approaching. Everyone had to extinguish all other forms of light in their houses and business premises to reduce the danger of fire.
... 5. The inhabitants are requested to remain Indoors during an Air Raid attack, keeping away from windows, and refraining from using lights of any kind. The danger of remaining outside is accentuated considerably by fragments of shells etc falling from our own defensive guns.
6. Unexploded Shell or Bombs should on no account be interfered with, as they may burst when moved, but immediately it can be done with safety the Police should be informed of their position. By Regulation 35B of the Defence of the Realm Regulations it is an offence for any person having found any Bomb or Projectile or any Fragment thereof, or any Document, Map etc which may have been discharged, dropped etc from any hostile aircraft not to forthwith communicate the fact to a Military Post or to a Police Constable in the neighbourhood.
7. No matches must be struck nor lights of any description shown immediately before or during an Air Raid. The Lighting Restrictions must be strictly observed by the inhabitants. Darkness and silence are essential to public safety.
S W Douglas, Major Chief Constable
(Reproduced with kind permission of Sir Robert Clerk of Penicuik, National Records of Scotland reference: GD18/6182)
© Crown copyright: National Records of Scotland