About eight o’clock in the evening of Monday January 31st 1916, the people of Loughborough were startled and amazed by a succession of loud explosions. During the winter months there had been talk of air raids in the eastern counties but none had previously come so far inland to Leicestershire. Warnings had been given by the police when air raids had been heard on the coast and, on the evening of the 31st, an hour or so before the fateful visit, the police had warned tradesmen and others that a raid was in progress. No apparent notice, however, was taken, Loughborough’s insular position being considered one of safety. Lights were consequently in full blaze, especially at the Ashby Road picture house and from some skylights at the Empress Works, whilst the town lamps were lit as usual. The result was that an airship travelling in the sky overhead, whilst it missed Leicester, where lights had been extinguished, was attracted to Loughborough.
Ten people were killed and twelve were injured. Most of those injured were taken to the Loughborough Hospital, whilst one, a tramp, was removed to the Workhouse Infirmary.
Any account of this raid should remember the human cost and of how the first hand experience of this event brought home to the people of Loughborough the severity of the wounds that could be inflicted by modern high explosive ordnance.
The First bomb fell into the back yard of the Crown and Cushion pub badly injuring the landlady and killing 50 year old Martha Shipman in her home on Orchard Street. Martha died of shock and shrapnel injuries to her left leg. The target is believed to have been the Instructional College whose rear windows must have been shattered by the blast.
The second bomb was to wreak even greater havoc as it landed in The Rushes as a number of people were coming home from work. 25 year old Ethel Alice Higgs was one such vic m who died later in hospital from severe internal injuries caused by the hot metal fragments. Her best friend survived with a severe leg injury.
The Adkins, a recently married couple, had the misfortune to run the wrong way, directly into the area of the explosion as Anne Adkin came to meet her husband Joseph from work. She died on the scene with severe wounds to her right side and abdomen causing massive blood loss. Joseph died later in hospital as a result of injuries to his legs which were badly lacerated and a ‘torn right arm’. He was just 27 and she 28 years old.
Annie Adcock, a shopkeeper on the Rushes was the fourth person to die there. The Adcock’s shop was at No. 13 and Annie (a 42 year old mother of two young children) had the misfortune to be near the front door when the bomb fell. She died of lacerated wounds to both sides of her head. The children had to be led from the shop over the body of their dead mother.
The Zeppelin, the L20 may have intended the bomb for the local gasworks or the main electricity station for the town but instead wrecked many local businesses along The Rushes. Another injury further down the street was Mrs Bartholomuch who ran the popular ice cream shop (next to the Swan in the Rushes on the site of Sainsbury’s car park) and whose family sell sell ice cream in Loughborough to this day.
L20 – as long as two football pitches and commanded by Kapitanleutnant Stabbert now swung round towards the tempting lights of the Empress Works on the other side of the town. The next bomb was to fall with devastating effect on Empress Road.
The three people closest to the blast were the Page family, mother Mary Ann Page (aged 44) and her two teenage children, Joseph Page (aged 18) and Elsie Page (aged 16). They had come out their house at No. 87 and wandered a little way up the street to see what was going on. All three died on the spot… all three were recorded as having died from a fractured skull ‘and other terrible injuries’. Both Martha Shipman’s husband George and Mary Ann Page’s husband Joe were serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps and both were recalled and were present at the inquests in the town.
Two more people were to die from the Empress Road bomb. Arthur Chris an Turnall (aged 51) was at work in the Empress Works when the third bomb dropped. Heavy glass plates were shattered causing lacerations to his left leg and side leading to massive blood loss. Arthur died later in hospital.
The fifth person to die was shopkeeper Josiah Gilbert of 77 Empress Road who died on his own premises in the arms of his son. He suffered a lacerated chest, abdominal injuries and a broken arm.
L20’s last bomb is believed to have landed harmlessly in a nearby orchard but just a stone’s throw from the Great Central Railway Station. However, as you will read below the mystery of additional bombs dropped that night remains!
Following the raid – which was part of a nine Zeppelin attack on England that night, measures were introduced to impose a be er black out on the town as it was widely held that L20 was attracted by the lights of Loughborough and missed nearby Leicester because of its precautions. The Zeppelins themselves were heading for targets further north such as Liverpool and possibly She eld. In fact when L20 bombed Burton on Trent later that night they actually thought they were attacking Sheffield!
Were there more bombs dropped in Loughborough? A few people have maintained there were, especially around the area of the canal. One eyewitness described it thus:
“As I stood at the door of my shop, I saw the Zeppelin drop two more bombs over in the direction of the Sewage Farm. Many people doubted this because no bombs were found but I believed my own eyes. Several years later when the canal was being drained and a large sewer pipe was being laid under the canal from Lower Cambridge Street, a bomb was found in the canal.”
On August 10th 1924 a bomb was found but to add to the mystery it turned out to be a Bri sh bomb such as those dropped from aeroplanes. Could this have been a captured device being returned by the Zeppelin crew? Some maintain it might have been dropped by one of the planes test flown from the Brush. As far as we know the mystery remains.
By coincidence the bomb, an 18 pounder (as compared to the 50Kg bombs dropped elsewhere on the town) was found by Sgt Alfred E Johnson, the father of Johnny Johnson, who was one of Britain’s top fighter pilots in World War Two.