This is the first complete letter from my book Zeppelin Letters, London during the First World War.
My interest in the Zeppelin raids on London was sparked by the letter which follows, written to Percy Norris in 1915. I purchased it to learn more about the New Zealand Shipping Company*, but it turned out to be far more interesting to read what was happening to Percy’s sister back home in London.
The best way to find out what the First World War raids were really like is to speak to the people who lived through them. In a small way, we can still do this by reading their personal letters. I purchased more letters, all written by Londoners, which described in vivid detail their experiences. It was considered quite outrageous at the time, that civilians should be targeted in this way. For the British, wars had previously been fought well away from the United Kingdom, so this was a new, and very frightening experience. My collection of letters contain fascinating glimpses of everyday life, and show how the British sense of humour survived, even through great adversity.
How to buy my book Zeppelin Letters
I have published the letters, together with a brief history of the Zeppelin attacks, as an illustrated eBook which is available from Amazon price £1.99 (UK), or equivalent outside the UK.
Clicking on the link above, or the image on the right, will take you to the page on Amazon for your country. A free sample of the book may be downloaded before purchasing.
Finding Maud Norris
Thanks to records available online, I have been able to learn more about the Norris family. Percy was a Steward, working for the New Zealand Shipping Company during the First World War, on the SS Turakina. He had four brothers and four sisters. Two of his older brothers were listed as Stewards on the 1911 UK Census, his father and another brother were bakers.
My research showed that, happily, Percy survived the war, and also the sinking of the Turakina on 13th August 1917, by the German submarine U-86.
Percy’s sister, Maud, who wrote this letter, was working as a Waitress in 1911, and I believe she may have been working in an office at Selfridges department store by 1915.
I have not been able to find any further information about the German spy masquerading as a doctor in Colchester. If true, it is an awful story.
Letter from Maud Norris
11th September 1915
Portman Square, London
It’s our flag
Fight for it
My Dear Percy
I am so sorry dear I did not see you before you left England you had only left the house 10 minutes when May and I arrived home. I sent a letter the same night to you but have had it returned, as you will see by the enclosed, it arrived just a little too late, anyway I hope I’ll have better luck next time, I do hope you will get this letter dear. Write to me as soon as you do. I hope you will have a safe journey both ways. I am always thinking of you and trust you will be kept safe.
I am suffering from an attack of nerves again, I am positively terrified, we had the rotten German Zeppelins over the City and West-end on Wednesday night at 10.45 Sept 8th 1915. They dropped a lot of bombs, 12 I think in all several big fires were started down the city.
I was out at Hyde Park Corner when the first bomb was dropped. I was absolutely paralysed and thought my time had come. Over 150 casualties it passed right over our house.
I have not had any sleep for 2 whole nights in fact on Wednesday night I was out with Jessie all night too frightened to go in. We went down the city to see the fires. They did not get them under control until 6 o/c in the morning. Banks and warehouses were utterly gutted, there is not one window left in any house outside Liverpool St Station it is all barracaded up and train services has been seriously affected, in Holborn a lot of damage was done. 3 little children being killed in one street. I was out investigating last night, it made my heart ache to see the dreadful damage done. The fires lit all London up. I have been so frightened ever since.
They were expected last night 13 in all. It came through the tape at Selfridges but 150 of our airmen went up and drove them back (thank God). You cannot realise how terrible it all is unless you saw the damage done.
A motor bus was struck outside Liverpool St and everybody killed in fact the driver has not yet been found. 3 or 4 buses in all were destroyed. I only hope they won’t come again.
I saw it quite plainly and our guns from Hyde Pk Corner were firing on it the noise was terrific. I stood and watched it for 1/2 an hour and could see the shells bursting all around it.
At Colchester 150 poor young fellows have had to have their arms amputated owing to a poisonous injection by a German Spy the doctor he has of course been shot the devil. And one of my friends has lost her boy through it, she is nearly broken hearted.
Willie expects to go to the front soon he is on his last training, but mother does not know yet, so do not mention this if you write, but of course Percy we have all got to suffer one way or another, and I do not think that our brothers and sisters in America realise our position we are not safe even in London.
We have all got to do our bit in one way or another if its only just cheering somebody else up. I was at St Marks College Hospital last Sunday afternoon with May to see Jack’s father but he had gone out for a drink so we did not see him so we left our card and a nice box of chocolate for him he is getting on nicely now.
A poor lonely Canadian boy stopped us as we were leaving, and said he had no one to visit him. I felt so sorry for him, so we have promised to go and see him again and take him some apples as he said he had such a longing for some. He gave me a little scented sachet he was so grateful to us, for speaking to him, and we shall certainly go and see him again.
Donate-SailingShipMrs Foster came up to see me yesterday to see if I was safe after the air raid. I went out to lunch and tea with her. She asked after you, and sends her best regards also.
Percy expects to go to France soon. She has given me a nice photo of Percy I tell you he is “some Officer” now. He is coming up this week end, so no doubt they will run up and take me out to lunch again, “more swank”.
I am going down home now, so will have to close as I shall not be home very early as it is, but I felt I must write and give you all the news, for I know you will appreciate it all. By the way dear, I have bought a swell rain coat thank you very much dear, 25/11. I know you will like it, all the girls in my office send their love to you and are just dying for an introduction so you had better hurry up and come home again, it seems so funny at home now. I missed you awfully the first Sunday I was home.
I have had a Post Card from my Prisoner of war today, poor boy he is so sick of it all, he says, we are all longing to see London “Oh so much” and begs me to write as the time is so long and he feels so lonely. Well dear boy Good bye and God bless you trusting you are well with tons of love and kisses from your loving sister Maud xxxxxxx
P.S. Don’t forget to keep your life-belt handy. I do hope you get this letter soon, ta ta “thumbs up” for home. Keep smiling
Below, a David James Aldersley postcard comprising images of Hobart, Wellington (from four of his postcards), and the Turakina. The back shows that the card was written on 3rd December, 1912 and posted to the UK.
*One of my other Blogs is “New Zealand Shipping Company records for genealogy: Passenger lists and other items from my collection which may be useful for family history research”. The shipping blog was set up in order to raise money for Cancer Research, and to date it has raised over £250 in donations. Please visit the blog by clicking here.
The Dolphin Tavern
44 Red Lion Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1R 4PF
The Dolphin Tavern is very much a locals’ pub and boasts an interior that is functional rather than fashionable. On one of its walls you can see a battered old clock, the hands of which are frozen at 10.40 pm, much as they have been for almost 90 years. It was at this precise moment on 9 September 1915 that a Zeppelin bomb crashed onto the pub and reduced it to a smouldering heap of twisted rubble. Three customers were killed and several others were seriously injured in the tragedy.
The clock was dragged from the ruins, and when the pub was rebuilt, it was placed on the wall as a permanent memorial to that night when death and destruction rained down from above. And, every so often, as the staff are tidying up after another day’s trading, their attention is drawn to the clock. As they gaze upon its face, they hear a ghostly, mournful whistling that grows lower and lower, until all is quiet once more.