OUR FIRST WORLD WAR
In part 37 of his personal testimony series, Peter Hart takes us back to June 1917, when German bombers made their first daylight raid on London and women were stepping up to crucial roles in the workplace. Peter is tracing the experiences of 20 people wh
James had joined the Royal Engineers as a boy bugler in 1910. In 1913 he transferred into the Royal Flying Corps as a mechanic. He qualified as a pilot in 1916 and shot down his first aircraft in September. He became a 2nd lieutenant at the end of 1916.
After a tour of duty flying DH2 scouts on the western front, McCudden was back in England, employed in lecturing new pilots on the latest aerial tactics. However, in June 1917 the Germans began a series of daylight Gotha bomber raids in an attempt to bomb London. McCudden wanted to be ready to respond and armed his Sopwith Scout aircraft with a Lewis gun mounted on the upper wing to allow him to fire upwards at the high-flying Gothas. On 13 June, the Gothas returned.
I got out of my Pup [Sopwith Scout], yelled to my mechanics to bring my gun and ammunition and, while we were putting the gun on, I could plainly hear the roar of the many engines of the Hun formation which had just passed over. Towards Woolwich I could hear the occasional bang of an English ‘Archie’ [anti-aircraft fire], but I could not see the Huns at all as there was an irregular layer of woolly clouds at about 5,000ft which blocked one’s view. Judging by the noise, I was certain that there were well over a dozen machines.
McCudden took off and located the German Gothas from the British anti-aircraft fire over Shoeburyness.
By the time I had got to 500ft under the rear machine we were 20 miles east of the Essex coast, and visions of a very long swim entered my mind, so I decided to fire all my ammunition and then depart. I fired my first drum, of which the Hun did not take the slightest notice. How insolent these damned Bosches did look, absolutely lording the sky above England! I had another try, after which the Huns swerved ever so slightly, and then that welcome sound of machine-guns smote my ears and I caught the smell of the Hun’s incendiary bullets as they passed me. I put on my third and last single Lewis drum and fired again and, to my intense chagrin, the last Hun did not take the slightest notice.
On my way back I was absolutely furious to think that the Huns should come over and bomb London and have it practically all their own way. I simply hated the Hun more than ever.
Tragically, a bomb dropped from one of those Gotha bombers plunged through the roof of the Upper North Street School in Poplar, exploding in the infants’ classroom where it killed 18 children.
Gotha bomber pilots prepare to take to the skies. Gothas could fly higher than any British aircraft and not one was brought down during the June raid on London