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

BBC History Magazine - - Contents - ILLUSTRATIONS BY JAMES ALBON

James McCud­den

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

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