Heroic pilot who won VC for shooting down Zeppelin over London: Porthcawl, September 1916. Local history by Ceri …

Saturday, 3 September 2016

By GEM Community Correspondent

in Local People

On September 2, 1916, 16 German airships approached London and, having intercepted radio messages from the airships, 10 Home Defence squadrons took to the air.

Among them was Captain William Leefe Robinson, flying a converted BEc2 night fighter, which was carrying only enough fuel for three and a half hours.

Seeking out the Zeppelins in the thick fog, as they wreaked havoc over London, Robinson eventually spotted the wooden framed Schutte-Lanz SL 11, commanded by Hauptmann Wilhelm Schramm.

Schramm had been born in Kent, as his father was the London representative of the Siemens electrical firm. At the age of 15, on the death of his father, his family returned to Germany where he joined the army.

Schramm had already taken part in earlier raids on the east coast, so was not inexperienced in the art of aerial combat. Such was the task that faced Robinson, who, sacrificing speed for accuracy, headed straight for the airship.

Despite being rocked by the huge explosive guns directed at him, he managed to fly alongside the airship and fire bullets along its side. Noting that the airship was unaffected, Robinson bravely repeated the exercise. Again to no avail.

Finally, with one round of ammunition left and little fuel, he courageously dived toward the massive twin rudders and raked the thinnest part of the craft. As the crowd watched from below, the SL 11 burst into flames and lit up the night sky.

On landing, Robinson realized that the rear section of his plane had been damaged in the fight. Captain Leefe-Robinson was the first British pilot to shoot down a German airship over Britain during the First World War and also, the first to be awarded the Victoria Cross for action in the UK.

In April 1917, Captain Leefe-Robinson was taken prisoner after being shot down over France. He died of influenza on the last day of 1918, in his sister’s home in Stanmore, Essex and is buried in the local churchyard.

News of the raid on London, and later that month on Sheffield (September 25), soon reached the provinces, which coincided with a heightened security alert.

Consequently three Porthcawlians ended up being fined at Bridgend Magistrates Court for not ‘having their lights obscured.’ (Porthcawl News September 22, 1916.)

Mr Fred Nicholls of The Pier Hotel was fined £2 for three windows facing the sea not having their blinds drawn, at five minutes past nine at night.

Mr Edward Lyons, a Coast Watcher explained that it had not been the first time that Mr Nicholls and his staff had been cautioned over the same matter.

Mr Thomas Watkins, a grocer, was fined £1 for a similar offence; while Mr Evan Rees, grocer of Suffolk Place, on being similarly accused pleaded in his defence: “I forgot all about it. Please give me another chance.” (Porthcawl News, September 22, 1916.) He was fined £1.

Two other Porthcawlians were fined 10 shillings over another breach of security. Under the terms of the Aliens Registration Act, aliens were required to be registered with the local police, providing details of their name, address, marital status and employment.

Both, Mr William Williams, proprietor of a Porthcawl boarding house and Mrs Mary Morgan, Rose Cottage, Newton failed to notify the authorities on the departure and destination of their ‘alien’ guests.

It is uncertain from whence the ladies originated, but their names would have attracted concern: Esther Hyman and Andrias Johanna Alum.

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, September 15 – 22, witnessed the first appearance of tanks in modern warfare. Initially, it was planned to launch the Allied attack with 49 tanks. However, 17 did not reach the frontline, and of the 32 available seven failed to start.

The remaining 25 tanks led the attack, with the infantry behind. Both Private Alfred Cook, 6 Railway Terrace, (Hillsboro Place today) and Captain Edgar Allen Boucher, whose parents lived at 5, Green Avenue, were killed on the first day of the battle.

Alfred Cook was born in 1896, one of six children, to Henry and Catherine Cook. Having attended the National School, Lias Road Alfred, for a short while, joined his father working for the Great Western Railway as a labourer in the station yard before being apprenticed with Mr J Hutchinson on the Porthcawl golf course.

It may well have been this new career that took him to the south coast, where he enlisted at Portsmouth into the 15th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment at Fratton Park during April 1915.

The 15th Battalion was involved in the first attack on Flers, at which it is believed Private Alfred Cook met his death. The huge number of casualties, and the wide use of shelling made maintaining a clear picture of the situation difficult.

Tragically, as a result Private Cook’s family were still appealing for news of Alfred’s whereabouts in January 1917.

Two of Alfred’s brothers, Private Sidney and Private Henry Cook, joined the 23rd Pioneer Battalion, Welsh Regiment at Porthcawl, which was serving in Salonika in September 1916.

Alfred’s other brother, Private Walter Cook, served with the Labour Corps, 12th Battalion Welsh Regt. All three survived the war, whereas Private Alfred Cook is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

Aged 20 years, Edgar Allen Boucher, one of six children, was born in Maesteg to Thomas, an accountant and his wife Miriam, on April 9, 1886. Edgar attended Cowbridge Grammar School at the same time as another Maesteg boy. Captain George Devereux Scale, 10th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, whose parents moved to the Poplars, New Road, was also killed in the Somme campaign, on July 20, 1916.

On February 23, 1911 Edgar emigrated to Canada, where in 1914 he is discovered working for the Imperial Bank of Canada. He married Violet Berrington on 15th January, 1914 and they set up home at the Aberdeen Apartments, Calgary, Alberta.

Enlisting on November 14, 1914, Edgar sailed with his unit, the 31st Battalion (Alberta) Canadian Expeditionary Force to Britain on May 17, 1915 aboard the RMS Carpathia.

They arrived on May 28 and following training at Salisbury Plain, the battalion embarked for France on September 15, 1915 where they were assigned to the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division. Captain Boucher was killed on September 15 at Pozieres, on the first day of the Battle of Flers-Coucelette.

Captain Boucher’s body was not recovered and is remembered on the Vimy Memorial, and on the grave of his parents in St John’s Churchyard, Newton.

Edgar’s parents moved to 5, Green Avenue, Porthcawl, sometime after the war. Edgar’s wife, Violet, who had given birth to a baby girl on December 24, 1915 never remarried and died in Calgary in1986.

Finally that September, Porthcawl’s attention was on its intended bid to host the 1918 National Eisteddfod. The town had begun expressing its interest in 1914, but the bid took on a more formal dimension when the Bridgend Justices passed a resolution in support of Porthcawl’s claim.

Not all Bridgend residents were as supportive, though, as one accused Porthcawl of being ‘pushy’ stating that ‘Bridgend is a far, far better centre.’ (Glamorgan Gazette 22nd September 1916.) Barry, also, proved a creditable competitor.

However, it was not to be. Unfortunately Porthcawl is still waiting to host the National Eisteddfod.

Ceri joseph

(Porthcawl Museum)

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Article source: http://www.barry-today.co.uk/article.cfm?id=107235&headline=Heroic%20pilot%20who%20won%20VC%20for%20shooting%20down%20Zeppelin%20over%20London:%20Porthcawl,%20September%201916.%20Local%20history%20by%20Ceri%20Joseph%20of%20Porthcawl%20Museum.§ionIs=news&searchyear=2016