The night death rained from the sky

Aftermath of the zeppelin raid in East Street.Sudbury ANL-160404-162848001
Aftermath of the zeppelin raid in East Street.Sudbury ANL-160404-162848001

One hundred years ago Sudbury was in mourning after the greatest shock in its known history.

Under the cover of darkness a German Zeppelin airship dropped bombs in a line across the town.

aftermath of the zeppelin raid in East Street. Sudbury ANL-160404-162837001

aftermath of the zeppelin raid in East Street. Sudbury ANL-160404-162837001

Five people were killed, houses demolished and others left uninhabitable.

People flocked from miles around to gaze at the damage in East Street where four had died, including a man crossing the road after having his last drink in the Horse and Groom.

The horror of the First World War was no longer confined to the battlefields. It was on their doorstep.

Among the onlookers was 14-year-old Kathleen Grimwood who later, at the age of over 100, recalled marvelling at a lone teacup still on its hook in the midst of the devastation.

The huge night-flying Zeppelins had already bombed towns and villages on the Suffolk coast and London but Sudbury had not expected to be a target.

In the panic after the raid an order was given for Sudbury gas works to cut off the supply in the event of another attack.

This was swiftly changed to reducing the pressure to save plunging the whole town into darkness.

At the inquests into the deaths of the Zeppelin’s victims the coroner recorded a verdict of death caused by missiles from an enemy vessel on neighbours Thomas Ambrose, 50, his wife Ellen, 37, widow Ellen Wheeler, 64, and weaver John Smith aged 50. Mr Smith was crossing the road after drinking in the pub when the high explosive bomb fell.

The fifth casualty, Rifleman Valentine Wilson, 42, was having a bath at his billet on Constitution Hill when a bomb exploded in the garden. He was badly cut by flying glass and died later in Sudbury’s St Leonard’s Hospital.

Another soldier was injured when a bomb crashed through the roof of his billet in Melford Road, but was rescued from his burning bed and recovered.

The Zeppelin raid of 1916 is permanently remembered in Sudbury’s Heritage Centre where an impressively large-scale model of Zeppelin L14 hovers over the story of Sudbury’s night of terror.

It is thought that its commander Captain Lieutenant Aloys Böcker mistook the light from a lime kiln for a factory. There were deaths and damage in Bury St Edmunds in the same raid.

More than 550 were killed and over 1,300 injured in the 51 Zeppelin raids launched on Britain. It was nothing like the terrible toll of air raids in the Second World War but the Germans succeeded in spreading fear and insecurity among the civilian population.