AS the 100th anniversary of the May 10 air raids approaches, we take a closer look at the tragic events which unfolded over the skies of Southend.

On May 10 and 26, 1915, 120 bombs were dropped on the town by German Zeppelins.

One woman, 60-year-old Agnes Whitwell, was killed when a bomb crashed through the roof of her house in North Road, Prittlewell, and landed on the bed.

Southend Museum’s roll of honour and outreach officer Christopher Langdon said: “She was badly burnt, however, her husband saved their invalided daughter, and was injured himself when he jumped out of a window.

“A local soldier was injured when a roof collapsed on him while in bed with his wife and child (192 York Road).

At 146 West Road, Westcliff, an incendiary set alight to a bedroom where a four-year-old child was sleeping.

“The occupier, Mr AV Jay, burst into the burning room, grabbed his son and woke the maid, before all got out safely.”

Damages to property were estimated to be more than £5,000. The worst was at Flaxman’s Timber Yard, in Southchurch Road.

Mr Langdon added: “The air raids had far-reaching consequences for the town and its people.

An awareness of its position as a front line for a new form of warfare, alongside heightened suspicion and hostility towards foreign nationals, or aliens, made Southend a different town from what it had been.

“In 1914, Southend had simply been a seaside town for wounded to convalesce; now it was the front line. It led to the development of Rochford Aerodrome as a combat base for the Royal Flying Corps, which later became the RAF."

Echo: Cromwell House – hit by an incendiary bomb

Mobile anti-aircraft brigades were established in and around the town.

Some of the 120 bombs were dropped near Southend Pier aiming for what was believed to be a battleship, but was actually a prison ship holding Germans.

Bombs were also dropped near the technical college and along London Road and on Cromwell House, in Boston Avenue, which was destroyed by an incendiary bomb.

A crudely-written note attached to one bomb read: “You English. We have come and will come again soon. Kill or cure. German.”

Echo: Bomb damage – police in West Street after the raid

The air raids led to racial tensions after a publication of a special air raid supplement of the Southend Standard led to demonstrations and anti-German rioting.

Mr Langdon said: “In Southend, anti-German feeling reached fever-pitch, leading to rioting and attacks on locallyowned German and Austrian businesses, including the hairdressing establishments of Mr Zucker and Mrs Hermann, a furniture shop owned by Mr Julius Wertheim, W Ernst’s shop on Hamlet Court Road, and a small bakery in Southchurch Avenue owned by a man of German extraction.

“The Reserve Battalion of the Essex Regiment was dispatched from the garrison to stabilise the situation.”

The increased hostility saw people change their names and an increasing amount of people labelled “aliens” were detained.

Echo: German zeppelin – Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship named after the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin who pioneered rigid airship development at the beginning of the 20th century. During the First World War,the German military made extensive use of Zeppelins as bombers, killing more than 500 people in bombing raids over Britain

Mr Langdon said: “Three ships moored off Southend Pier (Royal Edward, Ivernia, and Saxony) housed some 4,900 civilian and military prisoners, closing at the end of May in favour of camps in the Isle of Wight and Alexandra Palace.

“Local casualty, Sgt Edward Pius Bendix, of North Road, attended an open air demonstration against “Aliens” in Southend following the raid. His father Gustav Pius Bendix was a German national, who while at North Road lived opposite another German called Freidrich Holzaphel.”

News of the rioting reached America and New Zealand and the town was subjected to air raids again in August 1917 and May 1918. In all, 39 residents and servicemenwere killed as a result of this new form of warfare.


  • VINTAGE and Valour, an event in Priory Park will be held to mark the centenary of the Zeppelin raids and the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Christopher Langdon will be on hand to talk about the raids and the history of Southend during the Great War and visitors can also speak to local author Dee Gordon about the history of Essex’s land girls. Band Daisy Bowlers will be perform songs from the two world wars at Southend Bandstand between 3pm and 5pm. The free event runs between 2pm and 5pm at Priory Park on Sunday, May 10.