At the meeting of North and South Wheatley Local History Group on 20th November, the chairman congratulated the team of Ann Smith, Judith Goacher and Alan and Mary Guest, who had been successful in winning the quiz in the village hall on Saturday night after a tie-break. Ann then told the meeting, that the team from Retford who had taken on the task of visiting all the graves of local men who lost the lives in WWI, had visited the graves/memorials of several men who are commemorated on the village war memorial in St Peter and St Paul Churchyard.
The speaker for the morning, Wing Commander Adrian Sumner RAF (retired), was then introduced. Adrian first briefed the meeting on his 32-year career in the RAF, starting in 1966. His subject for the day was ‘Zeppelins over Retford’ and members were treated to a superbly researched and detailed history of German airships. The first thing learned was that they were rigid airships originally developed by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin and then taken on by Ludwig Durst and, although there were different designs and manufacturers, they all went under the grouping of Zeppelins. They were patented in 1895 and the first commercial flight took place in 1910. The world’s first airline DELAG was formed in 1909 and as passenger ships they were very spacious unlike modern aircraft. Between 1910 and 1914 there were 1588 flights carrying 10,197 fare paying passengers. Two of these ships the Hansa and Vicktoria and their interiors were amongst a series of slides we were shown.
Members heard a lot of statistics which were explained as we went, including the numbers allocated to the ships that were to raid and bomb England. The passenger ships could travel thousands of miles — there were routes from Europe to Argentina and USA. They could stay aloft for days, travelling at just 50 mph. The first series were 536 ft long and 61 ft in diameter and as they developed they grew to 650 ft long and 78 ft diameter, starting with two small engines the larger ones had six powerful engines.
They were then used by the German Navy for reconnaissance and flew first over the UK in the Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool areas. The implications once armed with bombs struck the population of the UK. Air raids took place across the country from Goole to Liverpool and Staffordshire to Lincoln.
On 3rd September 1916 a total of 16 airships raided England in one night, bombs were dropped on Gainsborough, East Stockwith and Morton, then at 12.56 am they moved to Retford — most bombs dropped in fields, but one hit the gasworks and caused a major fire which could be seen from as far away as Sheffield. Edwin Wilmhirst’s house suffered shrapnel damage. No animals or persons were killed, just two women with minor injuries. Amongst the slides Adrian showed were an air raid predictor made by Colemans’ the mustard manufacturer, Air raid Insurance policies, even a stained-glass window in Washingborough church dedicated to ships L30 and L32. The final raid was on 5th August 1918. There were several grass airfields in our area notably 33 Squadron RFC at Gainsborough and 199 Squadron at Retford. In all, 115 zeppelins were built, 53 were destroyed, 24 were damaged, a total of 40%. They caused the loss of 557 lives, 1358 injuries and £1.5 Million in damage. In the end the majority were destroyed by their crews just like the German naval fleet at Scappa Flow.
The next meeting of the Local History Group will be on Monday 22nd January at 10.00am at North and South Wheatley Village Hall, when there will be the annual ‘round robin’ of stories and anecdotes from members. A friendly welcome and a cuppa is assured, so why not come along? First visits are free, you can then join or return as a paying guest.