Garden City for the munitions workers

Garden City for the munitions workers

A few years before the outbreak of World War 1 HG Wells had published his book The War in the Air (1907). For the workers toiling in the munitions factory in Woolwich the threat of an aerial bombardment seemed like a science fiction story rather than a real threat. Yet by 1915 the large looming Silver Fish in the sky, guided by the moonlit gilded Thames would wind their way to London. They knew that if they dropped their bombs before they reached the bulge in the river, Greenwich Peninsula, there was a chance they could hit the Royal Arsenal, so crucial to Britain’s war effort.

Damage from the air raid

Damage from the air raid

Munitions workers who had flocked to Woolwich to take up work in the Royal Arsenal soon had experience of the Zeppelin raids. There was an air attack on 25th August 1916 which damaged property in Dickson Road, Sandby Green and completely demolished a house in Well Hall Road all on the new Garden City Estate that had been built to house workers. Three members of the same family were killed. There was a further raid on September 3rd 1916.

Air raid 1st WW

The people were better prepared for the attack the following week. They were warned late on Saturday evening to leave their houses and move to open space. Crowds gathered on Woolwich Common as the search lights began looking for the incoming Zeppelin. The thin light of a Zepplin became visible and the gunners began their work. The Zepplin turned and was moving off and the guns stopped. The ship then became a mass of white flames. The crowd cheered, hugging one another and began singing Rule Britannia and Men of Harlech.

Woolwich, a military town, had many monuments of past conflicts and had within its community soldiers involved in those wars. However, this war was different as now civilians were the target. The Zeppelin raids were an object of contempt and became known as the “baby-killers”. The accounts of the raids in the local Kentish Independent fuelled this hatred with several mentions of the “Apostles of Kultur”. This is a reference to the belief that German “kultur” would spread to all countries across the globe. Little wonder the crowd found their patriotic voice.

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