Zeppelins attack railway
The strategic importance of the viaduct in moving troops to the Channel ports during the First World War may explain the Zeppelin attack in 1916 … the following report gives details …
The raid took place during the night of the 1st and 2nd October, 1916, being the third which occurred this year. At Oundle, the order to take air raid action was received by the police at 9.00pm, but it was nearly three hours after this before anything was heard of the invaders. The first person to notice anything unusual was inspector C Cameron, who was on duty in the Station road, Oundle at 11.45pm, when he heard a sound of a Zeppelin approaching from the direction of Huntingdonshire. It had passed over March about ten minutes earlier, and then over Yaxley signal box on the Great Northern Railway. This Zeppelin appeared to leave Oundle on its left and to pass to Warmington, Southwick and Weldon. Lady Gunning reports that previous to hearing the engines of the Zeppelin, the owls, pheasants and chickens near made a great noise, and seemed to be much perturbed.
Two aircraft guns had been stationed near Shire Lodge, on the west side of the Midland Railway, and two more near Brookfield Lodge, on the other side of the line. The guns were placed at these points because a great iron smelting works in the neighbourhood are visible from the sea, and therefore a source of attraction to wandering Zeppelins.
On the appearance of the Zeppelin, about midnight, near Rockingham, Lieut. Ashby, who was in charge of the guns, put his searchlight on the airship and opened fire. The other two guns, having only just arrived, were not in working order. The Zeppelin at once turned to the north, and commenced to drop incendiary bombs, and several flares were observed near the road leading to Rockingham and Gretton. Next day Inspector Dunn found ten incendiary bombs had fallen close to the road, two on the north near the River Welland, and eight in a field on the south of this road. The Inspector then went towards Deene, and found in stubble and grass fields, to the north-west and close to Kirby Hall, evidence that fifteen high explosive bombs had been dropped and had exploded, and that there were two more which had failed to explode. One fell close to the Prisoners of War Camp near Corby Tunnel. Two of the bombs served a most useful part, by going off in a field pond adjoining the road, and clearing it out in a most efficient manner.
The Zeppelin then turned due north and dropped another bomb in a field between the village of Seaton and Seaton Station, in Rutland, which also failed to explode.
The only train which went along the Midland Railway line from Kettering to Nottingham between 11.30pm and 12.30am was a passenger down train for Manchester which passed Gretton Station at 11.52pm. It is thought that the commander of the airship saw this train go into Corby Tunnel and imagining it stopped at a station, literally scattered his bombs for the benefit of those whom it might concern. The fact of being fired at would also raise the presumption that there was something of consequence to be protected. After thus discharging its offensive cargo, the Zeppelin appears to have made off as fast as possible, as Sergeant Fitzhugh heard it pass over Easton-on -the Hill at 12.15am heading due east. It passed over Walton, near Peterborough, at 12.30am, travelling at a very fast pace towards the east.
Superintendent W.G. Hooper at once reported these events to the Chief Constable, who passed the information on to Colonel F.W. Fawcett, Commanding the Depot, Northampton, who forthwith made arrangements to guard the unexploded bomb. The Prisoners of War Camp at Corby had found a temporary guard for this purpose, who handed over to an armed party sent from the depot the following day, who remained in charge for a week, being provisioned from the Depot each day.
On the 7th October Major W.B. Woodham and Lieut. L.A Uthwatt, with Major C.A. Mountanaro of the Army Ordinance Corps, visited Corby and Major Mountanaro exploded one of the bombs. He could not however deal with the other bomb as it was deeply embedded in the ground, eight feet below the surface. A workinq party of soldiers was organised, and commenced digging, but did not make much progress. They were therefore reinforced by a number of expert ironstone workers, supplied by Messrs. Lloyd from the Corby Ironstone Works. The soil was accordingly excavated, and by the following day Major Montanaro completed his mission by blowing up the remaining bomb.
As the incendiary bombs were not required by the military authorities they were retained by the Police, who exhibited them for three days at the Corn Market Hall at Kettering, the entrance fees being devoted to the County Red Cross Fund. The bombs were afterwards given to the following institutions and persons: The Northampton Museum, the Kettering Museum, the Kettering Police Station, Sir Henry Meradyth, Bart, Pipewell hall, Mr Mark Firth, Carlton Hall, the Rev. Wentworth Watson, Rockingham Castle, MrW.T. Heyre Rockingham, Mr W Dudley, Gretton and Mr J Renke Walden grange.
No casualties were caused by the large number of incendiary and high explosive bombs which were distributed during the raid, and only one injury to property was the cutting of some of the Midland Railway Company’s telegraph wires over Corby Tunnel.
At all the towns in the county the lights were extinguished, and the special constables were on duty all night doing most valuable service.
The warnings received at the County Constabulary Headquarters, Northampton were:
8.53pm Field Marshal’s warning only
10.17pm Field Marshal order ‘take air raid action’
2.00am Field Marshal’s order ‘resume normal conditions’
2.37am Field Marshal’s notice ‘all clear’
These warnings and orders were repeated by the Post Office authorities to all head police stations in the city, borough and county, and the military authorities within a few minutes of the same time.