Sharks of the Air

THE sea raid, the land raid, the airship raid — this was the trio of bugaboos under the menace of which Britain, uninvaded, almost unthreatened, for a thousand years, stirred uneasily at the outbreak of the war and turned anxious eyes toward the leaden mist curtain which veiled the North Sea. Then the bulldog of the Navy, after a tentative snap or two, set its teeth in an ever-tightening stranglehold, and with the dying gasps of German sea-power the threat of the sea and land raids disappeared for good. So far as England was concerned, only the ways of the air were left open to Germany; only the menace of the Zeppelin remained.

And when weeks had lengthened to months, and summer had given way to autumn, and autumn to winter, without the threatened bombing from the sky, the name of Zeppelin ceased to have interest for the stolid Briton, now just awakening to the fact that he had a mighty task to perform beyond the seas. Continued immunity bred contempt, and even the fore-running raids of the spring of 1915 failed to stir London from her impassive calm. By midsummer she was showing signs of being bored with the whole subject, and the sky-searching antics of the comedians in her packed music halls began to be greeted with yawns from the stalls. She was becoming impatient of her darkened streets, and captious ‘Pro Bono Publicos’ wrote to the papers demanding more illumination arid a general return to ‘Business as Usual.’

The ‘authorities’ still kept up a pretense of preparedness. The so-called anti-aircraft guns — really a nondescript lot of ordnance, left over after the fittest of the few available pieces had been requisitioned for use in France, on the coast or by the Navy— still had their crews of half-trained amateurs, and the golden beams of the searchlights continued to whirl and dip and curtsey in their nocturnal minuets. Buckets of water and boxes of sand stood ready for emergency use in the art galleries and museums, and on the hoardings conspicuous posters gave with meticulous particularity instructions as to how one should act if Zeppelin bombs began raining in his vicinity. At the first sight of a hostile airship, we were told, we should repair at once to the nearest cellar, and in case a smarting sensation in the nostrils indicated the release of deleterious gas, the mouth and nose should be covered with a moist double bandage containing a layer of carbonate of soda. Some of the pharmacies displayed patent anti-gas respirators in their windows, but none would admit ever having had an inquiry for one.

’We’ve got a war to fight. Zepps ain’t war; fergit ’em.’ So a London bus conductor summed up the situation to me, and so seemed to feel the majority of his fellow townsmen of all classes.

Such, as regards Zeppelins, was the spirit of ‘London and the Eastern Counties’ — to use the official phrase — as the summer of 1915 waxed and began to wane. Something of how this spirit met the trying events of the months which followed, I shall try to show by a few extracts from my journal. In deference to the wishes of the British Censorship the names of several points in London have been slightly altered.

I

On Board Yacht ―
en voyage,
Wroxam Broad to Hickling Broad

August

We sailed and poled along the river and canal yesterday, and in the afternoon moored to the bank at this point, which is but a mile or two from the North Sea. The morning papers, which we picked up as we passed through the little village of Potter Heigham, contained an official bulletin telling of a Zeppelin raid on the ‘ Eastern Counties’ the previous night; and later in the day word was brought us that Lowestoft, the great trawlers’ port about twenty miles to the southeast, had been heavily bombed. A second raid in this vicinity seemed, therefore, anything but likely.
The afternoon closed in one of those characteristic butterfly chases of sunshine and showers so familiar to the August voyageur on The Broads, and, lounging at ease on deck after dinner, we had watched the twilight aeroplane patrol, stenciled in black silhouette against the glowing western clouds, pass north from Yarmouth to meet its fellow from the Cromer hangars. A half hour later the sharp staccato of its engine, rather than its blurred image against the paling afterglow, told us of its homeward flight.
It was a good two hours after the drumming of the aeroplane’s engine had ceased to be heard that a strange new sound became audible, first distantly, in the puffs of the quickening night breeze, soon more imminent and with steady insistence. It was apparently the booming explosions of powerful gas engines, and presently, blending with this, could be distinguished a buzzing clackity-clack that suggested whirring propellers.
‘Another aeroplane,’ suggested one. ‘A fleet of aeroplanes,’ hazarded another. ‘A dirigible threshing-machine,’ opined a third. And, judging by the now almost overpowering rush of sound, the latter was nearest to the truth.
The whole universe seemed to have resolved itself into one mighty roar, and I distinctly recall that the mainsail halyard by which I steadied myself vibrated to the beat of the pulsating grind from above. For a moment — sensing rather than seeing — I was aware of a great black bulk blotting out the stars above the river, and then, stabbing the darkness like a flaming sword, the yellow flash of a searchlight leapt forth from the dusky void and ran in swift zigzags back and forth across the marshes and canals beneath. Now a herd of cows could be seen staggering dazedly to their feet, now the startled bridge-players on the deck of the houseboat moored above were revealed, and now our own eyes blinked blindly in the yellow glare before the questing shaft darted on down the river to spotlight an eel-fisher’s shanty on the dyke and the gaunt frame of a towering Dutch windmill beyond.
Now it found the sharp right-angling bend of the river, quivered there for a second or two, and then flashed out, leaving a blanker blackness behind. At almost the same instant the ‘Thing of Terror’ — a hurtling mass of roaring engines and clattering propellers — shot by overhead, followed by a confused wake of conflicting air-currents. It passed straight down above the middle of the river at a height of not over 300 feet, and beneath the dimly guessed bulk of it bright chinks and squares of light, broken by the shadows of moving men, plotted the lines of two under-slung cars. A Zeppelin had passed almost within a stone’s throw.
The lights of the car leaped sharply upward almost as soon as the bend of the river was reached, and at the end of a couple of minutes the roar of the engines dwindled to a distant buzz and died away completely. Ten minutes passed, during which the old eel-fisher went on stringing his traps across the river and the house-boaters resumed their interrupted bridge. Then a red signal light flashed out in the heavens in the direction of Yarmouth, and at almost the same moment, clear and sharp, came the sound of furious lightartillery fire. This lasted for only a minute or two, and there was another eightor ten-minute interval before a still more distant sound of gun-fire became faintly audible. Drowning the crack of these latest shots suddenly came the roll of a heavy boom, quickly to be followed by another, and another, and another, until a dozen or more had sounded. Then the peaceful silence of the early evening resumed its sway.
The eel-fisher finished sinking his traps before paddling up the gangway of the yacht and venturing a casual inquiry as to whether or not we had ‘chanct to see the Zepp.’ ‘Her do this onct befoor,’ he chirruped. ‘ ’Er gets bearin’s from ’e’ riv’r an’ then ’eds off fu No’ich o’ Ya’muth. I be thinkin’ if ’er knowed this grouse moor b’longed tu Ser Edderd Grey, ’er’d a bombed it good as ’er goed by.’
This morning the London papers have the bulletin of still another raid on the ‘Eastern Counties,’ with a good many casualties; also an account of how a Zeppelin was brought down in the North Sea and destroyed by aeroplanes from Nieuport.

II

LONDON, September
Yesterday’s papers had the usual account of an air raid on the ‘ Eastern Counties,’ and during the day word was passed round that this had consisted of an attempt to bomb the Woolwich Arsenal. This morning they have finally had to add ‘and London’ to the regular formula, as last night, for the first time, bombs were dropped upon the heart of the city and seven million people watched the whole performance. It was the nearest thing to their promised ‘ big raid ’ that the Germans have yet brought off, and to-day London — in the defense of the metropolitan area of which guns were fired for the first time in many hundreds of years — appears to have declared a sort of informal half-holiday to note the consequences.
To Londoners, a Zeppelin raid appears to be a good deal like the paradoxical ‘ man-sitting-on-the-pin ’ joke — it is funniest to those who miss the point. To the ones in the swath of the raid, like the one who sits on the pin, it is anything but a laughing matter. ‘ But the swath of the raid is so narrow, London so broad; the killed so few, Londoners so many. If this is the worst the Huns can do, on with “ Business as Usual!” ’ There is no denying that this epitomizes the spirit of London —even as it mourns its dead — on the morrow of the first great air raid of history. For myself, I must admit that I was rather too near the point of the pin, and have since seen rather too many of the ‘ pinpricks,’ to be able to look at the diversion from quite the standpoint of the great majority.
Last night was clear, calm, and moonless — ideal Zeppelin conditions — and walking down from my hotel to the Coliseum at eight o’clock, I noticed that the searchlights were turning the dome of the sky into one great kaleidoscope with their weaving bands of brightness. The warming-up drill was over as I entered the music hall, and, returning home at the end of the ‘top-liner’s’ act, I picked my precarious way by the light of the stars and the diffused halos of what had once been street lamps. I was in bed by a quarter to eleven, and it was but a few moments later that the distant but unmistakable boom of a bomb smote upon my unpillowed ear. I was at my east-facing window with a jump, and an instant later the opaque curtain of the night was being slashed to ribbons by the awakening searchlights.
For a minute or two, all of them seemed to be reeling blind and large across the empty heavens, and then, guided by the nearing explosions, one after another they veered off to the east and focused in a great cone of light where two or three slender slivers of vivid brightness were gliding nearer above the dim bulks of the domes and spires of the ‘City.’
Swiftly, undeviatingly, relentlessly, these little pale yellow dabs came on, carrying with them, as by a sort of magnetic attraction, the tip of the cone formed by the converged beams of the searchlights. Nearer and louder sounded the detonations of the bombs. Now they burst in salvos of threes and fours; now singly at intervals, but with never more than a few seconds between. Always a splash of lurid light preceded the sound of the explosion, in most instances to be followed by the quick leap of flames against the skyline. Many of these fires died away quickly, — sometimes through lack of fuel, as in a stonepaved court; more often through being subdued by the firemen, scores of whose engines could be heard clanging through the streets, — others waxed bright and spread until the yellow shafts of the searchlights paled against the heightening glow of the eastern heavens.
The wooden clackity-clack of the raiders’ propellers came to my ears at about the same moment that the sparkling trail of the fuse of an incendiary bomb against the loom of a familiar spire roughly located the van of the attack as now about half a mile distant. After that, things happened so fast that my recollections, though photographically vivid, are somewhat disconnected. My last ‘calmly calculative’ act was to measure one of the oncoming airships — then at about twenty-five degrees from directly overhead — between the thumb and forefinger of my outstretched right hand, these, extended to their utmost, framing the considerably foreshortened gas-bag with about a half inch to spare.
Up to this moment, the almost undeviating line of flight pursued by the approaching Zeppelins appeared as likely to carry them on one side of my coign of vantage as the other; that is to say, they seemed not unlikely to be going to pass directly overhead. It was at this juncture, not unnaturally, that it occurred to me that the basement — for the next minute or two at least — would be vastly preferable, for any but observation purposes, to my top-floor window. Before I could translate this discretionary impulse into action, however, a small but brilliant light winked twice or thrice from below the leading airship, and a point or two of change was made in the course, with the possible purpose (it has since occurred to me) of swinging across the great group of conjoined railway termini a half mile or so to the north. This meant that the swath of the bombs would be cut at least a hundred yards to the northeast, and, impelled by the fascination of the unfolding spectacle, I remained at my window.
During the next half minute the bombs fell singly at threeor four-second intervals. Then the blinking light flashed out under the leader again, — probably the order for ‘rapid fire,’ — and immediately afterwards a number of sputtering fire-trails — not unlike the wakes of meteors — lengthened downward from beneath each of the two airships. (I might explain that I did not see more than two Zeppelins at any one time, though some have claimed to have seen three.)
Immediately following the release of the bombs, the lines of fire streamed in a forward curve, but from about halfway down their fall was almost perpendicular. As they neared the earth, the hiss of cloven air—similar to but not so high-keyed as the shriek of a shell — became audible, and a second or two later, the flash of the explosion and the rolling boom were practically simultaneous.
Between eight and a dozen bombs fell in a length of five blocks, and at a distance of from one to three hundred yards from my window, the echoes of one explosion mingling with the burst of the next. Broken glass tinkled down to the left and right, and a fragment of slate from the roof shattered upon my balcony. But the most remarkable phenomenon was the rush of air from, or rather to, the explosion. With each detonation I leaned forward instinctively and braced myself for a blow on the chest, and lo — it descended upon my back. The same mysterious force burst inward my half-latched door, and all down one side of the square curtains were streaming outward from open or broken windows. (I did not sit down and ponder the question at the moment, but the phenomenon is readily explained by the fact that, because the force of the explosives used in Zeppelin bombs is invariably exerted upwards, the air from the lower level is drawm in to fill the vacuum thus created. This also accounts for the fact that all of the window glass shattered by the raiders has fallen on the sidewalks instead of inside the rooms.)
Tremendous as was the spectacle of the long line of fires extending out of eyescope to the City and beyond, there is no denying that the dominating feature of the climax of the raid was the Zeppelins themselves. Emboldened, perhaps, by the absence of gun-fire, these had slowed down for their parting salvo so as to be almost ‘hovering’ when the bombs were dropped opposite my vantage point. Brilliantly illuminated by the searchlights, whose beams wove about below them like the ribbons in a Maypole dance, the clean lines of their gaunt frameworks stood out like bas-reliefs in yellow wax. Every now and then one of them would lurch violently upward, — probably at the release of a heavy bomb, — but, controlled by rudders and planes, the movement had much of the easy power of the dart of a great fish. Indeed, there was strong suggestion of something strangely familiar in the lithe grace of those sleek yellow bodies, in the swift swayings and rightings, in the powerful guiding movements of those hinged ‘ tails,’ and all at once the picture of a gaunt ‘man-eater’ nosing his terribly purposeful way below the keel of a South-Sea pearler flashed to my mind, and the words ‘Sharks! Sharks of the air!’ leaped to my lips.
While the marauders still floated with bare steerage-way in flaunting disdain, the inexplicably delayed firing order to the guns was flashed around, and — like a pack of dogs baying the moon, and with scarcely more effect — London’s ‘air defense’ came into action. Everything, from machine guns to threeand four-inchers, — not one in the lot built for anti-aircraft work, — belched forth the best it had. Up went the bullets and shrapnel, and down they came again, down on the roofs and streets of London. Far, far below the contemptuous airships the little stars of bursting shrapnel spat forth their steel bullets in spiteful impotence, and back they rained on the tiles and cobbles.
Suddenly a gruffer growl burst forth from the yelping pack, as the gunners of some hitherto unleashed piece of ordnance received orders to join the attack. At the first shot a star-burst pricked the night in the rear of the second airship, and well on a line with it; a second exploded fairly above it; and then — all at once I was conscious that the searchlights were playing on a swelling cloud of white mist which was trailing away into the northeast. The Zeppelin had evidently taken a leaf from the book of the squid.
The tinkle of shrapnel bullets on the roof sent me down at this juncture to join the gathering of my fellow guests on the ground floor, where, on the manager’s calling attention to the fact that my knees were shaking from the cold, I was glad to avail myself of the loan of his overcoat. I was not unappreciative of his delicacy in attributing the undeniable shiver in my frame to the cold, and I have not yet entirely made up my mind just to what extent the chill night air, standing in a twisted and cramped position in order to look up, and sheer funk shared the responsibility for it.
I have been under shell-fire on several occasions, and I confess quite frankly that I never before felt anywhere near so ‘panicky’ as during that long half minute in which the airships appeared certain to pass directly overhead. The explanation of this, it seems to me, may be found in the fact that, in the trenches or in a fort which is under fire, one is among cool, determined, and often callous men who are meeting the expected as a part of the day’s work, while in a Zeppelin raid one is more or less unconsciously affected by the unexpectedness of it, and by the very natural terror of the unhardened non-combatants. At any rate, to say that there was not a very contagious brand of terror ‘in the air’ in the immediate vicinity of the swath of last night’s raid would be to say something that was not true of my own neighborhood.
As soon as the firing ceased I slipped into my street clothes and hurried out, reaching the ‘Square’ perhaps ten minutes after the last bomb had fallen. That terror still brooded was evident from the white, anxious faces at street doors and basement gratings, but a mounting spirit was recorded in the gratuitous advice shouted out by the ‘Boots’ at a hotel entrance to a portly and not un-Teutonic-looking gentleman who went puffing under a street light.
‘No use hurryin’, mister,’ chirped the young irrepressible. ‘Last Zepp fer Berlin’s jus’ pulled out.’
At the end of a block my feet were crunching glass at every step, and a few moments later I was in the direct track of the raid. By a strange chance — it is impossible that it could have happened by intent — that last fierce rain of bombs had descended upon the one part of London where the hospitals stand thicker than in any other; and yet, while every one of these was windowless and scarred from explosions in streets and adjacent squares, not one appeared to have been hit. One large building devoted entirely to nervous disorders was a bedlam of hysteria, and the nurses are said to have had a terrible time in getting their patients in hand. From another, given over to infantile paralysis, hip-disease, and other ailments of children, came a pitiful chorus of wails in baby treble. The other hospitals, including one or two foreign ones, appeared to be proceeding quietly with their share of the work of succor, receiving and caring for the victims as fast as they could be hurried in.
The fires, except for a couple of wide glows in the direction of the City and a gay geyser of flame from a broken gas main in the next block, had disappeared as by magic, and most of the places where bombs had dropped in this vicinity could be located only by the little knots of people before the barred doors, or by following a line of hose from an engine.
Except for an occasional covered stretcher being borne out to a waiting ambulance, the killed and maimed were little in evidence; and but for a chance encounter with a friend who was doing some sort of volunteer surgical work, I should have failed entirely to have an intimate glimpse of the grimmer side of the raid. I jostled him at a barrier where the crowd was being held back from a bombed tenement, and he pressed me into service forthwith.
‘They are trying to uncover some kiddies on the second floor. Four of them — all in one room,’he explained. ‘Two floors above smashed in on them. Everybody fagged out, and I’m after some brandy to buck ’em up. You’re fresh. Take this armlet and tell the police at the door I sent you.’
The little lettered khaki band passed me by the police cordon, and I found myself in the lantern-lighted hallway of a rickety brick building such as they erected as tenements in London thirty or forty years ago. Two blanket-covered bodies lay on the floor waiting to be removed to the morgue, and a third, hideously mangled but still breathing, was being hastily bandaged by a doctor before sending on to the hospital. A dozen children were crying in a room which opened off the hall, and there, too, a hysterical woman in a nightgown, her face and hands streaming blood, was being restrained by a couple of uniformed police-women from rushing up the sagging stairway.
A fireman who had collapsed on the floor gave me his axe, and a special constable with a lantern guided me up the quaking stairs to a little back flat, where several men, distinguished by armlets as some kind of volunteers, were hacking away at the pile of debris which filled most of one of the rooms. Four children had been sleeping in that room, explained the policeman, and one of them had been heard whimpering a while back. There was no light but a lantern and a flash torch, he added, and every one was dead played out; but just the same, they were going to stick to it as long as there was a chance that the ‘nipper’ was alive.
This must have been somewhere around midnight, and it was by the first light of dawn leaking in through the shattered beams and rafters that we reached the last of the little bruised bodies buried under the débris. The ghastly interval between was in many respects the most trying I have ever experienced. Somebody’s strength, or nerves, or courage was giving way every few minutes, and there was one dreadful quarter hour during which we all had to knock off and help hold down the now stark-mad mother who had somehow escaped from the room below. For our reward we found that the youngest child was breathing, and might continue to do so, according to the doctor, for several hours. Its two brothers and its sister had mercifully been killed outright in the first crash.

Same day, 7.30 P.M.
I wrote the foregoing after a couple of hours of sleep; then went out and spent the rest of the day back-tracking the raiders. As the swath was largely cut through the tenement and slum districts of the East End, the property damage was not great, but, for the same reason, the loss of life must have been considerable. Pathetic little funerals — the kind one secs advertised on posters of enterprising Shoreditch and Whitechapel undertakers as costing two pounds, ten shillings, with hearse and two carriages, with an extra carriage added for an even three pounds — were to be seen here and there; but withal there was a remarkable absence of ‘hate’ observable in the crowds that thronged from far and near to view the work of the nocturnal visitors from beyond the North Sea.
It is, indeed, well said that the Briton is a poor hater, and almost the only evidence that I could see of his being stirred by the events of last night was in the heightened activity of recruiting. The astute authorities, quick to see the advantage of taking the tide at flood, kept speakers — both civilians and soldiers — all day at the barriers where the crowds were held back in the vicinities of the points bombed, and many hitherto wavering volunteers were gathered in as a consequence. Here and there threatening crowds gathered in front of bakeries and butcher shops which bore German names; but their leaders were half-tipsy cockney dames whom the ever imperturbable ‘Bobbies’ had no trouble in hustling on out of the way. No, stubborn fighter that he is, the Briton is only the most indifferent of haters.

III

From the time of the big raid, in early September, unitil the second week in October there was not a single night on which the moon, wind, clouds, or some combination of meteorological conditions was not unfavorable to Zeppelin action, and it was not until this date that they tried to come again. Although rather nearer than before to two or three of the explosions, I had no such opportunity to view the progress of the raid as on the previous occasion, and this latest bombing is, perhaps, most memorable to me as having served to shake the monumental calm of two of the most famous and impressive of all London’s institutions, the ‘Bobby ’ and the Frivolity chorus girl. I turn again to my journal.

LONDON, October
I was at the Frivolity last night with my friend Captain J—of the Royal Artillery, home from France on a week’s leave, to see an oculist. About nine-thirty, the nearing boom of heavy explosions heralded another Zeppelin attack. I started for the door at once, but J&emdash, an old Londoner, pulled me down into my stall by the coat-tail, dryly observing that, right before us under the Frivolity footlights, there was transpiring an infinitely more epochal event than anyt hing that could possibly be seen outside.
‘We have had other Zeppelin raids,’ he shouted close to my ear, to make himself heard above the uneasy bustle which filled the theatre as the bombs boomed more imminent, ‘but never before in history has man beheld the Frivolity chorus shaken from its traditional languor. But now look! They faint to left and right, and I’m jolly certain that M― does n’t get her cue to embrace G― until the next act. ’Pon my word, I never expected to live to see the waters of this fount of brides for the British peerage so disturbed.’ J —’s voice trailed off into wondering speechlessness.
‘Boom!’ This time it was close at hand, and the rattle of falling débris could be heard above the discordant wail of the mechanically laboring orchestra. Utterly unable to sit still any longer, I shook off J―’s restraining arm and reached a side exit just as two bombs fell, in quick succession, a hundred yards up the Avenue. Again I was conscious of those strange rushes of air from the ‘wrong’ direction which I had experienced during the previous raid. The panes of the upper windows shivered to bits, but the fragments, striking the reinforced glass of the marquee, were robbed of their force before they had caromed to the sidewalk.
On both sides of the Avenue glass was falling in countless tons, — in one great corner building alone, 25,000 pounds of plate glass are estimated to have been shattered, — and there is no doubt that many were killed and injured by being caught under the vitreous avalanche.
Almost immediately, three or four more bombs fell beyond the Avenue, there was another crescendo of falling glass, and then a lone Zeppelin — apparently at the end of its ammunition — headed up and off to the northeast pursued by a single searchlight beam and a scattering gun-fire.
The Frivolity chorus, having been soothed and revived, resumed its wonted demeanor and took up the dropped thread of the performance, and J——, no longer held a fascinated captor by the wonder of its lapse, joined me on the sidewalk to see what had been happening outside. It is a remarkable fact that the great majority of the audience, many of whom had not. stirred from their seats, elected to remain and see the show out. From the three theatres opposite, however, one of which had been struck, considerable numbers were pouring forth. But not in all the now dense crowd in the Avenue were there the symptoms of a panic.
As we stepped from the curb, something tinkled against my foot. Picking it up, it turned out to be a still warm piece of torn steel which J―identified at once as a fragment of the casing of an incendiary bomb. It was not over an eighth of an inch thick, but of such superlative quality that it rang like a silver bell even to the tap of a fingernail. A far more murderous fragment of shivered metal, which J— kicked into a few minutes later, was a piece of shrapnel casing, and there is no doubt that the casualties from anti-aircraftgun projectiles are very considerable.
The police and fire department work was even more remarkable than in the September raid. Not a single tell-tale glow marked the path by which the Zeppelin had come, and the only fire in our immediate vicinity was the spout from another sundered gas main. Barriers already shut off the crowds from the points where the worst damage had been done, and the work of removing the dead and wounded was being carried on quietly and expeditiously.
A bomb falling in the Avenue, midway between a motor bus and a taxi, had taken a heavy toll of the passengers of both, while the two vehicles, still standing upright, had been flattened until their appearance was not unlike that of their respective ‘ property ’ prototypes occasionally employed to give perspective to the stage-setting of a street. A dozen or more dead and wounded lay in a row in front of a gin palace which had collapsed under a bomb; but, as far as we could see or learn, there had been little if any loss of life in the historic old theatre which had been struck.
A sinister coincidence had landed one bomb on a temporary wooden building occupied as Belgian Refugee headquarters. Miraculously, however, although the rickety frame was blown quite out of shape, no fire was started among the small mountains of highly inflammable baggage on which the bomb exploded.
‘The ’Uns ain’t satisfied with wot they did to ’em in Belg’um,’ snorted an indignant coster, viewing the wreck; ‘the baby-killers ’ad to follow ’em to Lunnon.’ This was, I believe, about the nearest thing to ‘hate’ that I heard expressed during the several hours we mingled with the crowds on the streets.
Faring on down the ‘bomb-track’ into that historic section of Old London which lies to the east of the Avenue, we came upon an apparition quite as astounding to me as the spectacle of the ‘panicky’ Frivolity girls had been to J― It was nothing less than a London police constable, hatless, breathless, and so little master of himself that he was unable to respond with the customary‘First to the right, second to the left, and so on ’ formula when we asked him the way to the B―Court, where we had heard there had been heavy damage. Slamming down on the pavement a heavy burden which he carried by a loop of wire, he began jabbering something to the effect that the ‘ bloomin’ pill ’ came down ‘ ’arf a rod ’ from where he stood, and that orders called for the instant fetching of all ‘evidences’ to the nearest station. I switched on my electric-torch, — every body here has carried them since the streets were darkened, — to recoil before the sight of the pear-shaped cone of dented steel toppled over on the cobbles at my feet.
‘Good heavens, man, you’ve got an unexploded bomb!’ I gasped, backing against the wall. ‘What do you mean by slamming it around in that way?’
‘If she did n’t go off after failin’ from the sky, I fancy she can stand a drop of a few inches,’ was the reply. ‘ It is n’t ’avin’ ’er ’ere, sir, that gets my nerves. They went to pieces when she came down and bounced along the pavement in front of where I stood.’
‘Perhaps she has a time fuse, set to go off when she gets a crowd around her,’ said the irrepressible J― by way of encouragement. ‘The Huns are adepts at just such forms of subtlety. Better leave her alone for a spell.’
Shaking in every limb, but still resolved to carry out ‘orders’ to the last, the doughty chap slipped his bleeding fingers through the wire loop and trudged off on his way to the station, staggering under the weight of half a hundred pounds of ‘T.N.T.’1 That he reached there without mishap is evidenced by a flashlight in one of the ‘penny pictorials’ this morning showing both him and his booty at the wicket of the B―Street Police Station.
Two or three times during the next couple of hours searchlight s flashed out to the east and south, and the blink of shrapnel bursting under barely defined patches of pale yellow indicated that the raid was an ambitious one, participated in by many airships. The heart of the city, however, was not reached again. I have it on good authority this morning that a number of bombs were exploded on the works at Woolwich, but even if true, this only goes to show that Britain’s great arsenal, if not less, is at least not more vulnerable than the non-military areas.
If possible, London took this latest raid even more calmly than theprevious one, and the level-headed practicality of the remark of the bus conductor I have quoted — ‘ We ’Ve got a war to fight. Zepps ain’t war; fergit. ’em!’ — may be taken as fairly representing the frame of mind in which the metropolis awaits the really frightful visitation that Germany has promised.
For three months following the October visitation there were no further air raids on England, and it was known that this immunity was due to one or more of four things: the strengthening of Britain’s anti-aircraft defenses, unfavorable weather, the efficacy of the Allies’ reprisals on South German cities, or a dawning realization on the part of Germany that the maximum physical damage which can possibly be inflicted on Great Britain by air raids can never be more than an insignificant fraction of the damage done to the Teutonic cause as a consequence of resorting to this form of terrorism.
As weeks lengthened to months without an attack — even though incessant reports from a score of sources told of feverish Zeppelin construction in all parts of the Kaiser’s dominions — there awakened a hope in the breasts of Germany’s enemies and her friends that the humanitarian consideration had been the moving one. This hope was rudely crushed by the mid-January aeroplane raid—evidently a scouting reconnoissance — upon Kent, and the renewed Zeppelin attacks on Paris and the Midland counties. Subject only to the weather, then, and to such defensive measures as may be taken in France and England, we now know that this least warranted and most cruel of all forms of Teutonic ‘frightfulness’ may be expected to continue until the end of the war.

  1. Trinitrotoluol.