You could be forgiven for thinking that air-raids on Edinburgh were a Second World War 'thing'. However, terror came from the skies in April 1916, in the form of a Zeppelin raid on the capital, it caused carnage and lasting fear.
On the evening of Sunday 2ndApril, 1916 the inhabitants of Edinburgh and Leith were subjected to a small dose of the terror being endured by their menfolk on the Western Front and elsewhere.
Around 7pm an advanced warning was received by Edinburgh City Police warning of the possibility of an air attack. Around three hours later confirmation was received and the Army warned the police and local authorities to take air raid action.
The standard signal to alert the public was to dip the gas pressure to dim the house and street lighting. All regular and Special Constables were called out and placed on high alert for the expected raid.
Despite the warnings many people were out on the street, mainly out of idle curiosity as Edinburgh had never experienced an air raid before, in any case most people rightly presumed that the Fleet anchored in the Forthwas the target, not the city which had few military targets.
Just after 11pm an attempt was made to attack the ships at anchor but the fire from their guns and the glare of their searchlights drove the attackers off. Reports in the papers of the time state that there was a perfect ‘bomber’s moon’ however scientific data actually records that there was a new moon, the total opposite.
Put off by the heavy fire in the Forth the L14 and L20 lumbered their way inland toward Leith and the City of Edinburgh, despite warnings from the police many people were out in the street gauping at the massive machine as they drifted over the city.
Wonderment turned to fear as the Zeppelins proceeded to bomb the area for nearly half an hour.
In Leith a bomb struck a bonded warehouse starting a huge fire as the spirit stored fire caught fire. A number of bombs were dropped at random over Leith and one which landed on a railway siding killed a baby with it’s blast in a nearby house.
Moving into Edinburgh the first bomb, all of which were small and hand launched, was dropped in East Clermont Street, ironically near the Drill Hall of the 9th Royal Scots, although there was no way it could be identified from the air.
The bomb landed on waste land destroying a large shed, and smashed dozens of windows.
The Zeppelin then steered over the Old Town and dropped it’s next bomb in Lauriston Place where it struck a school wrecking the janitor’s house and again smashing dozens of windows. Another bomb, this time an incendiary, fell in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh but was quickly dealt with causing no damage.
The County Hotel in Lothian Road was struck destroying the roof an upper floors, remarkablyonly one manwas hurt. Moving east over Princes Street Gardens the Zeppelin set it’s sights on Edinburgh Castle, the One O’Clock gun was allegedly fired at the Zeppelin with blank rounds, this would appear to be the stuff of urban myth and in reality it probably wasn’t fired. A bomb was dropped on the Castle Rock unsurprisingly doing no damage to the Castle but breaking a lot of windows on Castle Terrace.
Overflying the Castle brought the Zeppelin over the Grassmarket and on to the Southside, this is where the most damage and casualties were sustained. A bomb fell on the pavement outside the White Hart Hotel, four people were injured and one of them died. In Marshall Street a bomb hit the pavement outside a tenement block outside number 16, six people were killed and another 7 were injured.
A further bomb struck Haddon’s Court in Nicolson Street injuring three people. Moving away toward the King’s Park a Zeppelin dropped a series of bombs, the first of which struck the tenement at 69 St Leonards Hill killing a baby and injuring two adults.
Coming under machine gun fire from Arthur’s Seat the Zeppelin jettisoned the rest of it’s bombs in the park and turned away towards the North Sea.
And so ended the one and only raid on Edinburgh during the Great War. It caused public outcry and outrage, no doubt it also spread fear amongst the civilian population. No one was safe from the deadly grasp of total war.
Dr McLaren got a rude awakening when a high explosive bomb struck the roof of his house at 39 Lauriston Place, it destroyed the roof and part of the wall, but fortunately no one was injured.
The next bomb landed in the playground of George Watson’s College, this appears to have been a bigger bomb and destroyed all the classrooms on the ground and first floor.
The Zeppelins then headed to the Southside where another bomb was dropped hitting the tenement block at number 183 Causewayside. The building was badly damaged and four people were taken to the Infirmary with injuries, a 71 year old woman died the next day apparently from shock. The Macadam laundry next door was heavily damaged as well.
The next bomb fell a few streets away in Marchmont Crescent, the bomb went straight through the roof to the ground floor of the building but failed to explode. Swinging away to the West End, a bomb was dropped in open ground near Belford Place, every window in the street was blown in. Another landed in the Water of Leith and damaged houses in Coltbridge Gardens.
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