Everybody knows the hardships the East End endured during the Blitz bombing of the Second World War – Mile End was the victim of the first flying bomb of World War II.
But what many forget is the suffering inflicted during the First World War, when the threat came not from Goering’s Luftwaffe but the Zeppelins of the Kaiser.
The aims of the enemy were similar. Britain, a great maritime nation, was an island dependent on its mighty merchant fleet for much of its foodstuffs and trade.
By bombing London’s docks, the gateway to the UK, the Germans hoped to shatter the British economy, cut off her food supply and, vitally, break her spirit.
Bombing of civilian targets was a radical development in modern warfare but, in May 1915, the Kaiser gave the order to bomb Tower Hamlets.
On the night of May 31, the residents of the East End endured a new horror as a German Army Zeppelin LZ38, captained by Hauptmann Erich Linnarz, dropped explosive and incendiary bombs in a line from Leytonstone to Stepney.
In the absence of a visible enemy, frustrations and anger turned against German immigrants living in the East End. Many of them had fled to London for sanctuary from Eastern Europe and Germany in the decades previously.
Meanwhile, the air campaign went on. On August 17, the navy Zeppelin L10 bombed Walthamstow, Leytonstone and Wanstead. And on the night of October 13, Tower Hamlets suffered again as the Germans launched their heaviest raid yet.
Five navy Zeppelins set out to bomb the East End and the City. For the first time the infant Royal Flying Corps, the magnificent men who went on to become the RAF, launched a defence, attempting to intercept the deadly airships as they closed on the capital.
But it was to no avail. L11, 13, 14, 15 and 16 got through to their target with no loss. 71 people were killed in the devastation around Aldgate High Street and the Minories.
The papers reported growing anti-German tension on the streets. The first serious outbreak came outside Messrs Herman, the cabinetmakers in Dod Street.
A frostbitten young soldier, home from the front, was walking past the works when one of the hands, said to be a German, made “uncomplimentary remarks”.
The East End News takes up the story: “Some women standing about took up the cudgels. About 200 of them assembled round the works and prevented the workmen from loading. This was the beginning of the anti-German riots.”
But the flying corps was at last beginning to get the measure of this new enemy. Lieut. William Leefe Robinson was awarded the Victoria Cross when he became the first pilot to bring down a Zeppelin.
Many more were brought down by the corps’ new explosive bullet in the following months, and the Germans realised the day of their new warfare was already past. The Zeppelin was abandoned.