Slow worm

Slow worm killed by the Cuffley zeppelin crash in September 1916.

The biggest obstacle to any invader of Britain was the English Channel and the development of a variety of flying machines in the early twentieth century meant that for the first time the Royal Navy alone could not defend Britain’s shores. Several air raids by zeppelins took place over Hertfordshire during the First World War.

On the night of the 13th October 1915, England experienced one of the worst air raids of the First World War, when five German Zeppelins flew in formation with the intention of bombing London. One of the Zeppelin commanders, Oberleutnant-zur-See Werner Peterson, became lost and, mistaking the curve of the river Lea for the Thames, dropped 48 incendiary and explosive bombs on Hertford.

Bombs landed on the Folly, in Bull Plain outside Lombard House, near Old Cross and along North Road where iron railings were sent flying through the windows of Hertford County Hospital. Nine people were killed in the zeppelin attack on Hertford: seven working men, one soldier and a four year old boy. Unusually their names are all listed on the Hertford War Memorial.

This slow worm was killed after another air raid on the night of the 2-3rd September 1916. Sixteen airships took part in the raid but bad weather meant they were scattered across the countryside. One of the airships, SL11, was skirting the north of London when it was spotted by Lieutenant Leefe Robinson, a ‘B’ Flight, 39 Squadron Home Defence pilot, based at Suttons Farm, Essex.

Robinson stalked the giant airship and successfully engaged it as it flew over Enfield. After several attempts he was able to fire point blank into the airship which went down in a flaming mass lighting up the night sky above London. The SL11 plunged to earth close to the little village of Cuffley.

This, the first destruction of a German airship over England, heralded much rejoicing, for up to then the airship raiders were considered invulnerable. Overnight Lieutenant Leefe Robinson became the hero of the hour, and was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross by a grateful nation.