Researching and Recording Air Raids
Air raids conducted during the First World War are one of the most overlooked aspects of the war. The sites associated with the air war still remain to be thoroughly researched and recorded. You can help to build up a picture of how air raids affected the country throughout the war by mapping the areas where bombs fell.
As a direct response to air raids airfields, anti-aircraft gun batteries and searchlight emplacements were constructed to counter the threat of airborne raiders. Many of these sites also remain to be rediscovered and recorded. Mapping such defences will enable us to recreate the aerial defence networks of the First World War.
There are a number of free on-line resources which will help you to conduct some preliminary research which will allow you to re-discover and record Air Raid sites for Home Front Legacy.
The first step is to identify sites in your local area. A good place to start is the ‘Britain’s First Blitz’ website created by Ian Castle. This website features detailed accounts of all air raids against Britain during World War One. These accounts highlight buildings hit by bombs, along with the sites of anti-aircraft batteries and other defences.
It’s also worth noting that local archives often hold copies of newspapers from the First World War and these can be very useful for finding out more about where bombs fell.
An Index which highlights places mentioned in the accounts, along with the dates of the associated air raid can also be found on the website (Please note that this feature isn’t yet complete).
Once you have identified a location you can then view the account for the associated air raid. The accounts follow the journey of the airship or aircraft, outlining their route and the locations they attacked. The account will frequently mention the areas where bombs fell, buildings hit by bombs, as well as military sites involved in the raid; all of which can be recorded for Home Front Legacy.
This account for the air raid of the night of 8/9 August 1916 mentions a number of sites, including the location of an anti-aircraft gun and the streets hit by bombs from Zeppelin L.24.
One of the buildings mentioned in this account, Salmons Hall, was damaged by a stick of 6 High Explosive Bombs dropped by Zeppelin L.31. The bombs smashed windows and damaged the gable end of the building. We shall investigate this site further.
Finding Your Site
Once you have found a site you would like to record you can start to investigate the site’s location. Old maps are great for finding lost sites and confirming the location and survival of remaining sites.
Basic on-line research shows that Salmons Hall, also known as Marsden Cottage, was located to the South-East of South Shields. Unfortunately the Hall was demolished in 1937, however the site can still be located and recorded for Home Front Legacy.
The National Library of Scotland’s on-line map explorer is a very simple to use tool which allows you to explore a large number of historic maps for free. It is best to use the ‘Explore Georeferenced Maps’ setting when looking for your site.
The first step you can take to find your site is to search for any nearby cities, towns or villages. The search function in the menu to the right hand side of the screen can be used to find the general area of your chosen site.
The OS Six Inch, 1888-1913 is the best map to use when investigating sites associated with the First World War, this map is the default mapping layer.
The ‘Change transparency of overlay’ tool allows you to set the transparency of the mapping layer, making it possible to see both the old map and underlying modern aerial photographs. This is very useful when locating individual buildings.
A search for ‘South Shields’ moves the map to South Shields, Tyne and Wear. The names of large houses and farms are noted on the map and it is simply a matter of looking in the area highlighted during the research phase. Salmons Hall, noted on the map as Marsden Cottage, is soon located. The current location of this site can now be confirmed using the ‘Change transparency of overlay’ tool.
A six-figure grid reference can also be gained by hovering the cursor over the location and consulting the window in the bottom right hand corner of the map. This grid reference is noted and can be used to find the site in the Home Front Legacy recording app.
Simply input the grid reference into the ‘Gazetteer’ search function.
The Imperial War Museum Collections website features a large number of images showing air raid damage and the sites of anti-aircraft guns. These reveal many sites damaged through air raids, along with the date the raid occurred.
Make sure the images can be shared and re-used under the terms of the IWM Non Commercial Licence.
Creating Your Record
There are a number of important things to remember when recording air raid sites with the Home Front Legacy recording app. Be sure to check out the Home Front Legacy Site Recording Guide. This guide features a series of Youtube ‘toolbox talk’ training videos which will teach you how to use the app, and also demonstrate how to record your site using visual observations and photography.
Location- An accurate Grid reference is essential for any record you create, this is particularly important when recording buildings in a built up area. Ensure that your grid reference is accurate by checking the location of the green pin.
Site Name- If the building you are recording was known by another name include this in the ‘Other Names’ section.
Site Description- Include as much information as possible in your site description. You may also include the history of the building in question or the details of the regiment manning Anti-Aircraft guns. The date of the air raid, the times the bombs fell and damage to the building are also useful pieces of information to include in your record. It is also very important to mention anyone killed or injured during the attack on your site, as this can help preserve the memories of those who suffered as a result of air raids.
Photographs- Photographs of the site can be attached to the record under the ‘Attach Site Files’ section of the app with the option ‘Site Photograph’. Only attach photographs if you have the permission of the Copyright holder.
If attaching images from the Imperial War Museum Collection ensure that the Copyright reference, e.g. © IWM (Q 676), is quoted in the Caption field under ‘Attach Site Files’.
Associated People- Mention the names of anyone injured or killed along with any further information about these people.
Associated Sources- Attach any sources of information you have used or provide links to the summary from the ‘Britain’s First Blitz’ website.
Over To You
You can also explore the recorded ‘Bomb Sites’ further on our ‘Map of Sites’ below (If the Red Pins are not visible press the ‘Search’ button).
You can find out more about Air Raids, Airfields and Anti-Aircraft Gun positions in the Council for British Archaeology’s latest practical handbook: ‘The Home Front in Britain 1914-18- An Archaeological Handbook’
The CBA Practical Handbook ‘The Home Front in Britain 1914-18- An Archaeological Handbook’ features a wealth of information about both coastal and inland defences during the First World War.
Available from Oxbow Books