Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Postman's Park (7): Alfred Smith


Police Constable Alfred Smith was killed during an air raid while evacuating a street in Finsbury and ensuring that women from a factory took cover. The date may be a little surprising, though: 13 June 1917. While air raids over London are associated with the Second World War, there had been some during the 1914-18 war too, mainly carried out by Zeppelins.

The first raid on London took place on 31 May 1915 in the East End, killing six people. Defences were soon improved and blackout regulations put in place. Losses of Zeppelins were heavy. However, 1917 saw a new form of attacker: squadrons of Gotha aeroplanes. Casualties were much higher than those for Zeppelin raids; London's first and worst was that which killed PC Smith. He was one of 162 dead, with many more wounded. The attack had taken place in broad daylight, when streets and buildings were busy - among the casualties were 16 children killed by a direct hit on their school. Only one of the squadron of 22 aeroplanes which made the attack was brought down.

The air raid of 13 June was to have two unintended effects. First was the strengthening of the RAF, which led to heavy losses of Gothas and the end of daytime bombing. The second unexpected consequence was that rather than destroying morale, the attacks on civilians increased popular hostility to the Germans. Overall, the effect of air raids on Britain in World War One was of limited military significance - a fact which perhaps makes the loss of life even more poignant.

ALFRED SMITH, POLICE CONSTABLE, WHO WAS KILLED IN AN AIR RAID WHILE SAVING THE LIVES OF WOMEN AND GIRLS, JUNE 13 1917

For all Postman's Park posts, click here.

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