BARWICK BLACKOUT IN WORLD WAR I Back to the Main Historical Society page
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From the Barwicker No.88
Month 20--

Think of the blackout and you immediately conjure up images of the Second World War (1939-1945). You think of cars with blinkers, white lines painted on trees and lampposts and thick curtains in every room of the house. You may have recollections of Air Raid Precaution Wardens (A.R.Ps) who were responsible for ensuring households complied shouting “PUT OUT THAT LIGHT!”. Blackout ensured that no artificial light escaped into the night sky to aid enemy bombers in identifying targets in an age before sophisticated navigation systems were invented.

What appears to be generally not known is that blackout was also introduced during the First World War (1914-1918). Whilst at the start of the War the designs of the biplanes did not lend themselves to bombing raids, the German Zeppelin airships did.

The Zeppelins were cigar-shaped craft about 160m long and 15m in diameter filled with hydrogen gas that is lighter than air and gave them lift. The first ever bombing of civilians took place on the 19th January 1915 when two Zeppelins floated over Great Yarmouth, Sheringham, King’s Lynn and the surrounding villages and dropped twenty-four 50kg high explosive bombs and a number of 3kg incendiaries. Four people were killed and sixteen injured. In May 1915 the Zeppelins started to attack London. Closer to home the Yorkshire Evening Post on February 1st 1916 headlined:



Following the Zeppelin raids of last year, which were believed in many quarters to be trial trips, a fleet of German airships last night invaded this country, and dropped bombs at various place. So far, few details of the damage are available, the War Office announcement said. As usual, the Zeppelins were careful to keep beyond the reach of aviators, by coming in the dark and by keeping at a great height. Up to last night’s visitation there had been 25 air raids on these shores resulting in 182 lives being lost and 461 persons injured.

At this time there was no air raid warning system in place and no shelters. Blackout regulations had obviously been introduced in a piece-meal fashion and to varying degrees. A week later the Yorkshire Evening Post of the 9th February 1916 reported:


An important conference, in which about 150 representatives of public authorities took part in Birmingham this afternoon. The conference is a direct result of the recent air raid, which proved to demonstrate the value of plunging a district into absolute darkness as a means of baffling the Zeppelin pilots.
If the Government would send out a warning as soon as the presence of Zeppelins on the coast was known, the local authorities would then be able to take the necessary steps to plunge their areas into darkness. It is thought that such a warning would not cause great alarm and would enable workpeople and others to get home as speedily as possible.

Of particular concern to the authorities around Barwick would be the close proximity of the Barnbow Munitions Filling Factory located on Manston Lane with its stores of explosives. Blackout appears to be have been enforced with particular zeal in the district .

In the local newspaper, the Skyrack Courier, the edition for the 25th February 1916 includes a report from a correspondent who signs himself “H.C.” concerning Barwick village –


Two special constables have called from door to door demanding that the night lights in the cottages shall not be allowed to illumine the streets even if they were powerful enough to do so.
As a consequence, quite a number of dear old ladies (some, mothers of real men, not specials) are living in constant dread of mythical Zeppelins. Accidents, collisions, and other deeds of darkness are more serious than any probable depredations by the Germany enemy.
In villages where light is so scarce that not one single streetlight is afforded, the act of the “specials” is the result of mis-interpretation of the Government order.

This was a totally new and terrifying threat and I can imagine the “dear old ladies” and many others lying in bed on dark nights expecting to be blown to smithereens at any moment. Whilst “H.C.” was correct that accidents did occur due to the darkness it did prove a valuable tactic in protecting the public from air attacks.

Amazingly the Authorities initial response was to fly aircraft above the Zeppelins and drop bombs onto them. This had some success but the introduction of fighter aircraft with synchronised, front mounted machine guns in mid-1916 and strategically placed ground based anti-aircraft guns thankfully sounded the end of the Zeppelin attacks.


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