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Compass points way to history

PUBLISHED: 16:00 14 November 2008 | UPDATED: 12:17 03 July 2010

WHEN you think of air raids, shocking images of second world war devastation naturally spring to mind.

But an aircraft compass that comes up at auction tomorrow is a poignant reminder that Norfolk families were first facing terror from the skies - from Germany's giant Zeppelins - during the first world war.

WHEN you think of air raids, shocking images of second world war devastation naturally spring to mind.

But an aircraft compass that comes up at auction tomorrow is a poignant reminder that Norfolk families were first facing terror from the skies - from Germany's giant Zeppelins - during the first world war.

The compass, expected to fetch more than £1,000 at the Blyth Auctioneers' sale in Ely, Cambridgeshire, comes from the De Havilland DH-4 aircraft, piloted by Maj Egbert Cadbury, of Cadbury's chocolate family fame, which shot down Zeppelin L70 off the north Norfolk coast during the last air raid of the war on August 5, 1918.

The compass, mounted on oak board with the words Cadbury The Zepp Destroyer across the top, will be auctioned with a letter from the Imperial War Museum documenting the historic episode.

It is being sold by Chris Minns, of Cambridgeshire, whose great uncle, believed to have worked at the air base where the biplane was dismantled after the war, claimed it as a souvenir.

Tim Blyth, director of Blyth and Co, said: “This is a real piece of local history and a tangible link to the sometimes forgotten home front here in Norfolk in the Great War. It is absolutely unique.”

He said interest had been expressed by the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and there had already been two firm bids for the compass ahead of the sale.

Yarmouth area museum officer James Steward yesterday expressed his interest in making the compass a striking addition to the display on Zeppelin attacks in the town's Time and Tide museum.

He said: “Items relating to Zeppelins are highly collectable and appearance at auction are relatively rare. Cadbury's compass is a truly unique artefact and embodies the courage of Maj Cadbury during his service.

“There is something about airships that captures the public imagination and I've read of a new generation of Zeppelin airships that, it is proposed, will carry tourists over London in the near future. If this goes ahead the interest in the history of airships and ephemera relating to them will inevitably increase.

“It is hoped that the compass remains in Norfolk to tell the story of a real local hero.”

A photograph of Maj Cadbury, who went on to wed a vicar's daughter in nearby Gorleston, is displayed in the museum alongside an aluminium cigarette box which the flying ace had made out of parts from the last Zeppelin shot down following its recovery off the Lincolnshire coast.

The museum chronicles the first air attack on Britain on January 19, 1915 when the Zeppelins silently crossed the North Sea at an altitude of 6,000m before descending to drop bombs on Yarmouth.

Among those alive today who can remember that first raid is Henry Allingham - Britain's oldest first world war veteran at 112 - who was serving in Yarmouth with the Royal Naval Air Service.

During his visit to Time and Tide three years ago, Mr Allingham said of the attack which took two lives and injured countless others: “There are some things you want to forget but never forget.”

During the early war years, planes struggled to combat the monstrous airships and pilots even contemplated such desperate measures as ramming them.

But by the end of the war they were armed with incendiary ammunition which was used in the final attack by Maj Cadbury and his air gunner, Capt Robert Leckie.

Five airships were intercepted by British biplanes and the L70 - one of the latest Zeppelins, whose crew included the head of the German airship service, Peter Strasser - was attacked by Maj Cadbury's plane at 17,000ft and plummeted in flames into the sea.

Maj Cadbury had downed Zeppelin L21 off Lowestoft in 1916 and witnessed the top gunner leaping to his death from the nose of the doomed airship.


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