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WW1 history revealed: Zeppelin tragedy kills soldiers on British soil

Earlier this month we reported exclusively on a First World War postcard find in the loft of a house in Prestwich.

These incredible social documents, now extremeley rare, were written by Private John Morley of the 2/8th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment based at Ardwick Green to his sweetheart Miss Mary Millett.

Jane Robinson, who is John Morley’s grandaughter, contacted us from Germany to claim the long lost family heirlooms.

She told us about a postcard that she had which was written by John to his parents in Manchester in which he said that he had been told: “60 Derby men at Cleethorpes were blown to bits by a Zepha last week. I don’t think it was published.”

Watch: Video: Rare WW1 lover postcards found in attic

We investigated this further and came upon a fascinating piece of history that relates to the Manchester Regiment – a terrible, unheard-of tragedy that was to befall them whilst they were still stationed on English soil.

At 1.30am on 1 April 1916, Zeppelin L22 commanded by Kapitanleutnant Martin Dietrich was seen approaching Cleethorpes from a south-easterly direction.

His intention had been to attack London and East Anglia but due to engine problems he aborted his original mission, instead moving to attack Grimsby docks.

Having passed over Cleethorpes, the airborne machine dropped a flare which fell on the river end of the pier, and turning back over the railway station, it then dropped three bombs which hit the Baptist Chapel, on Alexandra Road, the council office at the corner of Cambridge Street, the third falling in Sea View Street.

Normally, the Baptist Chapel would have been empty at this time in the morning, but on that morning the place of worship was full of soldiers from 3rd Battalion the Manchester Regiment, who were billeted there.

The first bomb, falling on the slate roof of the Chapel, detonated on impact demolished approximately half the roof – a large part of which then fell down through the building into the area where the soldier were standing-to.

The upper part of the wall and the huge coping stone from the church’s north end were blown on to the corrugated iron roof of the shops in which the men of “A” Company were quartered.

Of the men billeted there, 31 were killed, 53 badly injured and of the survivors, only four escaped without injury and that was only because they had been playing cards in the cellar.

Of the men killed, three had only been in the Army for a few days and two of them were due for discharge as they had served their 21 years.

How ironic that these men who had joined the army to fight the enemy would die on English soil before having the chance to fight in a foreign land.

A newspaper report of the time read: “Volunteers manned the stretchers that carried the victims out of the devasted building into the waiting ambulances and, as each one was removed the stretchers were tipped over, leaving a stream of blood running down the gutters a gruesome sight for those in attendence”.

The men killed came from all over Greater Manchester, including Oldham and Gorton and are buried in the municipal cemetery in Cleethorpes with a monument to them.

It was good to read that that the people of Cleethorpes remember these unfortunate men in a yearly service at the cemetery.

Finally, there is a stained-glass memorial window in the rebuilt Baptist Chapel in the Manchester Chapel which reads: “To the Glory of God and in lasting memory of the men of the Manchester Regiment, who lost their lives in this building on the 1st April 1916.”

Read: Joy as SalfordOnline.com reunites WW1 family with long lost soldier’s life

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.