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Dad’s Christmas Letter Mentions Historic First Aerial Bombing Raid On Mainland Britain

Published on: 24 Dec, 2014
Updated on: 24 Dec, 2014

By David Rose, a Christmas tale from 100 years ago.

Guildford resident Roger Atkinson has a letter written by his father exactly 100 years ago on Christmas Eve 1914 that mentions the first aerial attack on mainland Britain – an historic event that appears to be not that well known!

Roger’s wife Sheila has supplied me with lots of photographs and snippets of historical details relating to her family and Guildford over the years, and while visiting them recently Roger showed me the letter that his father, Charles Francis Atkinson (who was twice married), wrote and sent to his three sons from his first marriage.

Charles Atkinson.

Charles Francis Atkinson.

At the time Charles (later Major Atkinson) wrote the letter he was on military service with the army and based at Dover. The letter was written on Dover’s Grand Hotel headed notepaper, where he was staying.

He writes: “My dear Tony and Keekie. I am just writing you a little letter to say a merry Christmas. You will have to wish Martin the same for me, because you see he is too little to read a letter of his own.

“You must write and tell me about your presents, and then perhaps I will send you something that you have not got, if I can find it in Dover.

“Two days ago a German aeroplane called a Taube came to Dover and threw down some bombs, hoping to hit the Attentive and the Cossack and the other ships here. But they look so small, from high up in the air, that man in the aeroplane missed them and the bombs fell into the waters.

“Today another Taube came and threw a bomb, but again it was high up, for fear of our guns, and it only let a bomb go without knowing where it would land. It fell in a garden, and the noise of the bursting broke the windows of the nearest houses. That was all. It didn’t hurt anybody.

“Good luck to all the little boys, from Daddy.”

The first page of Charles Atkinson's letter.

The first page of Charles Atkinson’s letter.

And the second page.

And the second page.

Charles Atkinson had witnessed something historic indeed. The book, First Blitz by Neil Hanson (published by Doubleday in 2008), describes what actually happened.

It was 10.45am and local auctioneer and valuer Tommy Terson was in his garden near Dover Castle picking sprouts for his Christmas dinner. He heard a loud droning sound and saw a dark shape emerging through the clouds from the direction of the English Channel.

A German seaplane had dropped two bombs in the sea near Admiralty Pier two days before (as also noted by Mr Atkinson in his letter), but this was the first aircraft Tommy Terson had seen. He watched it approach and pass overhead at 50mph. Suddenly, all around him were clouds of dust, smoke and flying metal.

Tommy had been knocked to the ground, but was unharmed apart from a few cuts and bruises. He then saw a still-smoking crater that measured 10 feet by four feet where his vegetable patch had been!

Windows had been blown out of neighbouring houses (also mentioned by Mr Atkinson) and a neighbour of Tommy Terson had been blown out of a tree in which he had been cutting holly for Christmas decorations. He too only suffered minor injuries.

But as Neil Hanson writes in his book: “For the first time ever, the mainland of Britain had been subjected to an attack from the skies, its civilian population deliberately targeted.”

Roger’s father died aged 80 in 1960. An obituary noted that, Major Atkinson, was a former foreign and overseas director of the BBC and was the English translator of Spengler’s Decline of the West. He was the only British historian of naval aspects of the American Civil War. The obituary concluded: “He was a good man, with a heart which matched a wonderful head.”


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