Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World
Bodley Head £20
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT654
THE theme of this book is of particular significance for anyone
interested in the history of the Church Times, in that a
key member of the paper's then editorial staff was a victim of a
wartime bomb. He was Harry King, who was doing duty as a special
constable on the night of 18 December 1917 when he was hit by a
fragment from the bomb; he died in Charing Cross Hospital from the
effect of his injuries.
King had been a member of the Church Times staff for
more than 20 years at the time of his death; he was a skilled
reporter, sub-editor, and descriptive writer. He was also a
stalwart of a well-known Anglo-Catholic church, St John the Divine,
Kennington, where hundreds attended his funeral. I recall learning
much about him from his daughter Marjorie, who inherited his mantle
in the Church Times newsroom, worked there for 20 years,
and, as Marjorie Kunz (she had married a Swiss banker), was a
regular feature-writer up to the time of her death in 1976.
Of course, the bombing of London during the First World War was
but a shadow of the Blitz of the Second; but its effects were no
less terrible when, as in the case of the Church Times's
Harry King, someone known to you might be a victim. Jerry White's
aim in his new book is to describe the daily lives of Londoners as
they coped with the effects of the war. White is London's foremost
historian. He has already written books about the metropolis in the
18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. As one critic put it: "Jerry White
is to London as Boswell is to Johnson." Zeppelin Nights
sets the seal on his writings about the capital.
His chapters describe in fascinating detail the many and varied
ways in which Londoners had to adapt their lives to wartime
conditions. He has much to say on how the churches rose to the
occasion, even if it was only to attempt to cope with the problems
of drink and "harlots".
Leading the Anglican clergy was the Bishop of London, A. F.
Winnington-Ingram, then not yet halfway through his 38-year
episcopal reign. In White's words: "He embodied the alliance
between puritan and patriot that had such influence over the life
of London and the nation during the war." White recalls the
Bishop's notorious address in Westminster Abbey in December 1915,
when, in the words of Adrian Gregory, "he preached what might be
regarded as the most infamous sermon in Anglican history," and
spoke of the nation's great crusade to kill Germans: "to kill them
not for the sake of killing but to save the world . . . to kill
them lest the civilization of the world should itself be
Such words were in striking contrast to the "perfect charity"
that he had urged in a sermon preached in St Paul's Cathedral in
August 1914, on the first Sunday of the war. And he had to back
down hastily when, in connection with the 1916 National Mission of
Repentance and Hope, his original intention to allow women to
preach in churches provoked a furious opposition.
White has painted a vivid portrait of a city transformed by war.
Many of the poor found more money in their pockets than in
peacetime. Women were able to exchange the drudgery of domestic
service for the making of munitions. Hundreds of thousands of
troops passed through the capital on their way to and from the
Front. Endless attempts were made to clamp down on drunkenness by
reducing the hours during which pubs might open. And at night the
city was plunged into darkness in the hope of deterring the
Zeppelins. White's book is likely to rank high among the hundreds
published for this centenary.
Dr Bernard Palmer is a former editor of the