Ilford’s very own zeppelin hunter

Inspirational war effort posters used the eerie image of the zeppelin - known as 'the baby-killer' -

Inspirational war effort posters used the eerie image of the zeppelin - known as 'the baby-killer' - to inspire young men to join the army - Credit: Archant

In this week’s heritage column, historian John Barfoot tells the story of Alfred de Bathe Brandon, who brought down a German zeppelin while based at Hainault in 1916.

The 100th anniversary of the Great War last month included the riotous celebration as a dreaded ‘Zepp’ fell in an enormous fireball on the outskirts of London.

Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson, from Suttons Farm aerodrome, made Hornchurch and Cuffley famous overnight.

Six months earlier, on Friday 31st March 1916, 2nd Lieut. Alfred de Bathe Brandon on patrol from Hainault Farm aerodrome, Ilford, was making his first true night flight, when he pursued and attacked Zeppelin L.15 of the Imperial German Navy.

The Zeppelin was damaged by anti-aircraft fire and began losing height.

This enabled Brandon to coax his BE2c biplane to climb above the Zeppelin and release Rankin explosive darts.

Attempting to reach the safety of occupied Belgium, the London bombing L.15, once pride of the Imperial Navy, with its back broken, fell in the sea off Westgate; all but one member of the crew being rescued alive by the Royal Navy.

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The pilot from the Ilford aerodrome was awarded a Military Cross, for his role in the destruction of the L.15 that night.

Had the Zeppelin commander decided to save his crew and land his stricken craft, it would have been the first of the ‘Baby Killers’ to fall on British soil.

In the autumn of 1916, Brandon now commanding C Flight, 39 Squadron at Hainault Farm aerodrome, was award a D.S.O at an investiture at Buckingham Palace.

He received the award for attacking another Zeppelin, the L.33, forced to land at Little Wigborough, Essex, on 24th September.

The twenty two crew members, surrendered to the local Police constable.

Brandon had been born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1841 and educated in England, later to read law at Trinity College, Cambridge, before being called to the bar at London’s Middle Temple in 1906.

Returning to New Zealand, he joined the family law practice in Wellington, until the outbreak of the Great War, when he returned to England to enlist.

Major A. de B. Brandon, D.S.O, M.C, survived the war and returned home to New Zealand.