Terrifying First World War air raids subject of Clayhall author’s new book

Author Alan Simpson

Author Alan Simpson - Credit: Vickie Flores/Archant

Like the calm before the storm, the day was still and uneventful.

Residents of Ilford were going about their business, not realising what would happen next.

Moments later, shadows shot across the sky unleashing hundreds of highly explosive bombs on the terrified people below.

These 1915 air raids are largely forgotten in local memory, yet for the inhabitants of the time, the attacks were unprecedented, unexpected and lethal.

While a great deal of literature has been published about London’s first air raid, there is scarcely little written about the raids on east London and Essex during the First World War.

Author Alan Simpson, 55, of Ravensbourne Gardens, Clayhall, has written Air Raids on South-West Essex to counter this.

The meticulously-researched book examines raids in Redbridge and its surrounding boroughs – which were referred to as south-west Essex in 1914 – with particular focus paid to Ilford and Leyton.

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The book investigates what happened before and after the raids, through contemporary letters, diaries, newspaper reports, local sources and previously unseen photographs.

Alan said: “I was originally writing a piece for the Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society.

“As I found out more information, the article grew rapidly and I decided to turn it into a book.”

He spent five years writing the book in his spare time while working at the Royal College of Surgeons.

He sifted through documents in archives to research topics such as London’s defence system and look into reports from combatants on both sides of the war.

“I was surprised how much information was archived in Redbridge Museum, Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow and the national archive,” said Alan.

“They had vast collections of police reports, photos and personal accounts.”

Alan first fell in love with history during an extra-curricular class at Wanstead High School.

He reminisced: “Mrs Bates, or Cybil if you are not taught by her, showed me how to look through archives and access local history.

“Forty years later, I have written my third historical book.”

Available as a hardback and ebook, Air Raids on South-West Essex is on sale now.

Visit pen-and-sword.co.uk for more information.