Zeppelin airships were the new menace of World War One, putting British civilians in the firing line from the sky. The town of Luton itself was spared any death and destruction from the new threat, but a Zeppelin did drop bombs in the grounds of Luton Hoo on September 24th, 1916 - perhaps the Germans knew that the Hoo was a military HQ. One of the Zeppelin bomb craters at the Hoo is pictured.
It was the second of five recorded Bedfordshire close encounters with Zeppelins in September and October 1916. Bombs were dropped at Dunstable, Kensworth, Leighton Buzzard and Bedford with a few broken windows as the only casualties.
Twenty years later, The Luton News of September 24th, 1936, recalled the Hoo bombing. Its report said most people still had a vivid memory of the deep, incessant roar of the engines from an unseen shape overhead, darkened streets, "specials" on duty, and prosecutions at the police court for lights carelessly shown.
The report went on: "The district was singularly fortunate. Bombs were dropped in the Luton Hoo park, at Dunstable, Kensworth and Leighton Buzzard, but nobody was hurt and the sum total of damage to property was a few smashed window panes.
"The first Zeppelin flew over Luton on the night of September 2nd, 1916. On that night 16 started to raid the English coast and the one which passed over Luton ended in flames at Cuffley - the first success gained by the air defences of London. The blaze was seen from Luton.
"The airship came to Luton from Hitchin and turned to approach London from the north-west. Sighting bombs were dropped at London Colney, but did no damage.
"The same night another Zeppelin passed over Flitwick and made off towards Hitchin.
"On September 24th, bombs were dropped near Bedford and Leighton Buzzard, where no damage was done. The Zeppelin passed over Luton on its return to the coast.
"On another occasion the L52 airship dropped a bomb at Kensworth which did no more than smash some glass in a cottage.
"On October 1st, Luton people had another thrill when a Zeppelin crashing in flames at Potters Bar was clearly seen. The district was lit up by the flames.
"A crowd on the [Luton] railway bridge cheered as the blazing mass fell. It was also seen from the top of Beech Hill, at Round Green, on the Downs at Dunstable, at Edlesborough and at Silsoe."
On Sunday, June 17th, 1917, Zeppelin L48 was brought down in flames near Theberton in East Anglia. A souvenir illustrated brochure of the wreckage was produced by photographer J. S. Waddell. A pdf version is available to view in Media Files (above left).
[For the full Zeppelin story visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeppelin ]