A graphic description of some of the incidents attending the Christmas Day raid on Cuxhaven by seven British seaplanes is given in a letter from Mr Alfred Hoar, naval reservist and native of Slip End. It was in this raid that Lieut Commander Hewlett*, son of Leagrave aeroplane maker Hilda Hewlett, was feared missing but was then rescued by a Dutch trawler.
He wrote: "What a lot has been said about the dirty raid upon Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool [in a German naval bombardment on December 16th, 1914]. Every Englishman feels he would like to avenge the three towns.
"We did not forget them on Christmas morning in that memorable raid on Cuxhaven... We started getting out those deadly birds, the seaplanes, in the still hours, and about 6 am had the satisfaction of seeing seven of them take to the air and proceed on their mission. What a sight it was! We thought of our three towns the Huns had raided and knew that we were attacking strongholds, not unfortified places.
"We left on our return journey as soon as the 'birds' got clear and about 7 am, just as daylight was coming, we saw a Taube [aeroplane] rise up. She began to drop fireballs as a signal that she had sighted the enemy's fleet. No sooner was this done than Taubes and Zeppelins rose up and made straight for us. The order was 'Steam for all we were worth'.
"We were on German minefields and surrounded by their submarines. Away went the fleet of destroyers and we lagged a bit behind. Von Zeppelin took advantage of that and came and paid special attention with two Taubes to our wants. Bombs were dropped from all of them very rapidly, and off scampered the Taubes without a hit. Mr Zeppelin ventured fair over us and he looked very desperate.
"We had been firing rifles and now tried the 12-pounder, but could not get the desired elevation till he dropped a bit astern. His bombs fell but a few feet from us. Owing to the skilful handling of the ship by a very able navigator, he dodged those bombs magnificently.
"When we were in extreme danger, and every man Jack of us thought it was 'all up,' a signal was sent to (ship's name censored) and she turned and sent a well-directed shot from her 6-in, which burst just by the Zeppelin and caused it to veer off out of range.
"We saw many submarines and floating mines, and nothing short of a merciful providence and skilful navigator saved us from total destruction. None of us breathed freely until we reached the desired haven on Boxing Day, and feeling satisfied that we had struck terror into the hearts of the slayers of babes, and let them see that we can reach them when we like."
* The British Consul at Ymuiden in the Netherlands presented £100 on behalf of the British Government to the captain and crew of the Dutch steam trawler Maria Van Hattum who had rescued Commander Hewlett.
[Source: The Luton News, January 21st, 1915]