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BILLY THE BIRDMAN EPISODE THREE – HORNCHURCH AIRMAN DOWNS KILLER AIRSHIP

June 4, 2014

Untitled-1BLESS ‘EM ALL, the long and the short and the tall.
Well the Queen’s Theatre’s next Community Musical in July, certainly has more than enough local actors that fit that description.
Colin and Sam Episode three wPerhaps going to the extreme is 11-year-old Sam Woodgate from Cranham, weighing in a under five feet and man mountain Colin Daly 55, from Bow, whom we think is well over six fee tall but no one has a ladder tall enough to measure him.
Both ‘boys’ ( pictured right) are appearing in Paper Planes being directed by Patrick O’Sullivan, head of the education department, and is now in full swing with rehearsals.
It is the story of an heroic flyer from World War One, William Leefe Robinson.
Flying out of Suttons Farm in 1916, he was the first British airman to shoot down and send a bombing German airship plunging to the ground in fireball.
For this our her was awarded the highest medal for bravery, The Victoria Cross.
Led by Patrick O’Sullivan, head of the education department, he is now in full swing with Paper Planes, the story of an heroic flyer from World War One, William Leefe Robinson.
This is Sam’s second Community Musical and he admits to being the opposite of shy. His cheeky smile is like a homing beacon and he will be part of the younger players telling the story of William Leefe Robinson’s early years.
“I love being on stage,” he said, and the trouper of many productions at Upminster Junior school is ready for anything.
Colin on the other hand travels to every rehearsal from Bow and is a dedicated player in this his sixth play at the Queen’s.
He said: “I love it. It’s just great being a part of something as good as this.”
The story is another specially written musical by Havering writers, Dave Ross, Gerry Sweeney and Patrick O’Sullivan. Dave is also working with maestro Steven Marwick to produce another batch of memorable songs, and the latest exciting addition to the team of professionals, is Cut to the Chase actor and brilliant choreographer, Liz Marsh..
Paper Planes will run from Wednesday July 30 for five performances and finishes on Saturday August 2 with a matinee and evening performances.
Tickets are £10 to £15 with concessions and available from box office on 01708 443333, or online at queens-theate.co.uk.
Tickets can be booked now and it seems a lot of regulars are doing just that, so it is worth getting your seats now.
Leefe_Robinson_after LS11 went downIn the second episode:
Thousands of Londoners were watching the uneven gladiatorial display in the night sky between William Leefe Robinson in his tiny aeroplane and the massive bulbous cigar shaped killer airship that seemed to be totally invincible. With mounting excitement at the impending battle, a massive audible groan was heard as Hauptmann Schramm took SL11 into cloud and disappeared from sight.

Now read on:
Lieut_Leefe_Robinson paintingThe searchlights swung frantically from side to side desperately trying to regain contact with the Germans, encouraged by thousands of voices of despair from the watchers. Then suddenly, it reappeared from the cloud and every gun instantly burst into action hurling explosive burning ordinance that brought the sky alive with deadly flashes and noise.
Despite the barrage, Robinson ( pictured left and above with his fellow pilots) continued his flight path though his plane was seen to be rocked by the masses of explosions.
He had prepared his first drum of the new ammunition and riddled the entire length of the airship with bullets. SL11 seemed unaffected by the strafing, so Robinson fitted the second drum to his machine gun and raked the giant a second time but again with not visible effect.
The newspaper reports described the spectators view as ‘like a midge fluttering round a lamp, vainly beating its wings against a glowing bulb.’
Billy the Birdman had one drum of the special ammunition left and little fuel to deliver it, but changing his head-on tactics he dived slightly below the airship. Heading for the twin rudders that guided the craft, he poured the entire drum into one localised area. By then the ground gunners were silent and matched by the awe struck spectators where it was said the lowest whisper could be heard.
Thousands of hushed faces stared longingly into the cathedral of light thousands of feet above their heads, seemingly willing the airship’s destruction.
Getty exploding airshipNot knowing anything about incendiary explosive bullets, they watched agonisingly as the airship seemed to be unaffected and gently floating away .
They could not have imagined the effect of the streaming flashes of deadly incendiary bullets ripping into the cotton skin, which became apparent when a dull pink glow started to show at the back of the airship.
In seconds the entire tail section of the ship erupted with 100 foot sheets of flame bursting out of the fuselage and followed immediately by thousands of cubic feet of volatile hydrogen gas igniting and turning the night sky into day. above a painting of the event. Getty Images)
It was 2.30am on Sunday September 3 and 12,500 feet above London, a German airship on a bombing raid had, for the first time, been completely destroyed in the most spectacular fashion. Reduced to a deathly conflagration of pyrotechnics and slowly plunging into the ground in a ball of fire.
There have been many attempts then and since to describe the total euphoria from the watching gallery. Nothing of equal enormity had ever been witnessed as LS11 disintegrated before their eyes. The shock was a spontaneous and instantaneous outburst of relief as the ‘baby killer’ airship was brought to its knees in a flaming funeral pyre in the sky. (pictures below, the wreckage in Cuffley drew thousands of sight seers, and the 15 crew are given a military funeral).
SL11_wreckage_CuffleyZeplin_SL11_crew_burialThis single event swept away the fear and horror of the previous two years with a gasp of retribution for the terror and death they had caused, and Londoners screamed in relief as the terrible victory was gained by the lone RFC pilot. Britain was at last fighting back, and the burning wreckage of victory was laying in field in Hertfordshire.
Robinson landed, filled out his report, and then went to bed.

REPORT ON NIGHT PATROL
From: Lieut. Robinson
Sutton’s Farm
To: The Officer Commanding
39 H.D. Squadron.
Sir,
I have the honour to make the following report on Night Patrol made by me on the night of the 2nd-3rd instant. I went up at about 11.8 p.m. on the night of the 2nd with instructions to patrol between Sutton’s Farm and Joyce Green.
I climbed to 10,000 feet in 53 minutes, I counted what I thought were ten sets of flares—there were a few clouds below me but on the whole it was a beautifully clear night. I saw nothing till 1.10 a.m. when two searchlights picked up a Zeppelin about S.E. of Woolwich. The clouds had collected in this quarter and the searchlights had some difficulty in keeping on the aircraft. By this time I had managed to climb to 12,900 feet, and I made in the direction of the Zeppelin which was being fired on by a few anti-aircraft guns—hoping to cut it off on its way eastward. I very slowly gained on it for about ten minutes—I judged it daily_sketch_Sep1916to be about 800 feet below me and I sacrificed my speed in order to keep the height. It went behind some clouds avoided the searchlights and I lost sight of it. After 15 minutes fruitless search I returned to my patrol. I managed to pick up and distinguish my flares again. At about 1.50 a.m. I noticed a red glow in N.E. London. Taking it to be an outbreak of fire I went in that direction.
At 2.5 a.m. a Zeppelin was picked up by the searchlights over N.N.E. London (as far as I could judge).
Remembering my last failure I sacrificed height (I was still 12,900 feet) for speed and made nose down in the direction of the Zeppelin. I saw shells bursting and night tracer shells flying around it. When I drew closer I noticed that the anti-aircraft aim was too high or too low; also a good many some 800 feet behind—a few tracers went right over. I could hear the bursts when about 3,000 feet from the Zeppelin. I flew about 800 feet below it from bow to stern and distributed one drum along it (alternate New Brock and Pommeroy). It seemed to have no effect; I therefore moved to one side and gave it another drum distributed along its side—without apparent effect. I then got behind it (by this time I was very close-500 feet or less below) and concentrated one drum on one part (underneath rear) I was then at a height of 11,500 feet when attacking Zeppelin.
I hardly finished the drum before I saw the part fired at glow. In a few seconds the whole rear part was blazing. When the third drum was fired there were no searchlights on the Zeppelin and no anti-aircraft was firing.
I quickly got out of the way of the falling blazing Zeppelin and being very excited fired off a few red Very’s lights and dropped a parachute flare.
Having very little oil and petrol left I returned to Sutton’s Farm, landing at 2.45 a.m.
On landing I found I had shot away the machine gun wire guard, the rear part of the centre section and had pierced the rear main spar several times.
I have the honour to be
Your obedient servant
W. L. Robinson, Lieut.
No. 39 Sqdn. R.F.C.

reference: The Royal Worcester Regiment Museum Archive

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