Friday, 23 September 2016

L32 Zeppelin Comes Down in Flames at Snails Hall Farm, Great Burstead: 24 September 1916

Snails Hall Farm, Great Burstead
Snails Hall Farm, Billericay

Local historians interested in the events of the First World War will instantly recognise that Snails Hall Farm, South Green, Billericay was the location where, on the night of 23/24 September 1916, a fire-damaged enemy Zeppelin (L32) fell killing all the crew on board.

Very recently I was given for online publication an eye-witness account of John Maryon (1897-1975) whose father then occupied the farm.  In September 1916 John, who had been in training for military service, was discharged from hospital having had rheumatic fever.  His bed was needed for the injured from the Battle of the Somme.

“I was given 5 days’ draft leave, which I spent at home.  During the weekend a Zeppelin was brought down and the debris fell into one of our fields.  There were the [entire] crew of 26 men (all dead and mostly burned).  They were put in our adjacent barn, with a lane running hard by.  It was here I saw a disgraceful scene.  Thousands of people had come down by all means of transport, and they were standing 5 deep in the lane outside the barn, wherein lay the German dead.  The front rank had torn the boards off the barn to get a better view and a brisk trade started with the R.A.M.C. and the sightseers for parts of the airmen’s furlined clothing.  This was being cut off by the orderlies laying out the dead, in exchange for money.  My father had about 4 acres of potatoes, which were overrun and looted, and 9 acres of barley trodden flat, and for the remaining year of my father’s lease, he was mending fences to keep his cattle in.  Long after the war, he received a derisory sum in compensation from the government.

“And the next week I went to France on my nineteenth birthday, hardly recovered from my crippling illness …”.  He spent a year away, fighting at Passchendaele.

“I returned from this to my home in Billericay, to find my father was out of his farm, it having been sold over his head, with vacant possession.  In fact he had notice to terminate his year lease soon after the farm had become a shambles from German aircraft and attendant crowds the year previously.”

The events of the war, and the experience of his father, shaped John Maryon’s life.  His account ‘The Political Conversion of John Maryon’ can be read in full online.

Andrew Smith

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