Can you help to uncover background of Lowestoft’s first air raid victim?
13:16 22 June 2014
In the First World War, Lowestoft was targeted by Zeppelin raids. Only one person died as a result but, to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the war, efforts are being made to ensure she is properly remembered.
Two local historians are hoping that the forthcoming events to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War will draw attention to the fact that Lowestoft’s only air raid victim from the Great War lies buried in an unmarked grave.
Bob Collis, historical research officer for the Lowestoft Aviation Society, and Dr John Greenacre, who is First World War centenary outreach co-ordinator for the University Campus Suffolk, have joined forces to highlight the unfortunate circumstances which led to local woman Helen Cook being buried in what is now an unmarked and overgrown grave in the centre of Lowestoft Cemetery.
Miss Cook, whose address was given as 86, High Street, was killed on the night of August 9, 1915 when a high explosive bomb dropped by Zeppelin L11 scored a direct hit on a house in Lovewell Road.
Three people were rescued from the rubble of an adjacent house.
The airship also caused damage in Wellington Road and Lorne Park Road, dropping 12 bombs over the town.
Mr Collis said finding the grave had been a task in itself.
“Despite having the grave location from the Waveney District Council online burial index, the absence of any markers made it extremely difficult to pinpoint and I’m indebted to John for his help in this direction,” he said.
“Having a detailed map of all the Great War service graves there, he was able to use this to locate what turned out to be an unmarked grave. Why is the grave unmarked? We can only speculate. It may be that her family could not afford a headstone or that a temporary wooden cross or marker was never replaced after her parents – assuming they were local people – died?”
Some of the details of the Zeppelin raid that night, by five Germany Navy airships, were provided by historian Nigel Parker, whose two-volume work Gott Strafe England (God Strike England), a complete history of the air raids on Britain in World War One, is being published later this year.
Mr Collis and Dr Greenacre agree it would be fitting to mark the centenary of the raid and commemorate Miss Cook’s death by placing a memorial on the grave, but first they have to try to trace any relatives.
They know very little about Helen Grace Cook apart from the fact she was 20 years old and her entry in the burial register describes her as a “spinster”. But the pair are hoping someone might be able to provide further clues to her background, or point them to members of her family.
Chris Brooks, chairman of the Jack Rose Old Lowestoft Society, has given his support to the project.
He said: “Helen Cook’s story is important, being remarkable that she was the sole victim of air raids during the whole war, especially when many people undertook spontaneous voluntary night time evacuation to sleep at the homes of friends and relations in the neighbouring villages of the immediate rural areas around the town – so great was the imminent fear of attacks at night from the airship bomb launchers on their lives.
“Her story is significant in that she was the first of many Lowestoft residents who lost their lives to enemy action during the two world wars of the twentieth century.
“She represents the innocent vulnerability of the general population along the British east coast towns suddenly coming under threat and awakened to the new era of indiscriminate terrorism of warfare that was then happening... well away from the front-line battlefields.
“It makes you wonder just what terror the German airmen were thinking of achieving when they released their Zeppelin’s bomb-load on that inauspicious night of August 9, 1915.”
Anyone with information about Helen Cook or the Zeppelin raid can contact Bob Collis on 01502 585421, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact John Greenacre at email@example.com