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Tragic story of Norfolk couple killed at home in bed by German battleships

PUBLISHED: 11:59 07 November 2018

Under fire: a wrecked house in St Peter's Plain, Great Yarmouth, following the first Zeppelin raid on Britain in January, 1915. The occupant of this house survived, but an elderly spinster and another man were killed nearby, making them the first British victims of an air attack on the home front.

Under fire: a wrecked house in St Peter's Plain, Great Yarmouth, following the first Zeppelin raid on Britain in January, 1915. The occupant of this house survived, but an elderly spinster and another man were killed nearby, making them the first British victims of an air attack on the home front.

Archant

On January 14 1918, a dreary Monday, it seems reasonable to assume Alfred and Mary Ann Sparks went to bed as normal.

The Great Yarmouth War Memorial given a timely clean-up. Picture: Joseph NortonThe Great Yarmouth War Memorial given a timely clean-up. Picture: Joseph Norton

The couple, both aged 53, lived at 37 Nelson Road Central in Great Yarmouth and were used to living in a frontline town that had faced its fair share of enemy action.

The town had been bombed twice by Zeppelin airships and this was the third bombardment by German battleships.

Torrential rain and gale force winds reportedly lashed the town on that day, keeping most people indoors and the streets deserted.

Then at around 10.55pm a star shell fired from a German battleship far off the coast slowly descended on its parachute.

Zeppelin raid victim Samuel Smith grave, YarmouthZeppelin raid victim Samuel Smith grave, Yarmouth

In the following five minutes 50 explosive shells fell in and around Yarmouth and Gorleston, damaging property over a wide area, killing four people, two civilians and two merchant seamen, and injuring another eight.

As Mr and Mrs Sparks slept a shell hit the roof of their house sending bricks and rafters crashing through the bedroom ceiling onto them.

Mary Ann was killed instantly, Arthur was rescued from the remains of the bedroom but had sustained serious injuries from which he died the following day in hospital.

Both were later buried in the Yarmouth cemetery at Caister.

Their story has been researched by local historian Colin Tooke and their names are being added to Great Yarmouth’s war memorial in St George’s Park along with those of Samuel Smith and Martha Taylor, who died in the Britain’s first air raid in 1915.

The two merchant seamen were on a ship that had arrived in the port that morning, Mr Tooke said.

A shell struck the deck and burst through into the sleeping quarters below, instantly killing John Simpson aged 17 from Middlesbrough.

Thomas Prigent, a married man from Hull, was seriously injured and taken to the hospital where he died the following day.

Mr Tooke said: “Nobody knew who they were. It was reported in the newspaper at the time but that was it. I thought it was important that the civilian names were added. These four people should be remembered.”

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