Blog > WWI: Zeppelins or ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty’

WWI: Zeppelins or ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty’

One September night in 1917, four hundred people gathered in blog2the basement of Oxford House. Within a week, the number of those taking refuge reached as high as fifteen hundred. Singing to drown out the blasts, they sheltered themselves from the bombs that rained across London.

This, though, was not the Blitz. Zeppelin raids over Britain had begun in 1915, and reached their peak in 1917. By the end of the First World War, more than 1000 people would be killed in air raids. The East End was badly hit; in nearby Poplar, one school would lose 18 students in one raid, all between the ages of four and six.

Despite warning from the police that Oxford House’s basement offered no particular protection, the House opened its doors to the public, arguing that ‘the raison d’être of Oxford House has always been to help the inhabitants of Bethnal Green’ and adding that ‘it would have been an absolute waste of time to persuade people to return home.’

blog3The sheer numbers presented a substantial challenge to the young theology students who ran Oxford House. One admitted that ‘in the air raid a serious-minded student of social affairs is useless: what is really wanted is a man with a loud voice who knows the words to ‘Take meback to dear old Blighty.’’

Forced to limit the numbers they took in, they decided to admit only women, children, and fathers of families, in the hopes of excluding the ‘very undesirable youth who simply comes in on the chance of a lark’. In fact, not all were so worried about the blasts. The Oxford House Club even insisted on staying upstairs to play cards during the raids.

Despite the real danger of overcrowding and panic, Oxford House continued to provide shelter throughout the war— as one resident wrote at the time, ‘we just go on hoping for the best.’



Text: Lucy Valsamidis and Mira Koplovic

1. Zeppelin taking off: Wiki images
2. Damage to Black Swan pub, Bow Road, 1916 (reference: P08189), Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives
3. Poster using Zeppelin bombings to advertise volunteering for the army: Wiki images

Oxford House in a Changing World Workers and Welfare: Living Conditions of the 1800’s East End On This Day... 30th November 1891 WANTED: Archivist for heritage project Fascism in the East End The Blitz The Original Oxford House Conscientious objectors The Welsh Schools The Excelsior The Effects of World War I in Oxford House War Memorial The Inauguration of the Oxford House Building 1892 From Oxford House to Local and International Stardom In the Spotlight: the Repton Boxing Club and Oxford House Hensley Henson, Oxford House leader The Kray Twins Alfred Soord, The Crucifixion. Oxford House Chapel Women and Oxford House Oxford House and its Clubs Why you should donate to save our secret chapel The Bethnal Green Tube Tragedy The Webbe Boys’ Club Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s Super Kid (a.k.a. Eddie Marsan) Save Oxford House's 'Secret' Chapel Oxford House and Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram Our resolution? Raise all the funds to start our major heritage project Post War Regeneration of Bethnal Green Weavers’ Fields and the Huguenots Guy Clutton-Brock: from Oxford House to hero of Zimbabwe WWI: Zeppelins or ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty’ The Hidden Gem: Oxford House Chapel History in the making Oxford House and Ben Uri Gallery The Chapel Oxford House Musical and Dramatic Association 1903 Oxford House Arms: Dominus Illuminatio Mea Why is Oxford House listed as Grade II Heritage? Heritage Lottery Fund - 'Oh! ‘wins’ the lottery' Who designed Oxford House? The Boys and Men’s Clubs in the 19th and early 20th century Why a new building in 1891? Rise under Rev. Winnington-Ingram How it all begun. Clubs and activities at Oxford House 1884 Who created Oxford House? What is a settlement? 130 Not out! Our pre-history: The Oxford Movement From Victorian Gap Year to Community Hub
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