Sometimes the perils of the war came much closer to home. On the night of 31st January/1st February 1916, nine airships of the the Imperial German Navy, set out to bomb targets in the Midlands and south of England. One of these Zeppelins dropped some of its bombs on Bradley, Bilston, killing two people.
Coroners Inquest into Maud Fellows February 1916
Although they had the same surname, Maud and William Fellows were unrelated and were courting, and had gone for a walk along the Wolverhampton Union Canal. According to the evidence given by Maud’s brother William Henry Fellows at her inquest, the couple took shelter at the Mines Drainage pumping station when they heard “something like thunder and lightning”. The witness who found the couple, Arnold Spilsbury Walter Wolverson, who worked at the nearby Brittania Iron and Steel Works, “heard a noise which we thought might be a boiler explosion and rushed out of the works for safety onto the canal side.”
Evidence given by Arnold Wolverson at the inquest
Unfortunately, one of the bombs landed close to the couple, killing William outright and fatally injuring Maud. When Wolverson found the two people, he carried Maud to the Old Bush Inn in Bradley Lane and called for the doctor, who recommend she be taken to the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire General Hospital. She died on 12 February 1916 of septicemia, following wounds to her right side, leg and back. At the coroner’s inquest, the jury were “of the opinion that the Kaiser and Crown Prince are guilty of the murder of Maud Fellows as accessories before the fact.”
In response to the raid, the Watch Committee of the Council were concerned about the local response to the air raids, in particular the fact that
the Mayor of the Borough was not advised by the Chief Constable either on Monday or Wednesday last of the visit or anticipated visit of hostile aircraft and that the Chief Constable be instructed to explain why this was not done and to give to the Mayor an immediate intimation in future cases.”
Visit of hostile aircraft, extract from Watch Committee minutes, 7th February 1916
In response, several measures were put in place to mitigate future disaster, including the installation of special telephone lines between the Chief Constable’s office and that of the electricity and gas supply stations. Arrangements were also made to contact the major works in the area who were likely to be operating after dark, such as Sunbeam, in the event of a further air craft raid.
The same night, the Zeppelins also went on to bomb areas of Tipton, Wednesbury and Walsall. This proved to be one of the heaviest air raids during the First World War.