An account of the Gotha BombingSorry this is a bit long winded but it covers the Aunt I never knew who died the same day as the Tontine St Bombings.Miss Gladys Alice Sparkes, aged 18, was the only civilian to be killed by enemy action during the Great War in Ashford, Kent. She was killed at 18.30 hours on Friday 25 May 1917, during an air raid which was carried out by German GIV Gotha Bombers of Kagohl 3, which were commanded by 34 year old Hauptmann (Captain) Ernst Brandenburg, who was a native of Sophienfeld, Germany, which is now in Poland.Gladys was the eldest daughter of Aldington, Kent native Charles George Sparkes of 15 Providence Street, Ashford, Kent, and of the late Isabella Rosamund Sparkes (née Quant), who was born in Aden, and died in May 1916 aged 42.Ashford Council burial records record that the body of Gladys Sparkes was taken to Folkestone after the air raid. Probably the reason for taking Gladys to Folkestone was at the request (and convenience) of the Kent Coroner, Rutley Marsh, who conducted a number of Coroners Inquests at Folkestone on Saturday 26 May 1917, which had also included the inquests on those appertaining to several other victims of the Kagohl 3 aircraft, who lost their lives at Hythe, Shorncliffe, and Folkestone. Local newspapers later reported that the Coroner had found that Gladys Sparkes was “Unlawfully killed (murdered) by the enemy.” Gladys was buried on Monday 28 May 1917, in the Old Ashford Cemetery, Canterbury Road, Ashford, and has the Grave reference 7287, and her mother is also at rest nearby, Grave reference 7175.As is sadly the situation with every other British civilian victim of the Great War, Gladys has no form of official commemoration with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. When the then Imperial War Graves Commission was formed in 1917, no obligation was included to record and commemorate the civilian war deaths. However, during the Second World War a supplementary charter was promulgated giving them the obligation to record all Commonwealth civilian deaths caused by enemy action (but with no obligation to maintain graves). This was promoted by Winston Churchill himself.Again like virtually everybody other similar victim who falls into the same category, Gladys is not commemorated any local war memorial. The majority of Ashford’s civilian war dead of the Second World War were placed on the towns’ tribute, although thus far 8 have been located who were not commemorated. To its credit, and it has to be said unlike some other councils in Kent (and elsewhere), Ashford Borough Council has not only let ‘Kent Fallen’ work with it, via its outstanding Cemeteries Officer Christine Smith, but has also agreed to fund the costs involved when our work has been completed, in accessing the names and other details about all of those who are not commemorated on the Ashford civic war memorial, irrespective of date of death or category, which at the time of writing has now reached a total of 318, including of course Gladys Sparkes.The Gotha GIV was the aircraft that was selected to undertake Germany's ‘Operation Turk's Cross,’ which was the aerial bombardment of Great Britain by aircraft in support of the airship raids that were already in progress. A special squadron designated Kagohl 3, and soon to be known as the England Geschwader, was formed with this express object. The Gotha’s were scheduled for delivery by 1 February 1917, and in the meantime crews were sent to Heligoland and Sylt for training in the techniques of flying and navigating the aircraft over the sea. In 1916 the bleak waters of the North Sea were a formidable barrier to aircraft, and as an aid to the Gotha’s three man crews survival chances, the GIV's plywood covered fuselage was designed to enable a ditched machine to remain afloat for several hours. Production delays held up delivery of the GIV to the England Geschwader until March 1917. The squadron commanded by Hauptmann Brandenburg, had six constituent flights of six Gotha’s located in Belgium, at Adinkerke, St. Denis-Westrem (now St.-Denijs-Westrem), and Gertrude. After two months equipped with the Gotha G IV's, the England Geschwader was ready to launch Operation Turk's Cross. Led by Ernst Brandenburg's first attempt to raid London ended at Nieuwmunster, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, when last minute storm warnings led to a cancellation of the mission.On Friday 25 May 1917 another attempt was made by twenty three of Kagohl 3 Gotha’s, two of which were forced to return back to base with mechanical troubles, but at 17.00 hours, twenty one of the Gotha’s flying at 12,000 feet crossed the Essex coast. Although their designated target was London, as they reached the Thames near Gravesend, Kent, only 20 miles from their objective, bad weather forced them to turn south in search of alternative targets. As a result of the aborted air raid on London, the Gotha’s scattered bombs haphazardly at a number of locations across Kent until they reached Hythe, where they headed eastwards along the coast, and late in the afternoon they arrived over Folkestone which had no warning of the impending catastrophe. One moment the sunlit streets were packed with cheerful shoppers, the next they were shattered by German bombs, with Tontine Street bearing the brunt of the attack, and which resulted in the most casualties both in numbers of fatalities and injuries.Having dropped their bombs the Gotha’s made their escape, harassed over the English Channel by anti-aircraft fire from Dover, and a handful of fighter aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps which took off from Lympne, one of the pilots, Lieutenant (later Captain R.A.F.) Gerald William Gathergood, managed to catch up and engage the fleeing enemy bombers at 14,000 feet, but his Vickers machine gun jammed as he was attacking, and he had to break of his attack. As the Gotha’s approached the Belgian coast, nine Sopwith Pup aircraft of 4 (Naval) and 9 (Naval) Squadrons of the Royal Naval Air Service based at Dunkirk, were sent up to cut off the returning raiders, and succeeded in bringing down one Gotha, while another was lost near Bruges. These were the only German casualties, but back in England, 95 people had died and 195 were injured.Ultimately 17 Gotha bombers led by Hauptmann Ernst Brandenburg did manage to reach and bomb London on Wednesday 13 June 1917. On the following day it was announced that Brandenburg had been awarded the Pour Le Mérite (the Blue Max), the citation for which specifically mentioned the attack on London by his 17 aircraft, but when viewing other data about the award it would seem likely that it was also in respect of the raid of Friday 25 May 1917. Ernst Brandenburg was ordered to the German Supreme Headquarters of Kaiser Wilhelm II at Bad Kreuznach, to give a personal report of his activities, and to be invested with the Pour Le Mérite by the Emperor himself, and was the sole bomber pilot recipient of the award of the Great War. Following his investiture and short spell of leave, an ironic tragedy occurred when the aircraft returning Ernst Brandenburg to his squadron was taking off on Tuesday June 19. Oberleutnant Hans-Ulrich von Trotha, who was the pilot of the two-seater aircraft, was killed when the aircraft crashed, and Ernst Brandenburg was suffered severe injuries including the loss of his leg, but he survived and died in Bonn, Germany on 1 July 1952, aged 69. As the result of the crash, command of Kagohl 3 was turned over to Hauptmann Rudolf Kleine, who was later shot down and killed in his Gotha on Wednesday 12 December 1917 near Frelinghem, Ypres, Belgium. There were two formations of eight and nine German aircraft that had been bombing in the Ypres area, which at 14.15 hours were intercepted by a flight of Nieuport 27's, and Kleine's aircraft was shot down by Canadian pilot Captain William Wendell Rogers M.C. of No 1 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, the Gotha being the seventh of the nine enemy aircraft destroyed by Captain Rogers, who died on 11 January 1967, aged 70.Thank you to Gerald Allen for allowing me to reproduce here this very detailed account.
The ‘Friends’ are a volunteer group formed to protect, preserve and promote interest in this lovely old Victorian cemetery.