Ernest Frederick Gladwell 1890 - 1915

There's an entry in the Parish Register of Burials for St Mary's, Peldon, recording the burial on 15th September 1915 of a young man of 26, Ernest Frederick Gladwell. In the margin of the register the minister had written

Killed by bomb from Zeppelin in the Docks in London

Who was this young man and what was his story?

Ernest Frederick Gladwell was born in Peldon to a thatcher, Frederick Gladwell, and his wife Amelia. He was one of three boys and five girls. His sister Evelyn Rose Gladwell was to marry Reg Coan making Ernest the uncle of Colin and Eric Coan who have both farmed in Peldon all their lives, principally at Kemps Farm and Pete Tye Farm. Although killed by enemy action, Ernest does not appear on the marble World War 1 Memorial or the Roll of Honour in Peldon Church but his name does appear on the Tower Hill monument in London dedicated to men lost at sea.

After a childhood in Peldon with his family in Mersea Road, Ernest is found in the 1911 census, aged 21, as a Mate on board the Thames Sailing Barge, THE BROWNIE, moored, on the day of the census, at The Hythe in Colchester.

Sailing barge THE BROWNIE at the Strood, Mersea

A picture of THE BROWNIE delivering wood to the Strood, West Mersea, for Horace Martin the builder. Circa 1928

By 1915 at the age of 26 he is Master of another Thames Sailing barge, JOHN EVELYN.

Tragically Ernest was to be a casualty of what author, Ian Castle, refers to as 'the forgotten blitz'. As part of repeated bombing raids by German aircraft and airships over London during 1914 and 1915, on the night of 7th/8th September 1915, three air ships went over the capital dropping bombs; two Zeppelins and a Schute-Lanz airship.

The German company, Schutte-Lanz, was developing rigid airships made of wood and plywood glued together and between 1909 and 1917 several different models were built in competition with the airships of Ferdinand von Zeppelin. The 1914 model was referred to as SL2 and it was this ship that made its way along he Essex coast on the night of 7th September, coming under fire from soldiers at Holliwell Point, east of Burnham on Crouch.

It passed over Essex and made its way to London heading for the docks. Hauptmann [Captain] von Wobeser was the commander.

Hauptman Richard Von Wobeser, commanding the SL2 arrived over Leytonstone before turning south towards the major dock area of the Isle of Dogs.

After dropping several incendiaries and one high explosive bomb he demolished three houses in Gaverick Street, off West Ferry Road injuring eleven people.

Von Wobeser was over the Thames when the last two bombs of this salvo landed. One sunk without trace below the river's murky depths but the other bomb made its mark just south of the entrance to Millwall Dock, where three sailing barges were riding at anchor. The John Evelyn and The Louise were side by side with the Haste-Away about 50 yards off. Ernest Frederick Gladwell, the 26 year old master of the John Evelyn was from Peldon near Colchester and knew the master of The Louise, Frederick Wright. The two men had spent part of the evening together on Wright's boat before Gladwell returned and joined the Mate, 37 year old Edward John Bowles on his own vessel. An incendiary bomb dropped by SL2 smashed with a resounding crash right into the after cabin where Gladwell and Bowles were sleeping. Zeppelin Onslaught:The Forgotten Blitz 1914 -1915 Ian Castle

Schutte-Lanze airship SL2

Schutte-Lanz Airship SL2 pictured in the 1920 edition of the encyclopaedia Lexikon der gesamten Technik

Alerted by their cries, Frederick Wright managed to get both men onto the LOUISE and doused their burning clothes. The Master of the HASTE AWAY called a fast motor launch, which arrived alongside The Louise ten minutes later and took the men ashore. They were treated at Poplar Hospital but their injuries were too severe; Gladwell died on 10th September, aged 26, followed two days later by Bowles, aged 37.

Ship's Master, Ernest Frederick Gladwell, was buried at St Mary's Church in Peldon on 15th September 1915 and the next day his Mate, Edward Bowles, was buried at Asheldham, Essex. Ernest Gladwell and Edward Bowles, are commemorated at The Tower Hill Memorial.

JOHN EVELYN of London entry on Tower Hill Memorial

Their sailing barge, JOHN EVELYN, was repaired, returned to trade, later became a Houseboat and was eventually broken up in 1960.

Elaine Barker
Peldon History Project August 2018

Thanks to Ian Castle Zeppelin Onslaught: The Forgotten Blitz 1914 - 1915
Ron Green THE BROWNIE photograph
Brian Watson www.benjidog.co.uk for JOHN EVELYN plaque
Wikimedia Commons for photo of Schutte-Lanz airship

Author: Elaine Barker
August 2018
ID: PH01_EFG


This item is part of the Mersea Island Museum Collection. The information is accurate as far as is known, but the Museum does not accept responsibility for errors.