Admiral Carter, EC1 – D.H. Lawrence at Hampstead
‘So it is the end – our world is gone, and we are like dust in the air…’ DH Lawrence To Lady Ottoline Morrell, 9 September 1915.*
It had been a gift from the bomb factory to the Zeppelin commander. Three-hundred kilograms of high explosive – the biggest bomb of the airship campaign so far. Every single building in the close was damaged by the blast and many buildings set alight by incendiaries. At the hospital, a few ceilings fell and 1197 panes of glass were broken but ‘all concerned behaved very well.’ The church also had a narrow escape, sustaining only minor damage to the clerestory windows. As a precaution against further depredations, sandbags were piled at the front and back of Rahere’s tomb (the clergyman who founded St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1123) and a layer of sand placed on the floor of the triforium above.
About an hour after the explosion, PC William Walton found the upper portion of the body of William Fenge outside 7 Bartholomew Close. It was lying underwater as the drains had been choked. David Hamilton Derry, a House Physician at Bart’s and covering for a colleague as police surgeon at Snow Hill, recorded the grim discovery: ‘The head and front portion of thorax were intact, and the features quite recognisable. The back of the skull was completely missing together with the brain. All the limbs and abdominal viscera were missing at the time of my examination. In my opinion, this man was killed instantaneously by the concussion caused by an explosion in close proximity to him.’ Nearby PC Walton also found the remains of Frederick Saunders, 50, who ran a railway carrier’s business from No 5, next door but one to The Admiral Carter, in partnership with his father and brother.
Harry Hendra, the Resident Steward at Goddard & Luish, 1-4 Broad Street Place near Liverpool Street Station, was having supper with his wife and child on the sixth floor at about 10.45 pm when they heard an explosion and decided to shelter in the cellar. Reaching the ground floor, Harry looked out just in time to see a bomb drop on an omnibus as it was turning into Blomfield Street. He saw a big flash, the flame leaping as he thought some thirty feet up. The bomb ‘appeared to drop right through the omnibus at the rear part’ and he could see that there were passengers in it. He could not see any buildings alight, but a water main had burst and the glass at the front of the building shattered. He took his family down to the cellars from where they heard two more explosions and emerged a few minutes later when they thought it safe to go up. Parts of an omnibus, as well as street paving blocks, were later found on the roof of 1-4 Broad Street Place, ninety-five feet above the ground. Human remains blown up from street level were scattered over several floors.
The driver, James Adams, had, it would emerge at the inquest, a lucky escape. He had heard an explosion and accelerated. Moments later he was thrown over the bonnet. He was uncertain of his next movements but he thought he took the tube to Post Office tube station from where a policeman took him to Bart’s. Though released from hospital, he was too ill to attend the inquest.
Thomas Minke, 35, was a City Police Constable based at Bishopsgate Police Station. He lived at Lower Chapman Street with his brother and was on duty next to Liverpool Street Station in the dying hours of September 8th.
‘I was walking through Sun Street Passage,’ he told his sister from his hospital bed, ‘when I heard guns and looked up and saw a Zeppelin – it was 4 minutes over my head – it defied the guns firing from the Tower, I tried to move out of the way the other side of the passage and then down came another bomb which knocked me down – as I lay there the wall [of the railway stables] fell on my left arm – I lay there thinking I would die every minute.’
Thomas’s colleague, Frederick Collins, had found him in one piece but suffering from shock and numerous shrapnel wounds: ‘alongside a large hole in Sun Street passage 5 feet deep & 5 or 6 feet square. His feet were half down in the hole. He lay half on his side. Some stone paving debris was resting over his legs…’
‘It was following me, Collins.’ Thomas managed to tell his colleague who would later explain to the inquest: ‘My opinion was he referred to the Zeppelin in the air raid that night. Sun Street passage was very dark. The wall of the railway stabling was considerably destroyed – and horses injured. I noticed the water pipes were damaged and gas too.’
Thomas’s brother also visited him at Bart’s, in the early hours of September 9, and would tell the inquest:
‘He spoke to me. He said:- “Oh Jack – what I have seen you would not believe, it was awful.” He could not say more. I was informed he would be operated on as he was full of pieces of shell. He went on pretty well at first but collapsed at last and became unconscious. He died, as I am informed at 10 p.m. on Thursday 30th September. I saw him just before.’
On the London County Council bomb damage map from the Second World War, many of the buildings in Bartholomew Close are marked purple: ‘damaged beyond repair.’ One of them is The Admiral Carter. Its luck had finally and definitively run out. Today St. Bartholomew School of Nursing and Midwifery is just one of several anonymous post-war blocks which decorate the medieval street pattern. Fitting enough perhaps, as the place where a former destroyer commander ushered in the birth of the modern world.
Except that history doesn’t hang around at a dog biographer’s convenience. When I first revisited it had already become the ‘School of Health Sciences.’ Now the whole area is being developed and rebranded as ‘Bartholomew Square’. Luxury flats ‘aimed at people with imagination’, according to one of the architects. But you don’t need a psychology degree to realise that if you have to flatter the client you have already made the assumption that imagination is not something that keeps them awake at night. If the new denizens have half a bucket of brains and a medical dictionary, they will be ahead of the game in this new iteration of the Close’s thousand-year history.
On the WWII bomb damage map, a sea of purple stretches up the sheet from the Thames, around St Paul’s, to Finsbury Circus. One building near the southern edge of Bartholomew Close is undamaged. It is marked ‘Fire Box.’ It appears to have survived not only the bombers but a V1 rocket landing a few yards away. I could tell you a story about that firebox but last orders has been called on the chapter. We will sup up and ship out.
Several years after writing what I thought was a full stop to the chapter I found out that DH Lawrence had witnessed the same Zeppelin raid from the top of Hampstead Heath. Walking home to Byron Villas in the Vale of Health, after an evening with friends on the other side of the hill, Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, joined a group of onlookers near Jack Straw’s Castle. Her reaction was more practical than her husband’s. She wondered if she knew any of the men on board the airship. She also feared for her safety if anybody in the crowd realised she was German.
Lawrence recorded his thoughts in letters and later in a chapter in the novel Kangaroo. He thought he had witnessed not just a new and sinister type of warfare but the birth of a new world.
‘So it seems our cosmos is burst, burst at last, the stars and moon blown away, the envelope of the sky burst out, and a new cosmos appeared, with a long-ovate, gleaming central luminary, calm and drifting in a glow of light, like a new moon, with its light bursting in flashes on the earth, to burst away the earth also. So it is the end – our world is gone, and we are like dust in the air…’
The 9th September 1915 brought a new world to Annie Harvey, and to Grace Harvey who had travelled on her husband’s bus to work; to Amy Fenge, landlady of The Admiral Carter whose husband William had gone out to raise the alarm, to Charles Henley, fireman, and PC William Walton who found the bodies of William Fenge and Frederick Saunders in Bartholomew Close. A new world for Jack Minke whose brother had been rescued from under the collapsed wall of the stable block at Liverpool Street Station.
‘The mother, Annie Harvey, states that her son lived with her all his life. He had good health and had been a conductor 2/3 years for L.G.O. Coy.
On Wednesday September 8th 1915, he left home just before 11a.m. to go to Mortlake to his duties. He was quite well and happy. At 6p.m. he came home to tea which he had and left 6.30p.m. quite well. She next saw his remains at the mortuary.’
It also brought a new world for Uncle Toby and his friends: they joined the Inns of Court Officers’ Training Corps at 10 Stone Buildings, Chancery Lane. For a long time I thought it was a new world for Charles Hartert, too. It was in a way – but not in the way I had imagined.
At Edmonton the airship disappeared in a cloud of greenish-grey vapour: water-ballast, discharged to gain height. It crossed out to sea somewhere between Caistor and Yarmouth shortly before 2am. The Zeppelin’s assistant engine man watched dawn come up over the horizon and thanked God that he was still alive.
Twelve thousand feet below and about a hundred miles south in the English Channel the 21st Division, recently in training at Halton, were crossing over from Folkstone to Boulogne. Among them three Durham miners who had been billeted in my grandfather’s house at the beginning of the war; Pridham, who would survive the Battle of Loos in two week’s time; a nineteen year old Yorkshireman, Paul Taylor, and Charles Hartert. Paul and Charles will also survive the battle (Hartert, as I later found out, by the clever expedient of not actually being there). They will be killed by the same shell on 28th October 1916.
On 12 April 1885 Ernst Hartert had steamed up the channel, and saw England, for the first time. He was 26 years old and bound for Africa from Hamburg. He was close enough to the cliffs to admire the black flint ribbons running through the chalk. He admired the pretty houses in the channel towns, with no idea the country would become his home for the best part of four decades. His feeling was one of uncomplicated excitement. This was his first view of a foreign country. The whole world lay ahead of him.
For Charles thirty years later and aged 23 the world must have looked rather different: narrowing rather than expanding. Perhaps, like Robert Graves (whose mother was German), Charles’s German connection gives him an ironic detachment, a heightened understanding of the dark absurdities of fratricidal war. But I suspect that having two German parents left little room for irony.
The reality of war – unless it touched you directly – was still not always understood in the summer of 1915. Rupert Grayson, John Kipling’s friend, who crossed the channel in August later remembered ‘from the ship’s decks we watched the channel waters swishing by. We knew nothing except that we were sure to “see the fun” before it was over, and that on the approaching shore there would be wine awaiting us and romantic encounters with lovely French girls.’
Was Charles excited? Or like the hero of Richard Aldington’s book, Death of a Hero, relieved? Marching to the docks ‘Winterbourne realised that the monotony, the imbecile restrictions, the incredible nagging of military pedants, had been crushing him into a condition utter stupidity … At least you were doing something real in France, and there was movement….’
But wait. I’ve already told you. ‘None of the above’: he wasn’t there.
When Patrick MacGill, the Irish writer, went into a German dug out during the Battle of Loos, he noted, forty-seven steps down, a curtained bed, a stove, furniture, a coal scuttle, even a table on which was a bottle of wine, a box of cigars and a vase of flowers. The only jarring part of the picture was the presence of a dying German soldier.
I wondered if Charles Hartert had a similar experience? What if the dying German was not, as Patrick MacGill remembered, a musician, but a young ornithologist, one say in charge of an observation balloon?
But this isn’t a novel so we’ll stick to the facts. Some 8th East Yorkshire officers and men were killed or wounded or injured or gassed or missing, or various combinations of the above. Charles Hartert was not one of them, because he wasn’t there. Paul Taylor was reported missing, but he wasn’t.
On 30th September a policeman who had been drifting in and out of consciousness since the evening of 8th September died in St Bart’s of his injuries. A meeting of the vestry of St Bartholomew the Great authorized £95 for sandbags to protect the tomb of Rahere against further attacks. Ernst Hartert’s work at Tring continued, at least for the moment, as normal. Minute variations in tail feather arrangements are studied, sources are consulted, species are named and mapped and ordered and catalogued.
A month later, on the French border, a flock of black crows return to strip a walnut tree from under the noses of a German artillery company much to the disappointment of a certain young lieutenant, even though he had seen the catastrophe coming, written in sorrow on dark beating wings.
*The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. II, James T. Boulton (Ed.), Cambridge University Press.