Arthur Jacobs: War and Memory

Arthur presents different memories of childhood, spanning from when he is a child and growing up in war, to being involved with the Navy while having a wife and child. Because of this, Arthur’s memoir is a brilliant insight into how one remembers war, and the impact war has upon a persons life.

The title of one of Arthur’s chapters, ‘Balloons and Airships’ refers to Jacobs memory of war in relation to it’s use of aviation. This is explained to us by Arthur when he remembers how his ‘memory’ of his war years are ‘crowded’ by his memory of Blimps crowding the war ridden sky over London. World War I saw the rise of ‘Blimps’ or ‘Zeppelins’ as a vital weapon of war, flying slowly and low over cities, whilst more rarely being used for strategic bombing of a specific place. Upon researching this form of aviation more, I came across the news that in 1915, while Arthur was living in London with his family, London suffered a huge Zeppelin attack raid where multiple bombs were dropped during the dead of night.

Arthurs memoir suggests he was not affected directly with non, ‘descending’ over his home of Hampstead Heath, however does talk later on in the memoir of their posing threat. At this point however, rather than viewing them with a sense of fear, he remembers likening them to jellyfish, ‘drifting in a clear sea, body slightly rising and falling, tentacles hanging limply down’ (44). Arthur instead remembers the Blimp more for carrying messages to the public on either side, remembering one that read, ‘Give him Bovril!’ (45) on one side and, ‘Give her Bovril!’ (45) on the other.

However, Arthur does comment on how while the innocent airships were criticised for their, ‘peace disturbing propensities’ (46), they didn’t know what was coming when the, ‘larger, warmongering varieties from across the North Sea’ (46) came, which could be referring to London’s Zeppelin Attack in 1915.


A German Blimp ascending from its base for a raid on London.
A German Blimp ascending from its base for a raid on London.


Arthur comments on how the threat of airships, ‘mostly passed by’ (52) him at the time despite the German Zeppelins, ‘lorded around above London night after night’, remembering in explicit detail the feeling of when they would bomb his home city.


Silent until our nerves were stretched to screaming point, they finally struck with massive, death-dealing bombs and slid sinisterly away to their lairs over the water. Throughout a 3 hour alert it might remain as silent as a grave, and then would come a terrifying crash detonating death and destruction.


However, London did fight back against the German Zeppelins, described in one vivid memory of Arthurs. One evening when Arthur went to bed, he was awoken by his parents to view a, ‘long silver cigar shaped’ (52) Zeppelin hanging over London being attacked by the British Army.


It hung there seemingly motionless – a ghostly marauder. Then, as quick as a flash though I had seen no flash, some of the silver cigar outline became etched in soarlet, while an unearthy glow spread across the sky, vivid as a sunset in hell. Our faces were bloodily illuminated by it, while the cigar shape now flickering red throughout its length, plunged headlong to Earth.


Arthur still being a child likened the experience to being, ‘no more real than if I had seen it at the cinema’ (53). Arthur remembers London cheering over its downfall with the landlady shouting, “For God sake don’t cheer! There are poor devils dying up there” (53). Despite the war still being, ‘fairly remote’ (53), London’s reaction to the Zeppelins fall shows the growing hostility the British were having towards the Germans and their allies, and how the feeling of rivalry and war was becoming a nationwide concept.

Arthurs memoir contains a wide range of content about war, with him living through 2 world wars during his lifetime. His chapter, ‘Balloons and Airships’ has been a great insight into how children were affected and remembered the world war though such innocent eyes. In the next post, I will be looking at Arthurs experience of World War II in the navy, and how his adult life was shaped by this historical event.


Emma McFaron. (2015). London’s first Zeppelin raid in 1915. Available: Last accessed 16th December 2015.


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