A ham-bone for Sir Edwart

A ham-bone

An early contribution to the list of strange things dropped from the air in wartime was made by the crew of L13, a German naval Zeppelin under the command of Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Mathy. During a raid on London on the night of 8 September 1915, they dropped bombs from Bloomsbury to the City which killed 20 people and caused more than £200,000 worth of damage. But they also dropped the above object by parachute on Wrotham Park in Barnet. It's a ham-bone.

Clearly, though, it's no ordinary ham-bone. It's carved with a drawing of a Zeppelin dropping a bomb (perhaps L13's 300kg one, the largest one ever used so far in war) on the head of a sad man, along with an inscription reading 'Edwart [sic] Grey' on one side and 'was fang ich armer Teufel an?', the title and first line of an old German soldier's song: 'what's a poor devil to do?' Sir Edward Grey, at this point still Foreign Secretary as he had been when Britain declared war on Germany, would no doubt have been very sad indeed had a bomb (or even a ham-bone) hit him on the head; but the real reason for the tears running down his cheeks is given on the other side (not shown here), where it is written 'Zum Andenken an das ausgehungerte Deutschland', 'A souvenir from starving Germany'. The point was presumably to show that the naval blockade of Germany was not having the desired effect; but perhaps also to justify Zeppelin raids as reprisals for the attempt to starve the German people.

In any case, the ham-bone would appear to be an unofficial piece of propaganda devised by the Zeppelin's crew. Any effect it might have had would have been limited as it does not appear to have been mentioned in the wartime press, and whether Sir Edward himself got to hear of it is probably also doubtful. I don't know where it ended up, but thankfully the Intelligence Section, General Headquarters, Home Forces included the above photograph in a 1918 summary of the Zeppelin raids of August and September 1915 (The National Archives, AIR 1/2319/223/30/2). And here it is at last for the whole world to see!

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5 thoughts on “A ham-bone for Sir Edwart

  1. Neil Datson

    An interesting oddity. But to what extent were the British claiming that they were starving out Germany a year into the war? I presume that there was a fair amount of 'our blockade is really hitting the Hun where it hurts' sort of stuff, but it wouldn't have done to boast that the RN's command of the seas was causing children to go hungry. And if the claim wasn't being made by the British, it wouldn't have been very good sense to draw their attention to the problem of food shortages.

    Obviously, one shouldn't try to go too deeply into the reasoning behind a piece of 'unofficial' propaganda.

  2. Rob Langham

    On the subject of Imperial Germany and ham bones, the post reminded me of this verse from the ever-excellent Harry Champion's song 'Me Old Iron Cross':

    "Me old Iron Cross, Me old Iron Cross
    What a waste I do declare
    Over there in Germany they're giving them away
    You can have a dozen if you shout hooray
    The Kaiser shouted 'Meat, meat, meat'
    I gave him some of course
    Though he only had a little nibble at me old ham bone
    He gave me the old Iron Cross."

  3. Post author

    I don't know if British propaganda was boasting about starving Germans, but it certainly discussed them and it may have been portrayed that way in the German press which is what the airmen would have read - it's all a bit of a shadow game. The Australian press was reporting (via the British and neutral press) on food riots in German cities already in February and March 1915; there was apparently a diplomatic protest to the US about it effectively allowing the 'English Starvation War' in April; and so on. The same sort of things were in the British press - the music-hall song that Rob quotes apparently dates to 1915 too. So the idea was out there already. But I agree the message here is a bit strange -- it's one of those things that seems to reveal more about the concerns of the author(s) rather than being likely to have any perceptible psychological impact on the British. (Apart from the fact that it would be more difficult to write a message, surely it would be more evidence of a lack of food shortages if there had actually been some ham on the bone! As you say, best not to think too hard about it.)

  4. Jakob

    Very (!) belatedly: I'd render 'Was fang ich...' as 'what have I started, poor devil?', which changes the sense slightly.

  5. Post author

    Thanks, Jakob; I'm sure your German is much better than mine! (Couldn't be much worse.) I'm not sure where I got that translation from. This (p.2) has 'What shall I, poor devil do' (because 'the money is all spent'). But your version does make more sense -- it's Sir Edwart regretting the chain of events he has set in motion, rather than just feeling sorry for himself.

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