Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

023: Ted Vass and a Zeppelin raid, London 1915

October 1915 funeral Zeppelin victimsEdmund Vass, driver, 24 bus Hampstead Heath station

My grandfather Edmund “Ted” Vass was a driver for the London General Omnibus Company during the 1914-1918 war and into the 1920s. A photograph of him outside Hampstead Heath railway station led me to assume he drove route 24 (it still runs from the station to Pimlico). But there was another photograph. Two buses, with wreaths, the funeral of two LGOC busmen, 20 October 1915. My grandmother told me the story, and years later I looked up the local north London newspapers.

A bomb from Zeppelin L15 had hit a bus and killed the crew and several passengers on 13 October (the raiders left 127 people dead and 72 wounded in five areas of London). The route was no 2 (still runs from Cricklewood to Crystal Palace) but the sole family survivor confirmed that Ted Vass usually drove a no 2 (and could not explain why he was posed by a no 24). My grandfather was unable to start his bus (a large and stiff handle cranked the engine in those days – when one backfired around 1922 it displaced his hipbone and a failed operation left him crippled for the rest of his life, unable to bend at the hips). To keep to the timetable the relief bus set off. Grandfather started his bus eventually, and followed the route but was diverted around a bombing incident. He completed his shift, returned to the garage and there was told that the Zeppelin’s bomb had hit the relief bus.

He went home, to be greeted by my grandmother (who had been visited by a fellow from the bus garage with the news her husband’s bus had been obliterated by a bomb) “oh, I thought you were dead”. That evening he went to the pub in Hendon, where bus crew were talking of the horror and how Ted Vass had left a widow and baby girl. He had pulled up collar and scarf, pulled down his cap, and only looked up when the barmaid handed him the glass – she dropped it, shocked. The photograph of the funeral was kept by the family as a souvenir of what might have been.

Crippled (the word then used) Ted Vass found work as a night watchman at building sites and factories. In the 1939-1945 war his factory was hit by a V-1 or doodle bug rocket bomb. My grandmother was told he had been killed as the factory was wrecked. The sound of ticking was heard by those digging in the rubble: not a timebomb, but my grandfather’s alarm clock which he set to prevent him sleeping on duty. He was found, alive. He returned home to be greeted – yes – by my grandmother “oh Ted, I thought you were dead”.

The alarm clock, one leg missing, glass cracked, was in my grandparents’ house in the 1950s. My mother, knowing I was interested in history, gave me the funeral photograph. She was born in February 1917, 15 months after the bomb fell on the relief bus.

The two busmen were Charles Rogers aged 45 and Charles James Tarrant aged 30. The Hendon Advertiser of 22 October 1915 said nearly 150 drivers were in the parade (wearing white coats); wreaths numbered hundreds and “thousands” lined the route to the cemetery where the two men were buried together.