Previous News - Walking stick with a grim tale to tell

03/02/12

Metal handle came from wreck of downed WW1 Zeppelin.

As walking sticks go, it’s a simple workaday job that will never let you down. But there’s more to it than might be imagined.

This simple walking stick with its turned alloy handle provides a direct link to one of the most spectacular yet tragic air incidents of the First World War to occur on British soil – a farmer’s field in the rural village of Theberton, near Saxmunden in Suffolk.

The clue is the stick’s shiny aluminium alloy knob. It was made from metal from the wreck of one of the Kaiser’s feared Zeppelins, shot down following a night time bombing raid on London. As it plunged to the ground, the flames could be seen 50 miles away. Sixteen crew members died, three survived but one died later from his injuries.

The still smoking tangled heap of twisted metal was all that remained of the airship next morning. Aerial photographs were taken by the Royal Flying Corps, while some of the most graphic were published by J.S.Waddell a local photographer at Leiston, but souvenir hunters were quick to respond. Brooches, ashtrays, goblets and egg cups were made by local craftsmen using the Zeppelin airframe as raw materials, one of whom presumably took to his lathe to turn the walking stick handle.

Handed down through the generations, the walking stick, the metal engraved “L 48 Brought down at Theberton 1917”, now belongs to an Ashford, Kent, owner who has decided to send it for sale. It will be one the unusual lots in The Two Day Sale at The Canterbury Auction Galleries on February 14-15. Bids of £100-150 are expected, but with such fascinating provenance, it could fetch more.

Zeppelin L48 was one her maiden flight, one of four airships sent to attack London on June 17, 1917. She never returned. Drifting off course over East Anglia, the airship’s compass frozen, she was caught in searchlights and came under attack from anti aircraft guns and night flying defence fighter planes, which fired hundreds of bullets into her. Eventually, a small fire started which turned to a fireball as containers of gas exploded inside her.

Soon the fabric of the airship was stripped away by the flames and her engines collapsed through the burning superstructure before she hit the ground at Holly Tree Farm, parts of the metalwork by now white hot and melting in the heat. The dead were buried in St Peter’s Church in Theberton, but subsequently exhumed and re-buried at the German cemetery in Cannock Chase, Staffordshire. A section of the airship’s frame can be seen in a glass fronted wooden case in the porch of the church, while examples of Waddell’s picture postcards and other ephemera relating to the incident can be seen on display at the Long Shop Museum in Main Street, Leiston.

The walking stick will be sold alongside the usual eclectic mix of fine art, antiques and collectors’ items in the sale at The Canterbury Auction Galleries viewing for which is on Saturday February 11 from 10.00am to 4.00pm; Sunday February 12 from 12 noon to 4.00pm; Monday, February 13 from 10.00am to 7.00pm and on the mornings of sale from 8.30am. The catalogue can be viewed on-line at www.thecanterburyauctiongalleries/com and the sale will be broadcast on the Internet allowing for live bidding on www.the-saleroom.com. For further information, please contact the auctioneer on 01227 763337 or auctionrooms@btconnect.com.

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