Memorial to Captain William Leefe Robinson VC (died 1918).
Reason for Listing
The grave of Captain William Leefe Robinson VC in the new graveyard of All Saints Church, Harrow Weald is designated at Grade II for the following principal reason:
* Historical interest: as a memorial to the first Royal Flying Corps pilot to shoot down a German Zeppelin over England during the First World War. Robinson’s death on the last day of 1918 is also a poignant reminder of the Spanish Influenza pandemic which claimed millions of lives worldwide at the end of the war.
William Leefe Robinson found fame during the First World War as the first pilot to shoot down a German Zeppelin over Britain. Robinson was born on 14 July 1895 at Kaima Betta, South Coorg, India, where his father owned coffee estates. He was educated in England and entered Sandhurst ten days after the outbreak of World War I in August 1914. Commissioned in the Worcestershire Regiment in December he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and in March 1915 was posted to 4 Squadron at St Omer as an observer. Wounded in May 1915, he trained as a pilot after his recovery and qualified in August.
In February 1916 he joined 39 Home Defence Squadron and soon saw action against German Zeppelins sent to bomb London. On 1 September he was promoted to command of B flight of the squadron based at Sutton’s Farm near Hornchurch, Essex. Flying a BE2C, on the morning of 3 September over Cuffley, Hertfordshire, Robinson shot down the SL11, one of a force of 16 Zeppelins attacking London. The SL11 was the first airship brought down on British soil, allaying public fears about the ‘Zeppelin Menace’ and making Leefe Robinson a reluctant celebrity. On 5 September he received the Victoria Cross for his exploit in a ceremony at Windsor Castle. He also received the £4000 reward put up by a consortium of patriotic businessmen for the first man to destroy a Zeppelin over Britain.
Robinson continued to serve with the RFC, and was shot down and captured over Douai on the Western Front on 5 April 1917. He made three attempts to escape from captivity but was eventually repatriated to England on 14 December 1918 at the end of the war. Sadly, he immediately fell prey to the Spanish flu pandemic and died at Lavender Cottage, Harrow Weald, on 31 December 1918. Robinson was buried with full military honours in All Saints churchyard on 3 January 1919. A memorial was later erected to him at Cuffley, on the site where the SL11 came down.
The grave, which is located at the south-eastern corner of the new graveyard on the south side of the Uxbridge Road, consists of a rough-hewn granite Latin cross with an inscribed sword on the face. It stands on a base with the lead inscription: ‘SACRED/ TO THE EVER-LOVING MEMORY OF/ WILLIAM LEEFE ROBINSON. V.C./ CAPTAIN Vth BATTALION WORCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT/ ATTACHED ROYAL FLYING CORPS./ BORN JULY 14th 1895, IN SOUTH COORG, SOUTH INDIA/ DIED DECEMBER 31st 1918 AT HARROW’.
The grave is surrounded by a granite kerb. The right-hand side of the kerb is inscribed: ‘HE WAS THE FIRST AIRMAN TO ATTACK A ZEPPELIN AT NIGHT. AFTER A MOST DARING SINGLE-HANDED FIGHT HE BROUGHT DOWN L21 [sic] A FLAMING/ WRECK AT CUFFLEY ON THE 3rd SEPTEMBER 1916. THUS HE LED THE WAY AGAINST THE GERMAN ZEPPELIN PERIL THREATENING ENGLAND’.
The left-hand side is inscribed with verse three of ‘Epilogue’ by Robert Browning: ‘ONE WHO NEVER TURNED HIS BACK BUT MARCH’D BREAST FORWARD, NEVER DOUBTED CLOUDS WOULD BREAK, NEVER DREAM’D THOUGH RIGHT/ WERE WORSTED, WRONG WOULD TRIUMPH, HELD WE FALL TO RISE, ARE BAFFLED TO FIGHT BETTER, SLEEP TO WAKE. – BROWNING.’
The foot of the kerb bears the inscription’ GOD QUICKENETH THE DEAD AND CALLETH THOSE WHICH/ ARE NOT, AS THOUGH THEY WERE. ROMANS IV 17.’
A marble urn stands on the grave although this may not be an original part of the memorial.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.