Story of Captain William Robinson V. C.

This is the story of Captain William Robinson who studied in Bishop Cottons from 1904 to 1908.   He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his distinguished Service as a British fighter pilot during World War I. His Victoria Cross was sold to Christies Great Rooms on Tuesday 22nd Nov. 1988 on behalf of "A MEDAL FOR LIFE”, a Charitable Trust to benefit children suffering from Leukemia.

This is an excerpt (edited) from an article in the Bangalore Mail as it appeared in 'The Cottonian' of September 1932:

"It is just 11 p.m. The month is September. The towns and villages of England seem to be sleeping, yet beneath each roof there is a certain alertness mingled with wonderment. The prevailing question is: " Will they come to night? " It is foolish to deny that there is apprehension -- for, if they do come, there are women and children who may not live to see tomorrow's dawn.

Will who come?

The answer to that question is simple

Britain is at war, and it is no longer impregnable against the invader, for death now flies on swift wings and destruction may come suddenly from the heavens with little, if any, warning.

There is an atmosphere of drama in every home now.

At any moment the anti -aircraft guns may break the quietness of the evening and stir the weary to wakefulness, and rock the walls of the little homes of England.

It is a beautifully clear night, with but few clouds about. The stars look down with cold aloofness and indifference.

Somewhere in England is a young man belonging to the 39th Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps.

He is only 21, and his name is William Leefe Robinson. He is standing by his airplane waiting for the engine to warm up.


At 11.08 p.m. he opens the throttle and slides into the air. He makes height, and his keen eyes scan the wide spaces. He is looking very eagerly for something. He is looking for enemy aircraft over England, over London!

And, for a long while, he seeks in vain.

At 1.10 a.m. the searchlights pick out a Zeppelin somewhere south east of Woolwich.

The young pilot makes for the terror that flies by night; but more clouds have begun to collect in this quarter, and the long cigar-like ship seeks refuge in them...and escapes

About an hour later William Leefe Robinson catches sight of the S.L.11. This airship is one of a fleet of 13 airships sent by Germany to attack London and industrial districts of the Midlands

13! the superstitious may reflect on that for their comfort. only three of those ships succeed in getting anywhere near London. Two are driven off. The third provides one of the most dramatic moments in the history of air warfare.


It is William Leefe Robinson's hour. It is London's hour. Millions of people are awake, watching and waiting

At an altitude of 11,500 feet a B.E 2.C airplane is flying. Young Robinson is at the controls. 2 other airplanes are in the vicinity, but it is Robinson who is to have the privilege of making history

On seeing the ship, he manoeuvres his airplane and flies about eight hundred feet below the gas bag from bow to stern, endeavoring to fire one drum into its belly.  To no avail.  Then another drum is_ distributed along its side, but still the airship rides on with something near to dignity

Robinson does not despair.   He merely changes his method of attack. Dropping behind the enemy and close below, he lets another drum into the underside of the stern, more determined than ever to put 'paid' to the account. Hardly before he can finish firing, a red glow is seen to be creeping stealthily along the belly of the ship


No longer do the searchlights play on the craft.   No longer do the anti-aircraft guns thunder. There is no need, for S.L.11 is doomed.

The biter is bit, and the commander and his crew are marked for destruction. They will never see their Fatherland (Germany) again. Soon the veil of grief will be drawn across many German homes.

In a few moments the whole of the rear of the airship becomes a blazing furnace. The sky is crimson with the flames of war, and drama is writ in red for all London and the surrounding districts to read.

Soon the S.L. 11 begins to break up and fall. Robinson speedily dodges the blazing mass as it roars down to earth.   Overwhelmed with excitement    and victory, he fires off a few red Verey lights and drops a parachute flare to add a little more colour to the event.

Down below strange things are happening Millions of voices cheer themselves hoarse as the enemy airship sweeps earthwords like a fantastic comet. Then comes the stampede. Where did the ship fall?


The question is on everyone's lips, and soon it is known that the final stage of the disaster is taking place near the little village of Cuffley

For 2 hours the S.L.11 burns, and during that time all roads lead to the dramatic scene. Thousands upon thousands of people, on foot or utilizing every possible kind of vehicle, make their way to Cuffley... The sight is incredible

Meanwhile, Robinson now running short of oil, alights at Sutton's Farm aerodrome. 3 miles from Hornchurch, his work done and his head high with justifiable pride. It is 2.45 a.m. on September 3, 1916. London does not sleep.

For his great performance Robinson received many gifts of appreciation and two days later the King awarded him the V.C


But he was not long to survive. On 5th April 1917 he was leading a formation of six Bristol machines of No.40 Squadron, and during the battle with the enemy his engine was disabled, and he was compelled to land. He was taken prisoner.

He spent the rest of the war in various German prisons, including Holzim-inden, where for a time he was kept in solitary confinement. His health was undermined, and shortly after his repatriation he fell a victim to influenza.

On the last day of the year 1918 his brave spirit fled. The courageous young man who gave London its most dramatic war spectacle made no spectacular exit himself from life. He died in bed and was interred at All Saints’ Harrow Weald, mourned by the world.”