Cyril Fairman – survivor of Croydon Zeppelin attack, 1915

Cyril Fairman wearing his Munitions Worker lapel badge

Title: Cyril Fairman wearing his Munitions Worker lapel badge
Description: Photograph from 1917-18 provided by his son, Malcolm Fairman by-nc

Information supplied by Malcolm Fairman, the son of Cyril Fairman.

Cyril Fairman was born in 1901. His mother was Annie Dean. She had a twin sister Alice and two brothers, Charles and Arthur Thomas Dean. Arthur had two daughters, Mary and Cecily.

Annie and Alice Fairman outside Alice's shop in Church Street, Croydon with Cyril. c.1910. Imaged by permission of Malcolm Fairman

Annie and Alice Fairman outside Alice’s shop in Church Street, Croydon with Cyril. c.1910. Image by permission of Malcolm Fairman

Annie and Cyril Fairman c. 1914. Image by permission of his son Malcolm Fairman.

Annie and Cyril Fairman c. 1914. Image by permission of his son Malcolm Fairman.

Cyril attended the ‘British School’ at Tamworth Road, Croydon, for which Annie paid a fee of perhaps half penny a day. Cecily remembers that he would walk to school on one side of the road with his friend, while Mary and Cecily would walk on the other side. If the two girls spoke too loudly, then Cyril would tell Annie or Alice on his return home and the girls would get a telling off. At that time Cecily would clean Cyril’s bike every Sunday, cleaning the spokes with emery paper, and after one such telling off threatened him that she wouldn’t clean it that week.

In 1911 Annie and Cyril went to live at 111 Cherry Orchard Road. Annie kept chickens there. She had an incubator for the young chicks and sold the eggs from the front room of the house along with vegetables provided by her sister Alice, who had a shop. Annie also carried on with her dressmaking, and her occupation is listed as such in the 1911 census and in Kelly’s Surrey Directory of 1913.

In 1914 Cecily and Mary moved in with Annie and Cyril, and stayed there until October 1915. Cecily remembered clearly the night of 13th October 1915 when Zeppelin L14 dropped a bomb that landed in a manure pile in the yard of Lyon’s bakery opposite, at 114 Cherry Orchard Road. The bomb exploded and damaged all the surrounding houses, mainly blowing their windows out.

Bomb damage from Zeppelin Raid, 42 Leslie Park Road, Croydon 13th October 1915. Image from the Imperial War Museum collections ref: © IWM (HO 25)

At the time Annie was brushing her hair at the dressing table between the two front windows. (Cecily remembers that Annie had really long hair which she kept up in a bun). The bomb blew out both windows and flying glass caused cuts to Annie’s arms. Standing or sitting between the windows no doubt saved her from much more serious injuries. Cyril was in the room with her but escaped unhurt. Cecily and Mary bound her wounds. Basil, Charles Dean’s son, was asleep in the back room and slept through the whole incident.

The houses opposite, in Leslie Grove, were also badly damaged and Cecil remembers a bed was left hanging out of a window. Cicely also recalled that a doctor and his family were killed at the corner of St James and Morland Road. (While Cecily believed that all her life in fact it was incorrect. The Doctor was out at the time and returned home to find his family only shaken and lightly injured).

The Zeppelin was brought down at Cuffley according to Cecily. (Again this wasn’t the case, the Zeppelin that crashed at Cuffley was shot down in 1916, and in fact, while it attacked London, at no point did it come near Croydon).

Annie decided not to tell Cecily and Mary’s father, Arthur, for fear of worrying him. However, concerned by the raid he came home to see them and was disgusted at the state the house was in. He then took Cicely and Mary away and sent them off to stay with Annie’s sister, Alice, at her house at 11 Cuthbert Road, Croydon.

Cyril did a lot of skating at the Croydon Skating Rink on the corner of Cherry Orchard Road and Cedar Road. One day when the boys were being charged and the girls were not, Cyril and his pal dressed as girls and persuaded two boys to take them in. Cicely believes it is possible that Cyril met his first wife, Dot, at the skating rink. The rink closed in 1915, when the site was taken over by Creed and Company, Telegraph Manufacturers, who built a factory that was used for war work. Equipment produced included tube amplifiers, spark transmitters for aircraft, air compasses, small high-tension generators, bomb release gear and high explosive shell and bomb fuses. Cyril went to work there and is pictured above in either 1917 or 1918 wearing the lapel badge that was given to munitions workers to indicate that they were civilians engaged in important war work.

Free flight booklet 1919. Prize won by Cyril Fairman in a competition run by the Daily News. Image by permission of Malcom Fairman

Free flight booklet 1919. Prize won by Cyril Fairman in a competition run by the Daily News. Image by permission of Malcolm Fairman

Poem about free flight won by Cyril Fairman in a Handley Page bomber, 1919. Image by permission of Malcolm Fairman.

Comic poem about free flight won by Cyril Fairman in a Handley Page bomber, 1919. Image by permission of Malcolm Fairman.

Piece of paper with poem about Cyril Fairman's experiences upon winning a free flight. August 30th 1919. Image by permission of Malcolm Fairman

Piece of paper with poem about Cyril Fairman’s experiences upon winning a free flight. August 30th 1919. Image by permission of Malcolm Fairman

Having survived the war, in August 1919 Cyril was delighted to win a free ride, along with others, in a Handley Page bomber at Cricklewood Aerodrome, North-West London. Once up in the air he was amazed and somewhat terrified to see the land between the floor boards of the plane! The experience was celebrated in a poem (see photo) which reads as follows:-

“There was a young fellow who always surmised
One day he would gain a wonderful prize.
Good fortune he cried has passed over my path,
Which made the young fellow heartily laugh,
‘I’ve got it’ said he, ‘I’ve gained a flight!’
So up he went at a pretty good height
‘I wished’ said he, ‘I had sold my chance’
It upset him so much that he stained his pants”.

Cyril learned to play the piano, violin and saxophone and eventually formed his own band, The ‘Cyril Fairman Dance Band’ and also backed another called The Austin Woodward Band’. His musical career lasted from 1920 to 1967.

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