WWI hero honoured by Cuffley for shooting down first German airship overhead

PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:02 17 May 2019

Leefe Robinson's bi-plane that shot down the airship. Picture: Courtesy of Govia Thameslink Railway.

Leefe Robinson's bi-plane that shot down the airship. Picture: Courtesy of Govia Thameslink Railway.

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A British pilot has been honoured by Cuffley for shooting down the first German airship in the First World War.

A plaque honouring WW1 hero Captain William Leefe Robinson is unveiled at Cuffley train station. Picture: DANNY LOOA plaque honouring WW1 hero Captain William Leefe Robinson is unveiled at Cuffley train station. Picture: DANNY LOO

William Leefe Robinson was honoured by Govia Thameslink Railway managers and Cuffley parish councillors with a plaque unveiled at the village station on Friday.

Leefe Robinson, covered in whale fat to protect against the freezing cold and flying a small biplane, took on a roughly 174 metres long giant German airship with the last of his ammunition on September 3, 1916.

The early-morning pitch-black air fight was a close call with Royal Flying Corps pilot Lieutenant coming under heavy fire from the airship.

He made several close range attacks, raking it with incendiary bullets from his single Lewis gun, which brought down the hydrogen-filled ship in a burst of flames over Cuffley.

Journeying to see the reckage. Picture: Courtesy of Govia Thameslink Railway.Journeying to see the reckage. Picture: Courtesy of Govia Thameslink Railway.

The sky lit up during the night and the explosion could be seen from as far away as Cambridge and Surrey.

"I quickly got out of the way of the falling, blazing Zeppelin and, being very excited, fired off a few red Very lights and dropped a parachute flare," he said in his official report.

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Leefe Robinson became renowned for his actions, and more than 10,000 people flocked by rail to see the wreckage in Cuffley - many by train.

A plaque honouring WW1 hero Captain William Leefe Robinson is unveiled at Cuffley train station with his Great Nephew Christopher Irwin (left) in attendance with (L-R) Northaw and Cuffley parish council Cllr Peter Dace and Govia Thameslink Railway chief operating officer Steve White. Picture: DANNY LOOA plaque honouring WW1 hero Captain William Leefe Robinson is unveiled at Cuffley train station with his Great Nephew Christopher Irwin (left) in attendance with (L-R) Northaw and Cuffley parish council Cllr Peter Dace and Govia Thameslink Railway chief operating officer Steve White. Picture: DANNY LOO

Just days after the air fight he was awarded the Victoria Cross, thought to be the fastest on record and the first for action over British soil.

One of Leefe Robinson's great nephews, Christopher Irwin, was at the official plaque unveiling in Cuffley.

"My family has always had mixed feelings about Billy's achievement.

"Our family admired his courage and his bravery, but he was one of four close members of the family who died. We were also aware that the crew of that airship died."

A plaque honouring WW1 hero Captain William Leefe Robinson is unveiled at Cuffley train station with his Great Nephew Christopher Irwin (left) in attendance with (L-R) Northaw and Cuffley parish council Cllr Peter Dace and Govia Thameslink Railway chief operating officer Steve White. Picture: DANNY LOOA plaque honouring WW1 hero Captain William Leefe Robinson is unveiled at Cuffley train station with his Great Nephew Christopher Irwin (left) in attendance with (L-R) Northaw and Cuffley parish council Cllr Peter Dace and Govia Thameslink Railway chief operating officer Steve White. Picture: DANNY LOO

Leefe Robinson died in December 1918, a month after the war ended, when he returned to the UK from being a prison of war and contracted Spanish flu.

The railway station plaque replaces a nameplate that had been on one of the oldest Great Northern trains.

"The nameplate has been running around the route on one of our older trains which will be retired shortly, as now it is here on the wall of our station for posterity," said Steve White, GTR's chief operating officer.

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