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Captain Leefe Robinson



VC (July 14th 1895 - 31st December 1918)

William Leefe Robinson attended the Dragon School in Oxford and St Bees school in Cumbria before enlisting as a Lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment and soon after applied to become a pilot with the embryonic Royal Flying Corps. Joining 39 Squadron he was posted in 1916 to Sutton’s Farm where he would achieve everlasting fame.

On the night of 2nd/3rd September 1916 it was Leefe Robinson, flying an obsolete Be2c, who engaged and shot down the German airship SL 11. In so doing he was the first to shoot down an enemy aircraft over British soil and also thereby became the first to receive the Victoria Cross for an action on (or over) British soil.

His action spectacularly demonstrated to thousands of witnesses that the German airships were far from invincible and therefore did wonders for the morale of British civilians. The loss of SL. 11 was also the first step towards demonstrating to Germany that airship operations over Britain would prove to be too costly to be continued.

In addition to his award of a VC, Leefe Robinson was given at least £3,500 in prize money and was, along with Sutton’s farm’s other Zepp busters Sowrey and Tempest, also given a memorial silver cup by the grateful people of Hornchurch. Leefe Robinson spent some of his prize money on a Vauxhall car in which he and his fellow Zepp busters were often to be seen touring.

Leefe Robinson became a household name overnight for his action, was feted wherever he went, appeared widely in the press and was introduced to senior figures and foreign dignitaries. His award of the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military award, took place during an interview with King Gorge V at Windsor Castle. Leefe Robinson is the only pilot to have been awarded the Victoria Cross whilst serving at Suttons Farm/RAF Hornchurch..

In April 1917 Leefe Robinson was posted to France as a flight commander with 48 Squadron equipped with the superlative new F.2 Bristol Fighter. Unluckily on his first patrol over German lines his formation of six aircraft were intercepted by the legendary Manfred Von Richtofen (The Red Baron) leading his famous Jasta 11. Amongst the four British aircraft lost was that piloted by Leefe Robinson who was wounded and captured.

Leefe Robinson spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war and was incarcerated in a camp at Holzminden from which Leefe Robinson attempted a number of failed escape attempts. It seems that Leefe Robinson’s health and spirits may have suffered due to his wounds and the conditions in the camp.

Leefe Robinson returned to Britain after the armistice of November 1918 but unfortunately quickly succumbed to the Spanish Influenza which swept through Europe in 1918/19. He died of the influenza on December 31st 1918 at Stanmore in London. Hew was 23.

William Leefe Robinson is buried in the cemetery of All Saints Church, Harrow and Wealdstone. A memorial to him also stands close to the crash site of the airship SL. 11 that he downed near Cuffley in Hertfordshire.

Cooksley, P. 1999. VC's of the First World War.

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