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
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
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.