Cadbury, Lt. Egbert, RN


Egbert Cadbury, known to his family as Bertie, was born at Selly Oak on 20th April 1893, the youngest son of George and Elizabeth Cadbury. He was educated at Leighton Park School and Trinity College, Cambridge. The First World War broke out and Bertie joined the Royal Navy as an Able Seaman. He volunteered for the Royal Naval Air Service, and after training as a pilot, joined the Royal Naval Air Station at Great Yarmouth in August 1915 as a Flight Sub Lieutenant. A few days later, on the 9th August, he flew his first mission against German Zeppelins. 

The difficulties involved in attacking the German Zeppelins at this time, cannot be over-emphasised. Zeppelins usually flew over at night and high and were almost unheard from the ground. There were only two searchlights along the whole of the East Anglian coastline. Thus it all relied on a sighting, probably by a civilian, who would then need to tell a policeman, who in turn would cycle to a telephone and call the nearest Naval Air Station, where they would scramble an aircraft. The early aircraft were flimsy, had poor performance and range, and could not climb as high, or as fast as the Zeppelins. The aircrafts’ few armaments included service rifles, shotguns and revolvers. In 1915, the Zeppelins made 20 raids over England, killing 207 and injuring 573 civilians. 

On 27th October 1916, ten Zeppelins took part in raids on the Midlands and the North. One of them, L21, returning from an attack on Macclesfield, went out to sea near Lowestoft, and was attacked by three aircraft (BE 2c’s) from Great Yarmouth, piloted in turn by Bertie, Sub Lieutenant Fane and Sub Lieutenant Pulling. Bertie and Fane attacked from under the stern, but Fane’s gun jammed. Bertie got under the Zeppelin and fired all his ammunition. Pulling attacked from the port, but saw the Zeppelin on fire where Bertie had shot at it. The airship, captained by Kapitan Deitrich Frankenberg, plunged into the sea off Lowestoft. Pulling was awarded a DSO, and Bertie and Fane, DSCs. 

It was not until late 1917, that better aircraft, armed with Vickers and Lewis guns, plus reliable tracer and incendiary bullets, were provided. In February 1917, Bertie had married Mary Forbes Phillips, daughter of the Vicar of Gorleston. Mary had a fine singing voice, and with Bertie in the audience, was singing at a charity event in Great Yarmouth on 5th August 1918. At about 8.45pm, an orderly came in to tell him that he was wanted at headquarters as three Zeppelins had been spotted over the sea some 50 miles away. He dashed in his Ford car to the airfield. Bertie saw that there was only one aircraft available with sufficient speed and climb, a DH4, and leapt into the pilot’s seat, with Lieutenant Leckie (also an experienced pilot) acting as observer/gunner. After leaving Great Yarmouth, they spotted the three Zeppelins at about 9.45pm some 40 miles away to the north east, flying in a “V” formation. The airships altered course, and Bertie gave pursuit climbing to 16,400 ft. with the Zeppelins flying above them at 17,000 ft. Leckie fired his Lewis machine gun at one of the Zeppelins, L70, and the explosive bullets blew a great hole in the fabric. Fire spread along the length of the airship and it plunged into the sea off North Norfolk. The other two turned back towards Germany at high speed. Bertie and Leckie attacked one of the remaining two, L65, but their gun had jammed. They landed at Sedgeford Airfield and were horrified to find that their bombs had failed to release. L70 was Germany’s finest airship. She was captained by Kapitan von Lossnitzer, but had on board the Chief of the Imperial German Naval Airship Service, Fregakapitan Peter Strasser. Bertie and Leckie were each awarded the DFC. 

Bertie went on to become the Managing Director of Cadbury Brothers. He was knighted and died in 1967. His eldest son, Peter, was a test pilot, and Douglas Bader was the best man at Peter’s wedding. Lt. Leckie became an Air Marshal in the Royal Canadian Air Force. In 1918, the Royal Air Force was formed from the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. The RAF did not have its own ranks at that time, so adopted those of the RFC. Bertie and Leckie were technically, Major Cadbury and Captain Leckie, for the last few months of the war. However, they had joined the Royal Navy. 

Cadbury and Leckie shooting down L70 (painting by Norman Appleton).