Captain William Leefe Robinson, V.C. - Awarded the Victoria Cross
On Monday Major General W. Shaw memoed Lieutenant General Henderson Commander of the Royal Flying Corps, on Lord French's behalf.
"The Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief has seen the attached reports, and will be glad to know if you have any recommendation to make with regard to any reward which you may consider the Officer concerned may be deserving of. He will be glad of an early reply."
Lieutenant General Henderson's reply was immediate.
"I recommend Lieut W. L. Robinson for the Victoria Cross for the most conspicuous gallantry displayed in this successful attack."

On the 5th September 1916, the London Gazette announced the award;
"War Office 5th September 1916. His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned officer, Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson, Worcestershire Regiment and Royal Flying Corps. For most conspicuous bravery. He attacked an enemy airship under circumstances of great difficulty and danger, and sent it crashing to the ground as a flaming wreck. He had been in the air for more than two hours and had previously attacked another airship during his flight."

The evening papers on Tuesday carried the headline "The Zepp. V.C. for Airman," and the celebrations, which had hardly died away, began again. Now the hero of Cuffley was to receive the highest award for gallantry there was no restraining the tide of adulation, the picture postcards, the reams of bad prose and terrible poetry, the matchbox covers, the medals, and still the letters and telegrams. Robinson was a modest man, not at all an extrovert. He was also good looking. The British public had the perfect 'gentleman' hero.


The R.F.C. buries the sixteen crew of SL11 (8th September 1916)

The investiture at Windsor Castle on Friday 9th September 1916 was an occasion for more crowds. Though he arrived late, Robinson found hundreds of people waiting to catch a glimpse of him entering and leaving the castle. He would have to face many such crowds in the months ahead, and donning civilian clothes was no protection. His face was everywhere. In some households there was a picture of him in every room!

The Daily Mail of 10th September 1916 carried the following report:

The King decorated Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson, of the Royal Flying Corps, with the Victoria Cross yesterday at Windsor Castle. The motor-car of the Zeppelin-slaying hero broke down at Runnymede and he arrived late for the investiture. The royal carriage that had awaited him in the yard of Windsor Station had gone away. "In a fearful fright," as he remarked to a friend, he motored into the palace yard. After affixing the Victoria Cross and very warmly congratulating Lieutenant Robinson on his gallant feat, the King, interposing constant questions which displayed his keen technical interest in aviation, extracted from him a long and detailed account of how he brought down the Zeppelin. His Majesty produced a fine collection of photographs, taken from aeroplanes in France, which have been sent to him by the Prince of Wales. After talking long and warmly of France and the French air service, the King expressed the opinion that the British and French airmen are infinitely superior to those of the enemy. The King asked Lieutenant Robinson questions about his father and grandfather, and recalled that his grandfather Mr. William Braham Robinson, was once chief constructor at Portsmouth Dockyard.
The Queen, Princess Mary, and Prince Albert then received Lieutenant Robinson, and the Queen asked him many questions concerning his achievement.


And then the midnight mid-air Zeppelin slayer, who was "fearfully frightened," had to face the crowd outside the castle. Even Royal Flying Corps ruse and celerity could not escape them. They swarmed round the car and let loose their pent-up ovation. Windsor had been keeping vigil for this moment. It takes much to move townsmen suckled on pageantry, weaned to the sound of huzzas, who have seen all the world's great achievers pass up and down that steep, short roadway from the station to Windsor Castle. It was a monstrous crowd for unemotional Windsor, a sign of the affection and hero-worship that is thrilling all his country for the man who had been first to bring down one of the raiders on English soil.

"God bless you — God take care of you sir," the people cried out. "More power to your elbow," roared a voice that might have come from a descendant of Windsor's Falstaff. "Take care of yourself," called out some of the people. "Don't be reckless," cried another in a fever of loving solicitude.

Daily Sketch 9th September 1916

The front page of the Daily Sketch (9th September 1916) was all about the Airman VC:
"Lieutenant W. Leefe Robinson the young airman who brought down the Zeppelin, received his V.C., from the King at Windsor Castle yesterday. A large crowd, including the Marquis de Soveral and many notabilities, which assembled to welcome him at the railway station, waited awhile, and then dispersed disappointed. The breakdown of his motor had delayed the V.C.'s arrival. Lieutenant Robinson, however, was not to late to receive his decoration from the King, and afterwards he had a great reception from his admirers in the streets."

Lieut. William Leefe Robinson, V.C. leaving Windsor Castle (9th September 1916)

After the investiture came the other rewards. Colonel Joseph Cowen proprietor of the Newcastle Daily Chronicle presented Robinson with £2,000. Lord Michelham of the Bankers Herbert Stern contributed another £1,000. £500 came from William Bow, a Paisley shipbuilder, another £500 from L. A. Oldfield Esq. Robinson was presented with a silver cup by the residents of Hornchurch for which close on 300 subscriptions had been raised, and with a gold watch by the members of the Overseas Club. Messrs G. Wigley and J. Ball donated £100, and many smaller gifts were received.

Shortly afterwards Robinson treated himself to a new Vauxhall car with some of his prize money.

Robinson seen here driving his new car with his friend Lieut. Fred Sowrey, D.S.O.

It was at this time that Robinson announced his engagement to Mrs Joan Whipple, widow of Captain Herbert Connell Whipple of the Devonshire Regiment. Joan was working in a Surrey post office, but visited Sutton's Farm frequently with some friends from her days at Bently Priory in Stanmore. Considering Robinson had so many admirers, there must have been something very special about Mrs Whipple. None of Robinson's letters to her from Germany survive, but he refers to her as "the best girl on God's earth" in a letter to his parents. It is probable that he had found a private haven of peace in an otherwise stormy and very public existence.

Lieut. William Leefe Robinson celebrates his V.C. with R.F.C. comrades at Hornchurch

For the next three months there was to be no flying for Robinson. Much against his wishes his time was taken up with a string of official engagements, and while the public were placing his portrait above their mantlepieces the authorities were undecided about where to place the man himself. A promotion inevitably came through, to Flight Commander and temporary Captain, announced on 13th October 1916 and backdated to 1st September, but there was no job. Robinson was a Flight Commander without a Flight. He asked for a posting to France, and was offered instead the command of the Home Defence Squadrons (H.D.S.) in Northern England and Scotland. According to the 39 H.D.S. History compiled by Captain Tryggve Gran this "did not seem to fall in with the young Captain's taste," and Robinson is reported to have exclaimed ". . . I am going to volunteer for France at once."
Captain William Leefe Robinson was now without doubt the most famous pilot in England when he wrote the following letter to his parents in October 1916. 

October 22nd 1916
My darling Mother and Father,
I do really feel ashamed for not writing to you darling old people before, but still, there it is—you know what I am. Busy—!! Heavens, for the last 7 weeks I have done enough to last anyone a lifetime. It has been a wonderful time for me!

I won't say much about "strafing" the Zepp L21 for two reasons; to begin with most of it is strictly secret and secondly I'm really so tired of the subject and telling people so I will only say a very few words about it.

When the colossal thing actually burst into flames of course it was a glorious sight—wonderful! It literally lit up all the sky around and me as well of course—I saw my machine as in the fire light—and sat still half dazed staring at the wonderful sight before me, not realizing to the least degree the wonderful thing that had happened!

My feelings? can I describe my feelings. I hardly know how I felt. As I watched the huge mass gradually turn on end, and—as it seemed to me—slowly sink, one glowing, blazing mass—I gradually realized what I had done and grew wild with excitement. When I had cooled down a bit, I did what I don't think many people would think I would do, and that was I thanked God with all my heart. You know darling old mother and father I'm not what is popularly known as a religious person, but on an occasion such as that one must realize a little how one does trust in providence. I felt an over-powering feeling of thankfulness, so was it strange that I should pause and think for a moment after the first "blast" of excitement as it were, was over and thank from the bottom of my heart, that supreme power that rules and guides our destinies?

When I reached the ground once more, I was greeted with "was it you Robin" etc: etc: "yes, I've Strafed the beggar this time" I said, whereupon the whole flight set up a yell and carried me out of my machine to the office—cheering like mad.

Talking of cheering, they say it was wonderful to hear all London cheering—people who have heard thousands of huge crowds cheering before say they have heard nothing like it. When Sowrey and Tempest brought down their Zepps I had an opportunity of hearing something like it, although they say it wasn't so grand as mine, which could be heard twenty and even thirty miles outside London.

It swelled and sank, first one quarter of London, then another. Thousands, one might say millions of throats giving vent to thousands of feelings.

I would give anything for you dear people to have heard it. A moment before dead silence (for the guns had ceased to fire at it) then this outburst—The relief, the thanks, the gratitude of millions of people. All the sirens, hooters and whistles of steam engines, boats on the river, and munition and other works all joined in and literally filled the air—and the cause of it all—little me sitting in my little aeroplane above 13,000feet of darkness!!—its wonderful—!

And to think that I should be chosen to be the recipient of the thanks of all England! (For that's what it amounts to!)

Dear old "G" who will be with you when you receive this will tell you something of the letters and telegrams I have received. The day after I was awarded the VC I received 37 telegrams, which includes one from my colonel and one from General Henderson, who is of course the boss of the whole RFC.

I have had tons of interviews too, amongst which are those I have had with—The Grand Duke Michle (??! ) of Russia, Lord Curzon, General Sir David Henderson and heaps of others. When I went to Windsor to get the VC The King was awfully nice, asked me all about you dear people and Grandfather etc: and showed me some awfully interesting photographs taken from the air over the German Lines.

G will tell you all about the 4 days leave I had at Southbourne with her.

Oh. I could go on telling you what I have done and go on writing for a month of Sundays, but I must cut things short. I have, of course had hundreds of invitations most of which I have had to refuse owing to duty.

I went up to Newcastle for a day and was entertained by the Lord Mayor who gave a dinner in my honour, where I was presented with a check for £2,000 by Col Cowen of Newcastle. They wanted to make the whole thing a grand public function but H.Q. wouldn't let them, for which I was very thankful.

I've had endless other small presents—some of the nicest are paintings of the burning Zepp:

By the by about 5 artists have offered to paint my portrait for the R.A.
As I daresay you have seen in the papers—Babies, flowers and hats have been named after me also poems and prose have been dedicated to me—oh, its too much!

I am recognised wherever I go about Town now, whether in uniform or mufti—The city police salute me—The waiters, Hall porters and pages of Hotels and Restaurants bow and scrape—visitors turn round and stare—Oh its too thick!

But the most glorious thing is that Sowrey, dear old boy, and Tempest, sweet soul, the two Zepp: strafers who have been awarded the D.S.O.s are both in my flight!! Some flight—five officers, of which there are two D.S.Os and a V.C. and three Zepps to our credit—some record!!!

Well you darlings I'll close now or else I'll go babbling on all night and I'm really tired.
I'll just tell you I'm not at present at Hornchurch, I'm somewhere in England on a secret mission but I'm going back to dear old Sutton's Farm again.

Well, do forgive me for not writing before.

Ever Your loving son

It was not until 9th February 1917 that a posting finally came through. Robinson joined 48 Squadron at Rendcombe in Gloucester, under Major L. Parker. The squadron was eagerly awaiting the arrival of new aircraft prior to their posting to France. Robinson's wish had been granted, but he would not have long to enjoy his new position.

Bristol F2a Fighter

Equipped with eighteen new Bristol F2a's, 48 Squadron flew to Bertangles on 18th March 1917. The aeroplanes were to prove excellent fighters in the years to come, but in the early weeks there were problems, especially with the new Constantinesco Synchronising gear for the forward firing Vickers gun, which was not ready on schedule. What was more worrying, was that the Vickers and Lewis guns themselves jammed at high altitude. It was thought that the lubricating oil was freezing, and Robinson suggested the oil should be left out.

The first flight of new Bristols took off from La Bellevue airfield on 5th April. Robinson was in command in F2a, A337, with Lieutenant Edward Warburton as observer. He led his patrol in a tight formation, believing that the protection this gave to the individual members of the flight was most important.