Purdey and the Zeppelin Killer

23 Dec 2021

Purdey and the Zeppelin Killer

Purdey contributed to the war effort by producing sniper rifles and muzzle protectors for use in the trenches, it is less known that the company also played a role during the war in the air too. Initially this was by creating Mark II magazines for the Lewis Gun in 1916, however later Purdey received contracts to produce other accessories for aerial combat. These included the Hyland handle (a device for clearing jams on Vickers guns), trigger units and, most notably, various aerial-gunnery sights. Purdey’s most prolific design was the creation of a Professor Norman, assisted by the long-time factory manager, Ernest Lawrence. The ‘Norman Sight’ (here pictured) used a set of vanes connected by pivoting rods to a red bead aiming-mark, designed to compensate for the amount of lead required for aerial combat. It was one of these sights which was fitted to the plane flown by Captain William Leefe Robinson on 3 September 1916, when he shot down the first Zeppelin at Cuffleys, for which he was awarded a V.C. An example of the sight was mounted on top of an ornate dinner gong, made from a German artillery shell case suspended between carved propellers. To this day it has been on display in Purdey’s Long Room to this day. The success of this design also led to orders for other designs, including the Hutton and Neame night-flying sights, which were illuminated with reflected light from coloured bulbs so as not to dazzle the pilot. It also led to the employment of the first female machinists in the company’s history, with five women operating two lathes installed in the Mount Street part of Audley House to increase production of the various parts for the Lewis Guns.