Seaside town remembers Great War bombardment

Previously unreleased photo dated 13/11/14 of Gerry Raffell, 66, standing at the memorial in Hartlepool as the town devastated by the 1914 German bombardment of the North East coast is preparing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the attack
Previously unreleased photo dated 13/11/14 of Gerry Raffell, 66, standing at the memorial in Hartlepool as the town devastated by the 1914 German bombardment of the North East coast is preparing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the attack

A town devastated by the 1914 German bombardment of the North East coast of England is preparing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the attack.

With the First World War just four months old, the Germans crossed the North Sea and started to shell Hartlepool, a town that was a hotspot for shipbuilding and ironworks.

Whitby and Scarborough were also attacked, and it is believed 150 people died and around 600 were injured in the raids on December 16, 1914.

The bombardment spawned the famous slogan “Remember Scarborough”, and Winston Churchill, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, wrote a letter to the mayor there expressing outrage at the tragedy.

But Hartlepool, which suffered a more serious attack, was gripped with fear and many families moved inland to escape any further bombardment.

Mark Simmons, museums manager for Hartlepool Borough Council, said the psychological impact on the town was huge.

“New research has shown that there were at least 114 civilian casualties in the Hartlepools, nine soldiers killed on the headland and seven sailors who died on the ships out to sea fighting cruisers, for a total of 130 known casualties just in the Hartlepools,” he said.

“The initial reaction was fear of a repeat attack and a few days later there’s a panic where somebody gets confused about some military intelligence and people flee out into the countryside.

“A number of families move inland, they go to Stockton and Co Durham, and get away from the coastline.

“There’s probably over 500 people wounded and many of them end up in hospital recovering from their wounds for months afterwards.

“There’s all that shock and fear of the German attack because everybody knew someone who had died or been wounded.”

But very quickly this loss of life and destruction inspired the men and women of the town to get behind the war effort and make a sizeable contribution.

He said: “The psychological impact was huge, it put everyone behind the war effort, it put people into the forces and the impetus to sign up and contribute ran through every family.

“So 22,000 men sign up in Hartlepool, which is a massive number per head of population. Almost every man is involved in that and thousands working in the shipyards and women in munition factories.”