Death, destruction and gallantry in our town

Children standing outside of St. Barnabas Church on Hart Road. The photograph shows the damage caused during the bombardment of the Hartlepools by Germany, which took place on the 16th December 1914. This was the first time British civilians were in the line of enemy fire during a World War.
Children standing outside of St. Barnabas Church on Hart Road. The photograph shows the damage caused during the bombardment of the Hartlepools by Germany, which took place on the 16th December 1914. This was the first time British civilians were in the line of enemy fire during a World War.

NINETY-NINE years ago this week Hartlepool suffered the darkest day in the town’s history when 112 civilians, nine soldiers and six sailors were killed in a bombardment by German warships. ANDREW LEVETT looks back at how the Mail commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the shelling.

AS DAISY Lupton left her Headland home shortly after dawn to go to work at Mrs Ibbitson’s, in Northgate, she passed some soldiers singing A Long Way To Tipperary as they headed out on a route march.

She had not been at work long that morning, December 16, 1914, when she heard rumbling noises, initially from a long way off but gradually getting closer and louder until they were deafening.

Exactly 50 years later, in 1964, a now elderly Daisy told the Mail: “We people in Northgate did not really know what had happened until we saw people running down Middlegate half-clothed, screaming and shouting.”

Daisy said she and colleague Florence Storm did their best to help by giving hot drinks and clothing “to these poor helpless frightened people, some attired only in their night clothes and some of them maimed.

“It was a dreadful sight.”

A few hours later Daisy saw an ambulance taking the bodies of a soldier killed on the battery and some civilians to the shop of Grey and Peverals in the lower part of the High Street, which had been opened up as a makeshift mortuary.

Daisy told the Mail she vividly remembered seeing a shop window on Northgate completely blown out and kept a fragment of sharpnel she found in the yard of her Durham Street home as a souvenir.

Besides Daisy’s memories of the raid, the Mail commemorated the anniversary with a detailed article by former Royal Artilleryman Brigadier H B Latham on the military aspects of the action.

The brigadier wrote that the German raiders, the Blucher, Seydlitz and Moltke, had slipped undetected through the patrolling screen of British warships, along with two other battle cruisers which split off to bombard Scarborough and Whitby.

At 8am four Hartlepool-based destroyers on routine patrol north-east of the town spotted the huge warships but under heavy shellfire were unable to get close enough to launch their torpedoes and were forced to withdraw.

On the alarm being raised two more small warships, HMS Patrol and Forward, along with the submarine C9 attempted to leave port to tackle the German battle cruisers. But they too came under heavy fire and a damaged Patrol ran aground while the other two cleared the harbour bar too late to affect the action.

The Germans planned to silence the shore defences, the Heugh and Lighthouse gun batteries, whose total of three guns, firing six-inch diameter shells, were up against more than 60 guns on the three German warships, 20 of them firing 11-inch diameter shells.

The Germans came close inshore to evade a fogbank but even at the short range of about 5,000 yards managed no direct hits on the batteries and the armour piercing shells tended to ricochet and burst in the town behind.

The Lighthouse gun managed a direct hit on the Blucher with its third round, disabling two guns but was then handicapped both by technical problems and the lighthouse itself being in the arc of fire and screening the Blucher.

The Heugh gun battery managed several hits and Brigadier Latham wrote: “In a situation unknown in England for at least 200 years they served their guns steadily and most gallantly against great odds.”

After 42 minutes the Germans steamed away with the loss of eight sailors, having fired 1,150 shells and severely damaging ships in the harbour and the docks as well as civilian properties.

The Hartlepool batteries were the only coast defence unit in action during the war but the bombardment wasn’t the only attack on the town.

Daisy recalled a Zeppelin raid one night several weeks later.

She told the Mail: “The Zeppelin was sighted by our anti-aircraft section whose searchlight never left it.

“The gunfire went on for a while and we saw the Zeppelin had been hit and was in flames.

“It was a big blaze which lit up the sky and eventually what was left of it fell into the sea.

“The charred remains of the crew were buried at Seaton Carew.”

Daisy added that the Germans mined the sea off the coast of Hartlepool later in the war and a British minesweeper was blown up, killing the entire crew, including her husband’s brother, Stephen Lupton.

She said: “There were many more raids after this, and night after night warnings were sent out and we had to take cover.”

Contact Andrew Levett by emailing andrew.levett@northeast-press.co.uk or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.