Historic letters from people who survived the Bombardment of Hartlepool

A scene of destruction after the Bombardment of Hartlepool.
A scene of destruction after the Bombardment of Hartlepool.

They called it the “Fine Washing Day.”

But by the end of it, it was known as the day when washing was the last thing on people’s minds.

A house in Belk Street which was damaged during the Bombardment of Hartlepool.

A house in Belk Street which was damaged during the Bombardment of Hartlepool.

The folk of Hartlepool emerged from their slumbers on Wednesday, December 16, 1914, to find their town under attack.

Hundreds were injured and 130 were dead in the Bombardment of Hartlepool..

Fifty years later in 1964, the Northern Daily Mail asked for survivors of the attack to come forward and re-live that fateful day in our town’s history.

They did in great numbers.

Around me were several bodies, some half covered by rubble. I staggered towards the Old Cemetery, calling out for my mother and got no answer

W.H. Larkin, who wrote of the Bombardment in 1964

For the first time in 50 years, we can recall those memories - and those of the 100th anniversary of the Zeppelin attacks on the town.

W.H Larkin, of South Scarborough Street in West Hartlepool, distinctly remembered how the day started - and how it ended with a desperate walk of miles to save his life.

He was having breakfast with his brother when their mother said: “The wind is getting up. It will be a fine day for washing.”

But it wasn’t the wind. It was the sound of German shells as they hurtled from the North Sea towards Hartlepool. “The kitchen windows were rattling slightly,” said Mr Larkin.

“Soon the rattling became louder and fast, and they soon became ear-splitting crashes. As we ran out of the house, the windows were blown in by the terrible concussion.

“Outside, people were gathering in an open patch of ground at the end of Turnbull Street. My mother decided to go down Middleton Road and find out what was happening.

“As she passed opposite a Swedish church, a friend Barney Hodgson, told her that a naval battle was taking place outside the harbour.”

She ran towards the gasworks and, when she turned to look back, a body lay where Barney Hodgson had just been standing.

“She ran home and told my brother and me that we would have to run into the country.”

The boys ran to Dene Street when “there came a crash and I was knocked to the ground unconscious. On recovering, I found that both my eyes had become so swollen I could hardly see and blood was flowing from a gash in my right cheek.

“Around me were several bodies, some half covered by rubble. I staggered towards the Old Cemetery, calling out for my mother and got no answer.”

When he got to the cemetery, shells were bustting all around him. “A schoolfriend Stuart Arnell led me by the arm through the cemetery while shells were bursting around us.

“When we arrived in Thornville Road, Stuart asked three women if they would allow me to bathe me face. They took one look at me and fled.”

Next week - the burning gasometers and a kindly face.