OVER my years in Australia I have contributed the odd item to Memory Lane.
In the early 1980s you published something of mine relating to the bombardment of Hartlepool.
Out of the blue, I received a letter from a William Chown, a proud Monkey-hanger living in the state of Victoria, here in Australia.
For a couple of years, 1982-84, we exchanged letters of reminiscence about our home town, then his letters suddenly stopped.
He had made reference to ill health and a stay in hospital so I presumed that his time had come.
Now retired myself, I have been going through old letters and thought that William’s memories might be of interest to a new generation for the light they shed on life in Hartlepool before 1914 and his own experience of the bombardment.
I have brought together his reminiscences from the five letters he sent me and turned them into an article.
There may even be Chowns still living in the town who will be interested to hear their ancestor’s “voice” after all these years.
Seventy years after the bombardment of Hartlepool, William could still remember the details of that December morning in 1914.
“I was home on the morning of the bombardment.
“It was a foggy morning and we were having breakfast just after 8am when we heard the first broadside from the German ships.
“My mother sensed what it was and sent my younger brother, Walter, and myself off to school, reasoning that we would be protected.
“My elder brother, Thomas, got on the back of a bike and finished out in the country.
“I made a run along the prom to the New Pier, then ran down past St Hilda’s church, down the High Street into Northgate, the only way out of town.”
It was packed with people carrying birds in cages, Christmas cakes, whatever the people laid their hands on that they thought important, past the railway station with the endless noise of the firing and the shells exploding.
William met his older brother just past the library.
He wanted to know “where is mother?”
“I said “home.” He said “we’ll get her” so we raced against the tide of humanity, back up High Street where a soldier standing with a fixed bayonet by the pump ordered us back.
“We took no notice.
“Home – no mother. We found out afterwards that she was in the cellar of a magistrate’s house on the sea front.
“We ran past the church yard wall and past the Baptist Chapel. One bang and the church organ came out through wall. We reversed and finished down in Northgate.”
After the firing died down, the dead and wounded were being cared for.
“We checked to see our married sister in Alliance Street was ok.
“We followed up from the Fairy Cove Battery along the houses facing the Moor.”
The last house in Marine Crescent was Watts’, next to the tennis court. A shell had slammed into it and a bedstead hung out.
The two sisters, Annie and Amy, had been ready to go to work at Richardson Westgarth.
Amy was fatally wounded and Annie had carried her out on to the tennis court.
“We soon heard that two of our school mates were dead, the two Whitecross boys.
“It was decided to give them a Scout funeral.
“Another scout and I, being the same height, were on the cross pole of the trek cart with a full team in the traces, the two coffins on the cart draped with a Union flag followed by several troops of Scouts, bugle band and muffled drum.
“We made our way up Northgate to the New Cemetery.
“Northgate was packed with people, with soldiers at attention saluting the Union flag.”
William Chown moved to Australia in 1923, where he remained proud of his Monkey-hanger’ heritage.
He had an interesting final reflection on that day when the war came to Hartlepool.
“Old Moore’s Almanac used to cost a penny in 1914.
“Every household had one and it had a page for each month.
“The top of the page had a sketch and the bottom half had a story of interest for the month.
“December 1914 had a sketch of monkeys lying on the sand as though they were dead – it wasn’t too far out, was it?”
New South Wales,