NORMAN Collins was an 17-year-old engineering apprentice eating his breakfast before a day building vessels for the Royal Navy when the Bombardment began.
“A tremendous explosion rocked the house followed by an inferno of noise and the reek of high explosives,” he wrote in the Mail in December 1994.
“As I made for the door, clouds of brick dust and smoke eddied around.”
Norman ran towards the Block Sands, 50 yards away from his Headland home, and was amazed to see three battlecruisers, which appeared to be only a few hundred yards from the end of the breakwater.
“Their massive guns were firing broadsides and in the dull light of a winter’s morning it was like looking into a furnace,” wrote Norman, 97 in 1994.
He recalled: “I had never been under fire before and at first did not realise what was causing the high-pitched shrieks, then it dawned on me it was the whistle of hundreds of shells rushing over my head at low altitiude.”
With the great guns of the warships drowning out Hartlepool’s own batteries, Norman thought a landing was imminent and retraced his steps up Rowell Street.
“As I rounded the corner of Lumley Street, I saw the body of Sammy Woods, a schoolfriend of mine, lying half out of his doorway, a shell having burst just as he stepped out a second before I turned the corner,” said Norman, who then headed for his workplace, the drawing office of the Central Marine Engine Works.
Skirting the docks, he saw “hundreds of pit props flying high in the air like matches thrown by giant hands”. They had been stacked in piles on the dockside and scattered by shells dropping among the stacks.
The drawing office was deserted and many people were hurrying out of town to the open country, carrying their most precious possessions.
Norman decided to return home to see if his family were ok, which they were, and he collected a number of souvenir shell fragments, including one which had killed a donkey grazing on Friarage Field.
Later, Norman joined the Seaforth Highlanders, serving in France, and his letters from there and memoirs were incorporated into the book Last Man Standing, by Richard van Emden.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.
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