The German shells that ruined a birthday

Is this John Thomas Morson with fragments of shell? Help us identify the man in the picture.'Copyright: Hartlepool Borough Council.
Is this John Thomas Morson with fragments of shell? Help us identify the man in the picture.'Copyright: Hartlepool Borough Council.
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BIRTHDAYS are always a big occasion.

But when it’s your 16th, it is especially exciting.

Unfortunately for Selina Morson, of Girvan Terrace, her 16th birthday was on the very same day as the Bombardment of Hartlepool.

It was all recorded in a letter, which Hartlepool museums manager Mark Simmons explained more about.

“It is dated March 29, 1915, and is in response to the family seeing the first public exhibition of photographs of the Bombardment at the West Hartlepool Library.”

Its signed J. T. Morson, the father of the house John Thomas Morson who was a timber yard foreman by trade.

For the first time in nearly 100 years, that letter can be shared with the world, in the hope that someone may know more about the man pictured at the front.

In that letter, Mr Morson said: “It was my daughter’s birthday and she was waiting for the postman when the loud sound of guns was heard.”

Mother of the house, Mrs Rose Elizabeth Morson, and another daughter watched from the door “dreading and yet anxious to know the cause”.

Mrs Morson hurriedly dressed her other children when Selina rushed in shouting: “It’s the Germans bombarding us. The gasworks are ablaze.”

An 11-inch shell shook the ground, ricocheted and hit the family home, piercing through the pantry. “It took away the birthday cake and all of the Christmas provisions,” said Mr Morson.

It ricocheted again into the street behind where it killed numerous people.

Every member of the Morson family - Mr and Mrs Morson, and their children Selina, John Thomas, William Henry, Edward Cuthbert, Christine, and Rose Helen - escaped the shelling unharmed.

Astonishingly, even two pet birds - a linnet and a canary - were uninjured even though the bars on their cage were bent out of shape by the shelling.

We now know the man in the background of this photograph is Mr Morson, but who is the man at the front. Mr Simmons added: “Man with shell splinters and pipe still remains unidentified. He is, however, holding splinters of an 11 inch shell fired from either the Seydlitz or the Moltke. This implies that the shell that hit Girvan Terrace travelled north to south through the streets.”

Contact us and let us know more. Ring Chris Cordner on (01429) 239377, or email

• The Mail is marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War throughout 2014.

A series of commemorative supplements will be published in the paper from April onwards with coverage continuing until the centenary of the Bombardment of Hartlepool in December.

If you have Great War memorabilia or a story about a local relative who served in the conflict then please contact our newsdesk on (01429) 239380.