‘Hell on Earth’ – How mum lost two young sons during Bombardment of Hartlepool

EDITH Cook with the photographs of Bombardment victims Wilfred and Harold Cook, taken shortly before their deaths in 1914

EDITH Cook with the photographs of Bombardment victims Wilfred and Harold Cook, taken shortly before their deaths in 1914

MARY Cook went through every mother’s worst nightmare on December 16, 1914.

Two of her sons - Wilfred Cook, eight, and his older brother Harold, aged 11 - both died in The Bombardment of Hartlepool. They were killed as they set off from home to go to school, only to die in the streets close to their own doorstep.

Wilfred was killed outright as he stood in Turnbull Street, patiently waiting for his older brother to run an errand for a neighbour.

Harold was mortally injured nearby. He was taken to hospital where he died from his wounds the same day.

Their horrified mother Mary was left with two sons to bury. Tragically, that wasn’t the end of her worries.

Despite her grief, she had keep a brave face for the sake of her surviving son and two young daughters.

And to make matters worse, she was seven months pregnant at the time of the tragedy and her husband Michael was hundreds of miles away - serving his country on the front line with the Army.

It is a tale which has not been told in its full detail for 100 years, until now.

Mary’s story was never revealed beyond family circles. Today, it can be shared thanks to Mary’s daughter-in-law, Edith Cook.

Edith said: “It must have been hell on Earth for her. It must have been an awful life for her. She had to cope on her own and she was pregnant.”

Imagine it. Mary Cook had lost two children just nine days before Christmas and yet had to keep a brave face for her remaining family, and she did it all with her husband’s own fate unknown on the front line.

Just two months after burying two of her children, she gave birth to a baby girl in February, 1915.

In 1919, with her husband back at her side, she had a son and then another son in 1921 - the last of her children. In the space of five short years, she had experienced just about every emotion imagineable.

Her final child was Ernest Cook who later became Edith’s husband.

Ernest and Edith married at Stranton Church in 1947, after the war had ended and after Ernest had come safely home from service in Africa.

First, they lived in Haswell Avenue in Hartlepool, By this time, Edith had become the carer of a frail Mary who was living with the young couple.

Soon, they all transferred to a bungalow at Wolviston Court in Billingham where Edith had two children of her own to raise as well as Mary to look after.

But in the quiet moments between all the responsibilities, the two women talked of the time when Mary’s life was ruined by tragedy.

Edith said: “You can not imagine what it must have been like for a woman with three children left and another one on the way and she was burying two of her sons.”

Edith’s husband Ernest never talked about his two brothers who died before he was born.

But Mary shared her grief with Edith who said: “She told me that Harold did an errand for a neighbour and the other boy waited for him to come back. They lived on a street near Murray Street and the Bombardment started.

“The younger boy was killed outright but the older boy was injured and taken to hospital where he died.

“My husband never talked about it and I don’t think Mary told anyone else.”

Edith, now 92 herself, is a mother of two, grandmother of four and a great grandmother of four. She was born in Victoria Road in Hartlepool and went to Elwick Road School.

In a remarkable twist of fate, she told how her own family of suffering under the threat of German bombs - this time in the Second World War.

She left school when she was 15 and started work at a sweet shop in Stockton Road. At the outbreak of the Second World War, she swapped Hartlepool for Leicester where she became a probationer nurse.

But her stay was short-lived as word came through that her family’s home in Hartlepool had been bombed.

“It was badly damaged and the attack took the roof off. I came home to be with my mum,” Edith added.

It was an incredible story of two generations who both had horrific experiences of war.

And we are sure there are more people with similarly dramatic tales to tell of their experiences of the world wars in Hartlepool.

See below for details on how to share your story.

• The Mail is marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War th. The next in a series of commemorative supplements will be published in Friday’s Mail with coverage continuing until the centenary of the Bombardment of Hartlepool in December.

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




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