Call to mark 100 years since bombardment

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This is my final Mail column before Christmas.

Last Friday I attended a ceremony to commemorate the 97th anniversary of the bombardment of the Hartlepools.

It strikes me every year just how close to Christmas this atrocity took place.

Families getting ready for work and school in 1914 were really no different to families in 2011.

Kids will have to have been roused from their beds while at the same time being very excited about Christmas in little over a week’s time.

People will have been very conscious of the First World War – many husbands and sons may have joined up in the first flush of excitement, believing that the war “would be over by Christmas”. But the battles in France would have been a long way from Hartlepool.

It is difficult, if not downright impossible, for us to comprehend how bewildering, but above all how frightening, a direct attack on our town would have felt.

In the attack, 118 people died, including 37 children, the youngest being poor Benjamin Lofthouse, from Belk Street and aged just seven months.

The ceremony to commemorate the bombardment of the Hartlepools is an important event for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost, it affected Hartlepool and West Hartlepool deeply. The effects of the attack not only killed many of our townspeople, but left physical and mental strains on people and families for decades.

The fact that Hartlepool was chosen by the enemy to direct the first attack on the British mainland for centuries gives an indication of the supreme importance of our town to the country’s manufacturing and industrial might.

The German fleet was trying to destroy and dismantle the town’s docks, shipyards and steelworks to hinder the war effort.

And the first shots of the Bombardment killed Private Theo Jones of the 18th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. Private Theo Jones was a West Hartlepool lad – his mother lived in Ashgrove Avenue – and he had the sad distinction of becoming the first British soldier to be killed on British soil for nearly 200 years.

The centenary of the bombardment is fast approaching. 2014 will be an important year for the country to remember the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, but given Hartlepool’s significant role in the Great War, I want the Bombardment commemoration of 2014 to be recognised nationally rather than just locally.

This Monday, it was Defence Questions in the House of Commons, and I asked a question to the Minister in terms of what the Government will do to support this important event for the town.

I am also trying to secure a debate in the House of Commons for December 16, 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the Bombardment in Parliament on the actual day.

I think it would be appropriate and fitting for the Secretary of State for Defence to attend the morning ceremony in 2014.

I hope the Government will agree to this, given the significance of the day to the history of our country, not just the town.

As this is the last column before Christmas, I hope that everybody in Hartlepool is able to enjoy the holiday season.

Hopefully people will have been good over the course of the year and that Father Christmas recognises this in their Christmas stocking.

I’m not sure I should be wistfully regretting this, but I am now at the age when I don’t actually mind having socks for presents – a man cannot have too many pairs of socks.

If Father Christmas is reading the Hartlepool Mail just before he sets off for his big work day, I hope he can deliver a copy of The Inbetweeners film on DVD, which I haven’t seen.

It’s been a difficult year for the town in one way or another, but I hope the people of Hartlepool can spend time with their friends, family and loved ones.

Have a Merry Christmas.