The day our town was changed by shelling

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THE devastation of war came to Hartlepool in 1914. The Mail will be bringing its readers extensive coverage of the First World War in the coming months. But as a taster, we look at the effect of the biggest conflict to have hit the town – the Bombardment of Hartlepool. It is a story of tragedy and how families’ lives would be changed forever.

Chris Cordner reports.

MOTHERS and daughters, men at work, and children not yet old enough to walk – they all perished in Hartlepool’s darkest day.

In the months to come, the Mail will be telling the story of the Bombardment of Hartlepool through the people of the town whose relatives were affected by it.

But today, in a preview of what is to come, we will take a look at some of the people who were there at the time. It makes for dramatic and tragic reading.

At 8.03am, the shelling started. It took Hartlepool by surprise and it cost people their lives.

James Cook, 37, a boilermaker; John Leighton, 56, a blacksmith; John Clark, 54, a driller; Albert Cressy, 29; Edwin Ashcroft, 29, an iron founder; Samuel Binns, 68; and John Hodgson, 62, were all killed as they left their jobs that day at the Hartlepool Engine Works.

Not far away, William Churcher, 29, and Thomas Cox, 26, were working with the dock pilot George Dring, 47, when they were killed by the bombs.

James Bunter, 23, was working in the Central Shipyard when it was hit. Initially, he survived the day’s horrendous action and was taken to hospital to be treated for his wounds.

Tragically, he lost his fight for life on Christmas Eve, 1914. Similar stories were reported all over town.

A father and daughter were killed in the streets as they frantically tried to flee for safety.

They were Josiah Woods, 36, and a labourer by trade, and his six-year-old daughter Martha Jane Woods, both residents of Harbour Terrace. Yet while Josiah died in the immediate impact of the shells, Martha lived until February 7, 1915.

The war claimed people of all ages. Seven-month-old Benjamin Lofthouse died at his home in Belk Street. Sixty-eight-year-old widow Julia Moon suffered the same fate at her home in Dover Street.

Nineteen people all died as they stood on open ground at the end of Dene Street.

Reports issued within hours of the tragedy told of the havoc which was wrought. One said: “As yet, only an approximate estimate of the extent of the material damage is possible, and the figure is put at something like £60,000 to £70,000.

“The biggest individual items will be those at the gasworks where all the gasometers were struck, huge holes being rent in the holders, the escaping gas from which became ignited.”

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.