‘I’m so proud of my family and the way they coped’

Myra Docherty looks at old newspaper cuttings
Myra Docherty looks at old newspaper cuttings

IT’S a day imprinted in Hartlepool’s history – and forever etched in the memory of the family of Myra Docherty.

For all we read and discover about the devastating Bombardment of Hartlepool in 1914, we can only ever imagine the fear felt by those who woke on a cold December morning to the horror of deafening explosions as the German Navy attacked the town.

It was another 23 years until Myra was born, but she speaks about the fateful day as if it was yesterday, and as if she was there.

Myra’s dad, Joseph Dixon, was there and as Myra grew up she would never tire of hearing the story of how her dad escaped the attack.

How at 8.03am, the 12-year-old who lived with his family in William Street, on the Headland, looked out to sea to see the German warships opening fire on the town.

And how, carrying his three-year-old brother William on his back, Joseph desperately ran for cover alongside every member of his family, other than his dad, George Edward, who was serving at war.

Despite 17 pieces of shrapnel stuck in his leg, and losing blood fast, Joseph somehow managed to escape death.

His brothers, George Edward Dixon, 14, and Albert Dixon, seven, and his sister, Margaret Ellen Dixon, eight, weren’t so lucky and all lost their lives.

They were among the 118 people who were killed, including 37 children.

His mum, Margaret Ellen, carrying her 10-month-old son, John, had her leg blown off, but bravely managed to stay alive and save her baby’s life.

His other brother, Thomas, who was just nine at the time, lost sight of his family and ran alone, but still somehow managed to escape the blasts and survive the shells battering the town.

“My dad told me how everyone was just screaming ‘the Germans are coming, run to the country’,” explained Myra, 75, who lives in Hartlepool’s Jesmond Gardens.

“But they all knew where to run and to try and stick together, it must have been something which they had spoke about and organised before the Bombardment actually happened.”

Joseph ran as far as he could before soldiers at Throston Bridge told him the German attack had stopped and advised him to head back home.

He only made it as far as Trinity Church, which stood where the Durham Street shops are now, before he collapsed out of sheer exhaustion and loss of blood.

“He said there was just bodies and people injured everywhere,” said Myra.

“Luckily the soldiers picked him up and got him to hospital.

“Even years later he always had the scars in his legs from where they had to pick the pieces of shrapnel out of his legs.”

The surviving children, Joseph, Thomas, William and John were cared for by relatives while their mum, Margaret Ellen, was looked after in hospital for six months before being reunited with her husband, who was discharged from the Army just four months after the attack on Hartlepool.

George went on to live until 1954 while Margaret Ellen lived until the ripe old age of 84. She died in 1963.

After surviving the Bombardment, Myra’s dad, Joseph, worked in the shipyard as a boilermaker throughout his life. He passed away in 1971, aged 69.

Despite the devastation of losing the three youngsters, Myra, a mum-of-two and grandmother-of-three, said her dad and grandmother were always happy to talk about the day they survived the German attack.

“They explained it to me so many times, but you still can’t actually imagine what it was like, it must have been terrible, said Myra, who lost her husband, Frank, after a battle with cancer in 1997, aged 63.

“When I was little it’s all I used to ask about.

“There was never any bitterness about it even though my grandma lost three children.

“I lived it all my life because I always wanted to know about it.”

Myra’s intrigue about the day of the Bombardment has never ceased.

She is one of the founder members of Hartlepool Headland Local History Group and has collected hundreds of newspaper articles and clippings from around the time of the German attack.

And she is hoping people in the town play their part in marking the centenary of the attack next year.

“It’s a passion of mine now,” said the mum of Jill Marshall, 52, and Robin Docherty, 47.

“I’m so proud of my family and the way they coped.

“To lose three children and to go through what they went through but to show no bitterness at all was just incredible.”

Planning is already underway for events to mark the centenary next year.

The history group is appealing for anybody with any stories, photographs or memoribilia to come forward and get in touch with David Geen, of the group, on (01429) 269600.