Yesterday marked the 101st anniversary of the Bombardment of the Hartlepools in the First World War. As in other years, this momentous event, not only in the town’s history but the history of Britain and the First World War, was commemorated with a service at the Memorial at Redheugh Gardens, very close to the Heugh Gun Battery.
Of course, the centenary of the Bombardment last year was marked by high coverage around the country and a series of memorable events within Hartlepool to mark 100 years since the bombardment. I was also honoured to have a debate in the House of Commons to mark in Parliament the centenary of the Bombardment of the Hartlepools.
There are a number of things about the Bombardment which never fail to strike me as December 16 approaches. First and foremost is the appalling tragedy in terms of the loss of life.
These were Hartlepool people – mostly innocent civilians, going about their daily business, with the conflict in Northern France seemingly an age away – who could not have possibly known that terror was about to be unleashed on the streets of our town.
The Bombardment lasted 42 minutes. In everyday life, it’s a short period of time, yet that time must have felt like an age for people caught up in the attack. They had no idea as to when it would end. After that 42 minutes, 119 people had been killed, including 37 children. Several people died in the following few weeks, meaning that the Bombardment killed 130 and injured over 500.
The second thing I also think about is just how close to Christmas the Bombardment was. Little over a week before Christmas Day, and kids must have been excited: of course, it wouldn’t have been about getting Xboxes or perhaps tablets, but kids are kids and would have been thinking not of school or their daily chores but of what Father Christmas may be bringing them in nine days’ time.
The third thing I think about is the bravery of the civilian population, as well as the Armed Forces. This was not an accepted theatre of war, and the attack will have been unexpected, frightening and brutal. Yet accounts suggest that soldiers at the Gun Battery counter-attacked the German forces with bravery and professionalism, meaning that the Bombardment was cut short. The innocent civilians from Hartlepool also acted with no panic. This was an account from an officer from the Green Howards, written not long after the Bombardment;
“This account cannot be concluded without paying a tribute to the gallant behaviour of the civil population of the bombarded towns...Men, women and children following their daily tasks do not expect to be blown to pieces in the streets or to have the roofs of their houses come crashing in over their heads. Yet the inhabitants of the Hartlepools behaved like soldiers. There was no panic—no wild rush to safety. An hour after the firing ceased normal life was resumed just as if nothing had happened. This seems to show that these northern people still possess those sterling qualities which we associated with their ancestors, yet which many feared that modern luxury and modern comforts had sapped.”
The concluding theme of my thoughts is how close we are to the Bombardment. Not in terms of time – that obviously gets further away with each passing year, and there are now no living survivors from the Bombardment – but in terms of taking place on the streets of our town, and affecting families whose ancestors still live in Hartlepool. It gives a poignancy and tragedy to the Bombardment that is difficult to forget. Indeed, I don’t think the town will ever forget and, once again, yesterday, the town commemorated the most significant event with respect and due reflection.