Tomorrow marks the 102nd anniversary of the Bombardment of the Hartlepools. As always I will be attending the commemoration service on the Headland.
At ten minutes past eight on the morning of 16th December 1914, three German warboats, 2 ½ miles out to sea, started shelling our town. The Hartlepools were chosen as a target due to the importance of its shipyards and ironworks to the First World War effort.
Over 1,000 shells rained down for 40 minutes. In that time, over 100 people from both old Hartlepool and West Hartlepool were killed, including 37 children. Over 400 people incurred injuries, some truly horrific, which affected them for the rest of their lives.
The first British soldier to be killed on British soil for almost 200 years, Private Theo Jones, was killed in the attack. He was a local lad, a soldier in the Durham Light Infantry and his brother also died in the First World War.
Each year the most moving and poignant part of the ceremony is when schoolchildren from Hartlepool release balloons, each representing a child from the town who lost their life in the Bombardment.
Some families lost two or three siblings.
During the ceremony I often find my thoughts turning to the world’s conflicts and warzones.
As you are reading this there are children trapped under bombardment in East Aleppo, Syria, where people face daily horrors on an almost unimaginable scale.
The uneasy ceasefire, that would have seen rebel held areas evacuated, has all but collapsed and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad are continuing with their final, bloody push to reclaim the city with the support of Russian airstrikes.
I’m used to seeing death and tragedy, as unfortunately we all are in this age of 24 hour media. But even now I struggle with the news of what looks like a massacre unfolding in Aleppo, with the bombing of civilian areas and reports that Assad’s army and its allied militias are going from door to door, executing people on the spot and shooting residents attempting to flee their homes in the streets.
The Assad regime and its ally Russia must be brought to account for their crimes in Aleppo.
The passing of time has inevitably dulled the pang of grief for Hartlepool and the families who lost loved ones in the Bombardment. But Friday’s ceremony, conducted while people in Syria still face senseless and incomprehensible death and injury, serves as a reminder that for many of our fellow human beings the horror of war is not a distant memory but a daily reality.