The Bombardment of the Hartlepools a century ago was a momentous occasion.
This wasn’t just historic for our town, even though it affected our townspeople and their families the most. It was historic for our nation – the attack marked the first occasion in the First World War when a British soldier was killed by enemy action on British soil.
The Heugh Gun Battery, and by extension the whole of the Hartlepools, was the only battle field in Britain in the First World War.
It had a further, more profound and tragically lasting legacy too. It showed, in an era of technological and industrial advance and mass communication how the horrors of war could be brought literally into people’s homes. War was no longer a distant and forgettable thing in a foreign field. It could affect you and your loved ones – the enemy could wage war in your street.
That approach was seen for probably the first time with the Bombardment – the tragic events this week involving the killing of schoolchildren in Pakistan has shown that this sort of atrocity brought in through the Bombardment of the Hartlepools hasn’t gone away.
The town did proud the memory of those who lost their lives or were injured.
I was proud to be able to participate in the Heugh Gun Battery event on the morning, at precisely the time, 100 years earlier, when the German shells starting raining down over our town.
A key part of the legacy of the Bombardment was how innocent children, vulnerable by playing in the street, getting ready to go to school or contemplating Christmas a week away, were affected by the attack.
That is why I think it was so important that children rightly played a central role in the commemoration events.
It was also a huge honour for me to secure a debate in the House of Commons later that day for me to commemorate in Parliament the Bombardment.
All credit to the clerks in the House of Commons: they didn’t try to auto-correct my request for a debate, so the title of the debate appeared on the Order Paper as the commemoration of the centenary of the Bombardment of the Hartlepools, not Hartlepool.
Many MPs have come up to see to ask why “the Hartlepools” rather than “Hartlepool”, and I have been delighted to tell them the importance of – and rivalry between – the towns of Hartlepool and West Hartlepool.
At the end of the Parliamentary debate, I said that in 1914 the Hartlepools were a tough little town. The people of the Hartlepools were plucky, patriotic and protective of their community. That was demonstrated 100 years ago and was reiterated and made very clear by the commemoration events which took place this week.
For those people who organised events, participated in and attended those events, thank you. I think you did proud, the memory of those whose lives were affected by the horrific events of 16 December 1914.
A century on, we gathered as a town in peace and in a spirit of reconciliation to remember and pay our respects to those servicemen and innocent civilians from the Hartlepools who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
I hope none of us, from the Hartlepools, or indeed any other town, have to endure again horror, tragedy and loss in our streets and communities.
As a sign of how close the Bombardment was to Christmas, this is my last column before Father Christmas comes to town.
I hope that you have been good this year and are able to receive from Santa Claus some nice things.
More importantly, I hope you are able to take a little break from everyday life, complain about the Christmas telly, spend time with your loved ones, whether they be friends, family or neighbours, and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.
When you reflect upon the horror of the Bombardment, with innocent lives being cut down, I hope it reinforces the central importance of family and loved ones.
Have a very Merry Christmas.