Commemoration in Hartlepool
At 8.00am on 16 December 1914, the towns of Hartlepool and West Hartlepool (known as ‘The Hartlepools’ until the 1960s) were bombarded from the sea by German naval vessels. 132 people died and 200 more were injured. Though the towns were defended by Durham Royal Garrison Artillery, soldiers stationed at the Heugh Battery and Lighthouse Battery, this did not prevent the killing of 132 people across the two towns. 200 more were injured.
The bombardment left an indelible mark on the two Hartlepools. The destruction of homes and public buildings left empty voids in Hartlepools’ streets, while others were scarred by shrapnel. Many of these traces are still present today, and you can still see marks left by the bombardment.
This attack on the North-East coast, remained one of the deadliest attacks on Britain until daylight air raids on London by Gotha bombers in May and June 1917. Hartlepool, and the Headland in particular, have maintained a strong tradition of remembrance and commemoration of the 1914 battle. The Heugh Battery Museum continues this tradition to this day.
Fundraising for the Victims
During the war, fundraising for the victims of bombardment went hand-in-hand with commemoration. Annual ‘Thank-offering Days’ were inaugurated on the first anniversary of the bombardment, in December 1915. These continued in some form until the 1920s and at various major anniversaries, even following the further loss and sacrifice entailed by the Second World War. The first Thank-offering Days took place the weekend of 18-19 December 1915. A key event in the day was a ‘grand rugby match’; the Durham Royal Garrison Artillery vs. The Royal Naval Air Service. There was also the display of a ‘gun captured from the Huns’, lending a clearly anti-German tone to proceedings. Commemorative medallions and flags were sold, and the museum collection includes examples of the miniature flags distributed to donors on these days, which you can see in the Barrack Room, at the entrance to the Museum.
Fundraising for the victims of bombardment in the Hartlepools reached far beyond the towns. The Maharajah of Jhalawar State, India, Bhawani Singh, supported the Bombardment Days through donations. A report in the Shields Daily News on 20 July 1915 stated that the Maharajah had ‘sent through Mr Howard Gritten a cheque for the sufferers of the Hartlepools bombardment’, with the funds equally distributed between Hartlepool and West Hartlepool. It is likely that Gritten made contact with the Maharajah – a well-known advocate of good Anglo-Indian relations – during his travels in India during the war.
Though the Bombardment Days occurred annually during the war, they were not as popular in the following years. They were rejuvenated for prominent anniversaries, such as the tenth anniversary in 1924. As before, fundraising events and sales of brooches and flags were the primary activities, with monies again being donated to local hospitals. By the twentieth anniversary in 1934, commemorations were limited to meetings of veterans’ groups, including the Durham Heavy Brigade, Royal Artillery.
Today, the Bombardment is remembered on 16 December. The Heugh Battery Museum puts on yearly commemorative events, but also acts as a site of remembrance all year round. The Heugh Battery Museum organises an annual commemoration event which takes place on 16th December to commemorate the lives lost during the Bombardment on 16th December 1914. The museum hands out small wooden crosses with the name and age of each child killed during the Bombardment to relatives of those families and local residents so that they can participate in the service. Veterans, air cadets, school children, joined by members of the public, parade from the Heugh Battery to the adjacent Redheugh Memorial Gardens. At 08.10 the 25 pdr saluting gun is fired to mark the two minutes silence at the exact time the Bombardment of the towns of Hartlepool and West Hartlepool began. A volunteer from the Heugh Battery Museum welcomes all after the silence and gives a short speech about the Bombardment and it’s continued importance to the people of the town and the descendants of all those affected by the event. The names of the 37 children killed during the Bombardment are read out, and those who have crosses are invited to come forward and plant the cross in the memorial garden as the name of the child is read out. A piper plays a lament and the gun is fired to signal the end of the ceremony.
The attack on the towns left families devastated, much like those who had lost relatives on the Western Front. When the Hartlepool war memorial on the Headland was unveiled on 17 December 1921, its design reflected local perceptions of wartime sacrifice. Remarkably, this memorial, situated at Redheugh Gardens, included the names of civilians killed in the bombardment alongside fallen soldiers and sailors.
The memorial wall, less than 500 feet away from the Heugh Battery, under the inscription ‘To these unconquered dead who fell in the Great War and in grateful appreciation of those who shared in its dangers’, includes a plaque for the victims of the 1914 bombardment, alongside the military fallen. Taken with the plaque placed at the Heugh Battery, detailing where the first shell fell on the town – killing Durham Light Infantry soldier Theo Jones of West Hartlepool – the memorial remembered the sacrifices of soldiers, sailors and non-combatants.
All Sides Suffered
As in any war, both sides suffered, and the bombardment was no different. The First World War was the first modern ‘total’ war, entailing the wholesale mobilisation of the societies involved. The soldiers who volunteered or were enlisted were, for the vast majority of their lives, civilians who only became soldiers for a brief period before going back to their lives. While often war is framed in terms of military loss, there were an enormous amount of civilians who died, all across Europe, during the First World War.
Though the 1914 bombardment was a naval raid, it affected mainly civilians, many of whom died alongside uniformed defenders stationed at the town’s batteries. The continued relevance of the Bombardment in Hartlepool is testament to the sense of injustice many people felt at civilian deaths in a town deserving of better defences from attack.
Though many more civilians in the Hartlepools lost their lives, eight German sailors were killed. It is important to understand the broader human cost of total war and work towards reconciliation. All countries involved in the war were affected, the war was all-encompassing and all nations suffered. During the war British and German soldiers played football together, sang songs, and left notes for each other in trenches – first and foremost, they were people caught up in an unprecedented conflict. It is now, with the distance of time, that mutual understandings of the past be sought, recognising the high costs of the war on all sides. The recent publication of a book jointly produced by Scarborough Museums Trust and the Deutscher Marinebund (German Naval Association) is one such attempt at understanding the total impact of the 1914 bombardments. As a historical narrative including the British and German roles in the bombardment, it facilitates the commemoration of the war dead from both nations and a deeper understanding of how it was felt by all; civilian, naval and military. Through remembering and respecting those who were involved, military and civilian, we can foster a new understanding of the terrible cost of warfare. The Heugh Battery Museum continues to remember Hartlepool’s rich heritage as the site of Britain’s first land-sea battle in the twentieth century.
By Dr Michael Reeve
Leeds Beckett University/Bishop Grosseteste University
For more about how the Hartlepools memorialised the bombardment, please see the video that Dr Reeve recorded for the 2020 commemorations.Connect with the Heugh Battery