The German bombardment of scarborough in the First World War in 1914
On the 15th December,1914 Mr A Bell was going about his normal daily work as road foreman in Burniston when an erect gentleman with a white hair and moustache stopped beside him. He said looking towards the sea "you will be safe here behind that rising ground when the Germans come". The local man replied "the Germans will never come here". The stranger replied "But they will and quickly too, You'll see". Mr Bell described his accent was not one of an "Englishman" and thought he might be Scottish. Perhaps the man was a spy or a psychic - who knows. But the thought of the Germans coming was really quite laughable. Yet the very next day Scarborough was to be visited by the Germans in a shocking bombardment. On that morning David and Thomas Coultas and Tom Nellist, the son of the landlady at the Blacksmith Arms all watched three ships off Hayburn Wyke. The three ships were very close to the shore and were "at rest". A few minutes later they headed off in the direction of Scarborough at great speed.[Scarborough Mercury 24th December 1914 ]
As the ships sailed out of sight of Hayburn Wyke they soon came into vision in Scarborough. Here, many people were eating breakfast or still asleep. But one man watched the great battleships as they steamed southwards - Mr Crossland of Gresham house, Queens Parade,Scarborough. He thought they were British warships. The ships were so close in that he could see the men on the decks. He was under the impression that the spits of fire he could see were signals. He said "a shell came hurtling through the roof of the house... the room was left in intolerable confusion,and holes were torn in walls and articles in all directions". [Scarborough Mercury 18th December,1914]
For the next three quarters of an hour the town was under bombardment. Perhaps one of the most remarkable escapes came from a commercial traveller in Mrs Matsons boarding house opposite Hanover road. He was aroused by the bombardment and he "hurriedly dressed and gathered his bags together, and had just got outside the door when a shell came through the wall and blew to fragments the bed which he had vacated only a few minutes before."[December 23rd 1914. Scarborough Pictorial]
Several important targets were hit. The Coastguard station on the castle hill was blown up. The coastguards had fortunately taken refuge. Several holes were blown in the ten foot castle walls which were "shattered as though mere timber". The old beacon on the castle hill, which was used hundreds of years ago to warn the people, was blown off. The Lighthouse was hit and later had to be demolished. Several shots hit the Grand Hotel.
It seems that the main target for the Germans was the Naval Wireless station at the top of Falsgrave Park. Many shells were fired in this direction. Most of them, bar one, fell short and landed in the town. Over five hundred shells of varying calibres were fired into the town overall.
People quickly tried to escape the bombardment. The plight of women and children was pitiable, little ones huddling against their mothers. "Streams of people moved out of the town along Scalby Road, Stepney Road and Seamer road. So hurried had been the flight in some instances that they trudged along in stocking feet. Cabs were also in request, and all member of vehicles took affrightened people and their goods along the roads leading into the peaceful country". The countryside was not even that peaceful. Cayton, Burniston and even inland Ayton took shells. [December 18th 1914. Scarborough Mercury].
"A large number of people escaping from the Gladstone Road district went by way of the Whitby railway into Falsgrave. One pathetic sight was that of an old lady Mrs Laycock, aged nearly 90, being assisted from no 53, Gladstone Road, which was partially hit".[December 18th 1914. Scarborough Mercury].
Mr Nicholl, the tramway manager, sheltered inside a large stock of tramlines. It was a very effective "bomb proof cave".
In the immediate aftermath "People flocked into the streets to inspect the damaged properties, and hunting for fragments of shells as souvenirs became a rage with many"[December 18th 1914. Scarborough Mercury]. The Post Office was busy with people sending telegrams to worried relatives.
The trains to Leeds contained people trying to escape the attack. Some stayed overnight. Others started to return when the danger was over. They were joined by some day trippers who had heard of the attack and obviously found the thought of entering a war torn town an added attraction.
A curious incident took place at Mr Daltons book shop in Newborough. Only one book fell from the shelves and that was "Imperial Germany".
Some of the casualties were horses. A milkmans horse was killed and a cab drivers hit. Mr W Dove had two horses and only one was killed. Debris fell around one but the other in the stall next door was completely missed. The harness hanging on the wall was completely mangled.
On the same day the Germans attacked Hartlepool. Here the batteries of guns were silenced, the gas works set on fire and a military camp was hit. The bombardments began at the same time in Scarborough and Hartlepool. The battlecruisers which hit Scarborough went onto Whitby and fired at the coastguard station.
The Mercury also reported two eye witnesses to the subsequent escape of the German battlecruisers. A sailor on board the destroyers which engaged the batttlecruisers stated that "If they had been able to 'shoot for nuts' they would have sunk the British vessels which looked like rowing boats compared with the cruisers". A fisherman spotted the Germans six hours after the raid and said "I never saw warships traveling so fast before". The trawlers were ignored as the Germans made good their escape.
In all 17 people died. These included a 14 month old child in Westbourne Park. A prominent townsman died (John Hall JP) in the same street. The only soldier to die in Scarborough was Albert Bennett but he died in a private house along with two others in 2 Wykeham Street. One young boy, named Christopher, was found in this house by the newspaper reporter "helping to clear away the wreckage of what was once his home, limping as a result of injuries to his legs, dozed by the tragedy which had robbed him so swiftly of his nearest and dearest, and unable to grasp its significance".
Casualties were taken to the hospital. Thirteen casualties were dealt with here. Twenty or thirty minor casualties were also dealt with here. Two people died at hospital - Albert Bennett who was from Wykeham Street and JP Hall. Six casualties were also taken to the Wesleyan Chapel in Westborough. Some other casualties were taken to private houses.
In the days following the funerals took place. Some of these were very well attended. Pictures from the Scarborough Pictorial show hundreds of people mourning. Leonard Ellis, who was killed in South street, was a bandsman for the Salvation Army. He was given a full army funeral.
Mr Charles Smith, who had his Silversmith and Antique dealers wrecked on Albion Road was typical. He had damages estimated at between £700-£800 yes he stuck a picture of Lord Kitchener up in front of his premises with the words "Are we downhearted? No!".
ETW Dennis and Sons Ltd published a souvenir illustrating the visit of the German battlecruisers showing the damage that was done.
The Official Inquest took place on the Friday following. with Borough Coroner George Taylor. Mr Plummer Yoeman, Chairman of the Jury, stated "it was a murderous attack which caused all these deaths, a murderous attack on an unfortified town, and all the world should know".
One witness at the inquest stated that he "did not see any flags flying at all - there was no national ensign. There may have been one ship signalling to the other, but there was no national ensign".
Another witness concentrated on how far the ships were from the shore. Reports had varied between two miles and eight miles. He states "As a matter of fact they were within 600 yards of the castle, and he thought that when they were going past the pier they were within 500 yards.
Just why did the Germans attack in such a way? Count Reventlow mentions the "superstitious respect" which Great Britains military power was given. It is true that the attack was militarily unimportant but it was a victory for Germany. Britain was engaged in a war of annihilation against German and "ruthless" naval warfare was required. Rear Admiral Schlieper, in the "Berliner Lokal-Anzieger" described the attack as an "act of revenge for the German defeat off the Falkland Islands". He noted the "refreshing effect on the spirits of our boys in blue".
The Scarborough Mercury quoted Captain Pervis of the Berliner Tageblatt "Scarborough is the most important harbour town on the east coast between the Thames and the Humber. It is defended by strong batteries". The Mercury reported this as a "fair sample of the mendacious rubbish which was regularly served up to German newspapers by so called naval and military experts".
The Secretary of the Admiralty stated that the attack was "militarily insignificant... They may cause some loss among the civil population, and some damage to private property, which is to be regretted, but they must not in any circumstances be allowed to modify the general Naval policy which is being pursued". Perhaps the real purpose was to split up the Royal Navy. As long as Jellicoes Grand fleet remained as one unit the Germans would not engage. They were forced to attempt hit and run raids like this.
Whatever the German motives were their actions were counter productive. Recruiting offices around Britain reported significant increases in recruitment. The Recruiting released the following message :
"Avenge Scarborough. Up and at em now. The wholesale murder of innocent women and children demands vengeance. Men of England, the innocent victims of German brutality call upon you to avenge them. Show German barbarians that Britains shores cannot be bombarded with impunity. Duty calls you now. Go today to the nearest recruiting depot and offer your services for king and country."
The bombardment of Scarborough was featured more prominently than the attack on Hartlepool. In Hartlepool military targets were hit. In Scarborough and Whitby most shells hit civilian targets indiscriminately. More women and children were killed than men. One man killed was a soldier yet he was in a private house at the time. Another of those killed was also in the army - the Salvation Army!
The Mercury was particularly indignant. It captured the feelings of Scarborough at the time. They wrote "The Germans must pay and every penny. We are assured by the allies that the war will not terminate until the germans are on their knees and prepared to accept the terms decided upon by the allies... By the bombardment the Hague Convention governing war was totally disregarded. The German ships came out of port for the distinct purpose of firing upon the town, and those responsible were fully conscious that the carrying out of instructions would result in the wanton destruction of property and ruthless sacrifice of life. All dependants of those who have been killed must be provided for, and those maimed must be cared for during the remainder of their days".
The bombardment of Scarborough was perhaps the biggest event in Scarboroughs history. It was met with a real sense of indignation as the Germans had broken the 'rules' of war. Scarborough was an undefended town. The German high seas fleet did see this as a victory yet its actions were counter productive as many recruited as a result. Britain still had a volunteer army and this was the best boost that Kitchener could hope for. The Germans High seas fleet could not realistically hope to take on the might of the Royal Navy. Its actions were those of a small boy who throws a stone at a school bully and then runs away. Yet it was one of the few useful engagements for the German fleet. Most of the fleet was simply handed over at the end of war. The crews sailed into Scapaflow and scuttled their ships.
For the people of England the bombardment of Scarborough was the first direct taste of the greatest war of all time. Few direct reports had come back from France yet at the horrors of trench warfare. The papers were still full of naive nationalism. The war was expected to be over by Christmas. Perhaps in a small way Scarborough did have a real taste of this war. According to a legend a parrot kept at the Sandside mission for seamen talked vigorously until the day of the bombardment. It never spoke again. Perhaps this parrot was Scarboroughs first victim of shellshock.
A List of those killed in the raid :
-Leonard Ellis, back of Londsborough road.
-Harry Frith (45),1 Bedford Street.
-Alfred Beal(41) 50 Raleigh Street.
-Margaret Briggs (29) Filey Road.
-John Shields Ryalls (14 Months) 22 Westborne Park.
-Miss Bertha McIntyre (42) 22 Westbourne Park.
-Mrs Johanna Bennett (58) 22 Westbourne Park.
-Albert Bennett (22) 2 Wykeham street.
-John Christopher H Ward (9) 2 Wykeham Street.
-George James Barnes (9) 2 Wykeham Street.
-John Hall(65) 28 Westbourne Park.
-Mrs Emily Lois Merryweather(30) 43 Prospect Road.
-George Harland Taylor (15) 45 North Street.
-Mrs Mary Prew(60) 17a Belle Vue Street.
-Mrs Ada Crow(28) 124 Falsgrave Road.
-Miss edith Crosby (39) 1 Belvedere Road.
-Mrs Duffield(38) Esplanade.
A List of various streets damaged(from Scarborough Pictorial 23rd December 1914)
- St Nicholas Cliff. Four buildings hit including the Grand hotel.
- St Thomas Walk. 1 house hit.
- Castle Road. 6 houses hit.
- Queen street. The wesleyan Chapel hit.
- St Nicholas St. Several buildings including the Royal Hotel and Marshal and Snelgrove
- Westborough. 4 buildings damaged.
- King Street. The holiday camp and Health offices.
- Harley Street. 1 house damaged.
- Albermarle Crescent. Slight damage by 1 shell.
- Falsgrave Road 13 houses suffered mostly window damage.
- York Place. 13 of the 21 houses had their windows shattered.
- West square. 2 houses damaged and 7 had windows shattered.
- The Crescent. 2 houses damaged and several had window shattered.
- Belvoir Terrace. 1 house hit and others suffered broken windows.
- Londsborough Road. 1 house badly damaged.
- Bedford Street. 1 house practically destroyed.
- Wrea St. 1 house had roof damaged.
- Hanover Road. Waverley Hotel and the confectioners suffered window damage.
- Victoria Road. Lots of damage to windows.
- North Marine road. 2 Houses damaged.
- South Foreshore. The Neptune House was it. The Grand Restaurant was badly damaged. The Grand Picture House and the Olympia picture house were both damaged. The Confectioners was also hit.
- Dean Road. The Workhouse was hit by a shell.
- Rutland Terrace. 1 house hit.
- Elders Street. 1 house hit.
- Somerset Terrace. 1 house roof damaged.
- North Street. 2 houses hit by shells.
- Mayville Avenue. 2 houses hit one was reduced to ruins.
- Roscoe Street The Cab Proprietor had a horse killed.
- Wykeham Street 1 house reduced to rubble with three people killed. Four other houses had windows shattered.
- St Johns road. 1 house badly hit.
- St Johns Avenue. 2 houses damaged.
- Commercial Street. 3 houses damaged.
- Stepney Avenue. 5 houses damaged. 3 others windows shattered
- Stepney Road. 5 houses damaged including Dr E Hollings of Willow Dene and Captain John Hirst of Mrytle Bank.
- Alexandra Park a newly constructed house badly damaged.
- Oxford St 1 house damaged.
- Tindall Street 17 houses suffered window damage.
- Sherwood Street. Damage to Mrs Morlands warehouse and showroom. Practically every house in the street suffered from the bombardment.
- Goods Station. Damage to a house,signal box and Goods yard.
- Electric Light Works. Minor damage.
- Park Avenue. 1 house damaged.
- Prospect Road. Shell went through Mr Merryweathers shoip. Houses nearby were damaged. Corn Merchant had house and shop damaged. Several others had damage especially windows damage.
- Spring Bank. No 1 had its front completely blown away.
- Filey Road. A number of houses were hit.
- Esplanade. Councilor Whites boarding house was hit. 2 Other houses were damaged. 1 other suffered window damage.
- Albion Road. Albert House was damaged. There was terrible damage to Montpellier boarding house. The Chemist was damaged. Leonard Ellis died here. The house next door was damaged too.
- Scarborough Pictorial 23rd December 1914.
- Scarborough Mercury 18th December 1914.
- Scarborough Mercury 24th December 1914.
Picture above : The German bombardment of Scarborough in 1914. The Coastguard station.
World war one outbreak. The war effort in Scarborough
The press gang and the Royal Navy at Scarborough
German U-boat sinks 11 Scarborough Trawlers in one night in World War One.
Witches and black cats in the Old Town in Scarborough - superstitions
Coastal erosion in the 19th Century around the North Bay and Scarborough Castle area
The history of the herring fishing in the North Sea
Life in the Old Town of Scarborough and harbour - the fishing families
The U-Boat campaign in the First World War
The need for canals in the scarborough area - discussions in the late 1700's
Trawling During WW2 around scarborough and the North - East coast
Sea Urchin Stall on the West Pier at Scarborough
The history of the Scarborough Spa pump rooms
A sea shanty about a storm on the Scarborough coast
Sharks and big fish along the Robin Hood's Bay coast
The national RNLI and the Scarborough lifeboat of 1861.
Food rationing during The Second World War in Scarborough
The port of Scarborough in the late 15th Century
Scarboroughs Old Town and its connection to the sea
The case for a navy By John Rushton - Scarboroughs maritime history
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