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WWI Bomb Raid On Scarborough, Hartlepool And Whitby In 1914

We look at the bombing raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby in 1914 and its impact on the communities.

On Wednesday, 16th December 1914, the people of Scarborough woke up to heavy mist. With no idea German warships sailed rapidly towards them. This attack on Scarborough, along with Hartlepool and Whitby, was the first instance in the First World War where civilians were specifically targeted on English land.

The severity of the attack deeply affected the nation. It lead to the widespread use of “Remember Scarborough” as a rallying cry for a major recruitment campaign. Here is more information about the Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby in 1914.

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The morning of December 16th 1914

It was the fourth month of Britain’s involvement in the war, and it seemed like an ordinary day in Scarborough. At the coastal station overlooking the town, Police Constable Hunter and two coastguards were on duty. Despite their elevated position, they couldn’t see much due to the heavy mist and fog covering the area.

Damage to Scarborough Lighthouse, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Damage to Scarborough Lighthouse, Image Credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Down the bay, the steam trawler St. Cloud was anchored. The captain sailed into the bay in the morning but had trouble finding the town due to the dense fog. The lighthouse had not been lit since the war was declared, making navigating it even harder.


The shelling began

The three warships rounded Castle Hill into the bay. The Captain of St Cloud was among the first to spot them. He was taken aback to see what he initially assumed were British warships. They were much closer to the shore than he had ever seen before. His surprise quickly turned into horror. He witnessed one of the ships hoist the German war flag and launch an attack on the defenceless town of Scarborough.

Museum of Hartlepool, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons.
Image Credit: Museum of Hartlepool, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, up the coast, German warships also initiated an assault on Hartlepool, which had a garrison and three naval guns for defence.

When the Captain of St Cloud realised the approaching ships were German, he wasted no time running for the harbour. Despite being fired upon, he successfully managed to reach the safety of the harbour. However, the German warships had other targets in sight, and the castle was one of their primary objectives.


Scarborough Castle was under fire

Scarborough Castle has a long and fascinating history, with evidence of habitation and fortification dating back to Neolithic times. Its position made it a key stronghold during the medieval period. It was considered one of the most important fortresses in England, along with Dover and Nottingham.

The castle faced a challenge during the Civil War when it was besieged by Parliamentarian forces in 1645. The attack was so severe that the walls of the 12th-century great tower were split in two. Resulting in the collapse of half of the building. Fast forward to 1914, and the Germans had their guns trained on the castle, destroying the coastguards’ lookout shelter.

Scarborough Castle Today.
Scarborough Castle today.

Moments after the coastguards and PC Hunter left the area to call for backup, the shells began to rain down. They had no choice but to seek shelter in an underground vault beside an 18th-century water tank.

The attack left the castle’s great tower and south-facing walls in ruins. The 18th-century barracks built into the remains of a medieval royal lodging were severely damaged beyond repair.


The attack on the towns and lives lost

Over 500 high explosive shells rained down on the town within 20 minutes. They caused extensive destruction to various buildings, including shops, houses, hotels, churches, schools, and hospitals. Following this, the German ships swiftly departed towards Whitby and carried out a brief bombardment there.

A total of 17 people lost their lives in Scarborough, with two others dying from their injuries later on. Additionally, over 80 individuals sustained severe injuries. Across Scarborough, Whitby, and Hartlepool, the combined death toll reached 137.

Bombardment damage to houses, Image Credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Bombardment damage to houses, Image Credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite Hartlepool enduring more casualties and extensive damage, it was the civilian fatalities in Scarborough that stirred the most outrage. The news quickly spread of the victims who had tragically lost their lives while simply going about their daily routines.

Among them were postman Mr. Beal as he delivered his mail, maid Miss Crosby as she prepared breakfast for her employers, and 15-year-old George Taylor, who was on his way to buy a newspaper. George Taylor was notably the only Boy Scout to lose his life in the First World War.


How was Whitby affected by the bombardment

At 9 am Whitby was attacked by the German battlecruiser Derfflinger, resulting in the deaths of three people and leaving many homeless.

Whitby Abbey ruins were also targeted and hit by three twelve-inch shells, with one direct hit causing significant damage to the west front. The west door, blind tracery panels, and the north stair were destroyed due to the bombardment.


Repairing the damage to Whitby Abbey

Architectural historian John Bilson reported the damage, but no immediate action was taken, which resulted in further collapse. As the owner could not afford the required work, the monument was placed into state guardianship in 1919.

The work started the following year by erecting timber scaffolding to support the fragile remains. The rubble was carefully sorted, and nearly 500 stones were identified using previous drawings and photographs. Each piece of masonry was marked with its corresponding number and plotted on an elevation survey.

Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons damage to Whitby Abbey.
Damage to Whitby Abbey, Image Credit: Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

New methods of monument preservation prioritised “honest repairs”, which involved using modern materials that were identifiable for consolidation purposes. In this case, the Office of Works inspectors were convinced by the archive of detailed 19th-century drawings and photographs of the west front, which provided enough evidence for an accurate reconstruction.

To support the unstable historic fabric, steel beams were inserted into the wall cores. In situations where architectural components were completely destroyed, replacements were carved in stone, deliberately without any intricate details, to avoid any confusion between the historic fabric and modern replacements.

The restoration work at the abbey required the expertise of several professionals, including architects, surveyors, masons, and general labourers, many of whom were war veterans. Some of the workforce at the time included Francis Agar Barnett and J Trueman, both residents of Whitby, who continued working at the abbey until 1925.

Although the restoration works were met with controversy, they successfully stabilised the existing fabric and restored the west front to its pre-1914 condition.


What happened after the raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby

Scarborough lacked proper defences in the aftermath, with only an ancient castle and a small naval wireless station.

Damage to the Grand Hotel, Scarborough, Image Credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Damage to the Grand Hotel, Scarborough, Image Credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“Three quiet, peaceful towns have felt the rain of shells; almost five score non-combatants, men, women, children perhaps, have met death from hurtling missiles. This is not warfare; this is murder.”

A US reporter expressed their dismay

Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, faced criticism for the British Navy’s lack of preparedness and ineffective response. In a passionate address, he condemned the Germans as ‘the baby killers of Scarborough’.

London : Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. designed and printed by Johnson, Riddle & Co., Ltd., London, S.E., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The attack on defenceless civilians sparked widespread outrage, leading to ‘Remember Scarborough!’ becoming a rallying cry for recruiting officers nationwide. The assault was featured on various recruitment posters, prompting a large number of men to enlist.

During the fourth month of the First World War, which many believed would be over by Christmas, innocence was shattered as the war encroached upon the unguarded homes of the British people.


The shelling of Scarborough served as a grim foreshadowing of the horrors yet to unfold. The raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby in 1914 significantly shaped the course of World War I. We hope you have found this article informative; let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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