Although World War I had started several months before, this was the first time British civilians had come under fire. Over 1150 shells were fired during the attack. The Heugh Battery fired its guns in an attempt to defend the town – becoming the only battery in England to fire its guns in anger during the War- but was no match for the German warships. 114 civilians were killed together with nine soldiers, seven sailors and nine German servicemen (that we know of). The soldiers included Theo Jones, who was the first British soldier to be killed by enemy action on home soil in the War.
The attack on Hartlepool and on nearby Scarborough and Whitby, shocked the nation and led to a major recruitment drive to enlist more men from across Britain into the army. It also led to Hartlepool raising the most money per head of population for the war effort. Speaking in the 1980s, a descendant of the Dixon family, Myra Docherty said: ‘The world should know how Hartlepool coped, we’re tough you know and what happened that day, we all got back on our feet in no time – good people, tough folk.’ Three of the Dixon family’s five children were killed in the attack.
Some of the fear and destruction of the bombardment was captured by artist James Clark in this painting. It shows men, women and children running for safety, soldiers trying to defend the town and being injured, and three German warships in the background.
Image courtesy of Hartlepool Borough Council