What we found
On 15th and 16th December, 1914 the Yorkshire coast was attacked by German battleships. The raiding force split in two with the southern group, consisting of the battlecruisers Derfflinger and Von Der Tann and the light cruiser, Kolberg, bombarding Scarborough, and the northern group attacking Hartlepool.
After finishing at Scarborough, where 18 people were killed in the raid, the 3 ships set off to rejoin the northern force. On the way they attacked Whitby just after 9.00am. At least 100 shells were fired at the signal station and the town in just under 10 minutes. Three people were killed, the signal station was wrecked and there was considerable damage to houses and the Abbey.
The signal station was the main target. The first shell hit the cliff below and gave the coastguards valuable seconds to get out. The second was a direct hit and the third shell killed one of the coastguards, Frederick Randall, who stepped outside of his house at Admiralty Cottages and had his head blown clean off.
Frederick Randall’s funeral
The Abbey suffered a lot of damage, but fortunately St Mary’s church, next to it, wasn’t touched, apart from some of it’s windows being broken. The pier and the harbour walls were miraculously untouched, although many shells landed in the harbour itself.
Most of the shells passed over the East Cliff and landed near to the railway station. This area suffered most of the damage from the raid and many houses were wrecked. It was here that drayman, William E Tunmore was killed by a shell. He was driving a horse and cart when he was hit directly, but amazingly his horse was uninjured.
The only other fatality was Mrs Miller, of Springhill Terrace, who was hit in the side by a piece of shell while she was lying in bed.
Luckily many of the shells fell in the fields that were then at Springhill (the area now occupied by the hospital). Some did travel further, however, and the remains of a shell were found in Sleights, which is 3 miles inland of Whitby. The timing of the attack meant that most people were at school or at work, so the houses that were hit had few or no occupants at the time.
There was a great deal of fear and alarm and many people left the town immediately after the attack, worried about a repeat of the raid. Children from St Hilda’s School on Spring Hill, were closest to where most of the shells were falling and many ran for their lives.
Click here for an account by Harold Parkin, who was at school in St Hilda’s that day
There was no repeat though, as the ships immediately and quickly left through a gap in the minefield that had been laid earlier that year, all along the north east coast.
The entire raid resulted in 137 fatalities and 592 casualties, many of whom were civilians, and it caused public outrage towards the German navy for attacking civilians, and also against the British Royal Navy for it’s failure to prevent the raid.
The attack became part of a British propaganda campaign, ‘Remember Scarborough’. An image of Number 2 Wykeham Street, Scarborough, was used in an enlistment poster that depicted a girl holding a baby standing outside the ruins of the house. The poster’s slogan read: “Men of Britain! Will You Stand This ? “They wouldn’t and hundreds of furious young men rushed to recruiting offices to ‘avenge’ Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool.
Life had to go on though, and with it businesses got back to work. Within days, there were adverts in the papers for coach tours of the damage. A small industry sprang up producing souvenirs, postcards and even fake iron crosses, complete with the names of Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough.
Click here to see the entire pamphlet including photographs.
Whitby Urban District Council produced a pamphlet in 1915 with photographs and an account of the event. A message of condolence from King George V was also included.