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Recollections of The Bombardment by Beryl Branson

Recollections of The Bombardment of The Hartlepools by the late Beryl Osbourn nee Branson


Beryl Branson was the daughter of John Branson the owner and principal of Osborne High School ,Osborne Road Hartlepool. She herself became a teacher and although she started her career at Brougham and the Open Air School Hartlepool, she spent most of her career in West Yorkshire.

This is her recollection of December 16th 1914 which is from an exercise book in Hartlepool Library Archives and was probably written in the 1960s. She was about 10 years old at the time of The Bombardment. She was born in 1905 and died in Halifax in 1995.


"It was said recently that we older generation are history. Perhaps today there are few people left for whom the date December16th 1914 has any significance. In that year it happened to fall on a Wednesday and we were dressing, having risen just before 8 a.m. I think I was the only one still upstairs when, soon after 8 o clock there was a sound of gunfire. This hurried me downstairs more quickly than usual and we all sat down to breakfast. My father reassured us by saying that it was only practice with the guns at the battery at Hartlepool situated on the Headland behind the lighthouse.


There were louder bangs which rattled the windows after we sat down and the gas light, which was on as it was a  dark winter morning, went down and finally went out.


I sat down to put on my boots ready for school. They were long and laced with the laces hooked round studs after the first few eyelet holes. However I was told that I was certainly not going to school while all the firing was going on and I can remember crying T that news- more probably because I was frightened that something was happening.


When the firing ceased shortly before 9 a.m.my father went to his school, which was near where we lived, to see if any of the boys were there. He found several that had come in by train. They must have had a lucky escape as the station had been hit. I can remember later seeing a large hole in the back of the station. Dad sent the boys straight home by the next train, to allay the fear of parents who must have heard the gunfire from their homes further north.


As dad could see the flames from the direction of the gas works, towering over the houses, he was anxious about his brother and family and his father, who all lived near the blazing gas holders,so he walked over there to see whether they were all right. The house next door to grandpa's had an exploded she'll in the upper story and the occupant, Mr Abbott, was wounded in the leg. I think the only damage at grandpa's was a cracked window.


My uncle and his family had run across the field behind their house and taken refuge I an old lime kiln in the quarries. They had a large piece of shell coming through their bedroom ceiling right over the bed which they had been in a short time before. Later they had a dug out made in the side of a tank nearer the house - a lovely place to play in !


With dad out of the way, I persuaded my mother to let me go to school, which was not far away at the junction of Dalton St and York Rd. Last time I saw it, it was a cycle shop!  Two or three girls arrived at the same time and we read a notice on the door,'No more school this term'. It was not long before the Christmas holidays anyway.

We decided to walk around to see what we could of any damage that had been done. I remember we went along Murray St where there were several damaged shops nod lots of broken windows.  I can recollect for years afterwards the road used to sparkle with glass splinters on moonlit nights. Remember we had a black out in the first war, being on the coast. We also saw the damage in Milton Road to Mr Mustard's tailor's shop. By then I expect we felt it was dinner time and drifted off home where I was in serious trouble for not reporting straight back from school.


On the Friday, two days after the Bombardment, a rumour went round the town that German battleships were coming again. Remember we had no radio in those days (in fact the few amateurs who experimented with broadcasting to each other had their sets confiscated if they had not dismantled or hidden them) . Few people were on the telephone, but rumour spread like wildfire from neighbour to neighbour and people living in what they felt were the more vulnerable parts of the town started walking to where they felt safer, into the country or to relatives living in the more easterly parts.


It was said that my great aunt, who lived with her brother in Brougham Terrace arrived at her sister in law's house carrying an eiderdown and grandpa's best trousers over her arm!


However, nothing happened and people began to calm down again, though some left to live in inland places and find not return.


We also had Zeppelin raids later in the war and many an air raid warning, when our  warden would give the All Clear signal by riding round on his motor cycle giving three toots on his horn from time to time in each street. We used to come downstairs during raids or warnings and sit under the thick oak dining table while my mother read to us from Ivanhoe, the White Company or similar stirring tales.


My father often stood just inside the front door to see where the Zeppelin was and on one occasion I remember him shouting, ' it's hit!' We dashed out to look and I can remember seeing this huge airship on fire from end to end. Then it bent in the middle and disappeared from sight behind the houses, eventually falling into the sea. A lucky escape for the town. For years I had a piece of aluminium dredged up by a trawler but unfortunately it was lost when I removed from West Hartlepool and left in the drawer of a cabinet that was sold.

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