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Hartlepool’s nasty surprise

A sleepy December morning was rudely interrupted when three battleships opened fire.

Whilst commemorations of the First World War continue over in Europe, there’s one surprising piece of the battleground that often gets overlooked, and one which was the location for the first soldier’s death on British soil for over 150 years: Hartlepool.

Back on the 16th of December 1914, at 8.10 in the morning, three German battleships, the Seydiltz, Moltke and Blucher, came with range of this industrial city on Britain’s northeast coast, and opened fire. Aiming mainly at the shore defences, the port and the lighthouse, but also having a go at the nearby steelworks as well.

Nobody was prepared for the attack; the volunteer soldiers manning the ancient shore defences returned fire, and during the exchange some six of them were killed, with the first being one Theo Jones, a former schoolteacher. Some 102 civilians were killed as well, the first lives to be lost on in fully fledge conflict on British soil since Culloden, in 1746. Also hit almost simultaneously were nearby Scarborough and Whitby.

None of these cities was particularly important to the war effort. They got targeted merely because, if you come out of a German port and turn towards England, the northeast coast is pretty much the first point of arrival. And the German navy wanted to show that it was a threat, to flex its muscles and to test how prepared the British would be.

The net result, apart from the deaths and destruction, was a big surge in recruitment for the British armed forces. The Germans may have hoped to demoralise by the raid, but the immediate impact was to stiffen Britain’s resolve.

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