On December 16th 1914, the First World War (as it was called the Great War) was but a few months old, and the German Navy was blockaded in the Kiel Canal. Through the mist of that cold December morning, the Battle Cruisers Seydlitz, Moltke and Blücher, were part of a flotilla that slipped over the channel to make a lightning raid on the Yorkshire coast, struck the port town of Hartlepool.
On this day in the Victoria Dock was the HMS Forward (a Forward class scout cruiser) and HMS Patrol (a Pathfinder class scout cruiser), HMS May, HMS Test, HMS Doon and HMS Waveney (destroyers from the 9th Flotilla) and also was the HM Submarine C9.
Out of the ports struck that day, Hartlepool was the only port with warships berthed. It was during the raid on Hartlepool that it was the only place that they did encounter any resistance, this came from three 6in guns at the Heugh Battery and from the four destroyers, two cruisers and a submarine that was in the harbour that day. The Heugh Battery had a combined complement 320 officers and men from the 18th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry and The Durham Royal Garrison Artillery.
This raid only lasted approximately from 8:00am to 8:40am but in that short time one hundred and twenty six people were killed including the Sunday school secretary and seven Sunday school members. It was reported to be a terrifying and grim experience for those living in Hartlepool.
On the same morning Gunner William Stephen Houston, the Sunday school secretary, was killed by a German shell at Heugh Battery whilst acting as a stretcher barer along with Gunner Spence, attempting to rescue those men wounded by the first shell of the Bombardment.
Another church member, Sgt Thomas Douthwaite (of the Durham Royal Garrison Artillery), was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for removing a live cartridge from the Lighthouse gun at Heugh Battery on the December 16th 1914 during the bombardment of the Hartlepool’s. A misfire on the fourth shell fired was caused by a lead; this carried the electrical charge to fire the cartridge, which had become detached. After a misfire it was standard procedure to wait for ten minutes for the barrel to cool, unfortunately this would leave the gun out of action while they were still under fire from the German cruisers, as any attempt to remove the shell may cause the cartridge to explode. Sgt Thomas Douthwaite, to keep the gun battery firing, had ordered his men away from the gun so he could remove the shell and place it in a bucket of water. While removing the shell from the gun he was severely burned on the arms. The gun was then switched to percussion firing. By the time the German ships left large areas of the Headland and West Hartlepool had been destroyed.
Altogether 127 people were killed as a result of the attack, and another 400 were wounded, some suffering horrific injuries. Included in the casualties were 8 servicemen, 5 from the 18th Battalion DLI, 1 Sapper and Gunners Houston and Spence of the Durham Royal Garrison Artillery. Amongst those who lost their lives were seven children of our Sunday School.