Nostalgia: Bombardment anniversary

Damage to Joseph Merryweather's shop in Prospect Road after the German bombardment of December 16, 1914.
Damage to Joseph Merryweather's shop in Prospect Road after the German bombardment of December 16, 1914.
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On the evening of Thursday, December 16, 1915, an extraordinary gathering took place at the Municipal School in Westwood, Scarborough. The Muni was about to break-up for the Christmas and New Year holiday, but this meeting had nothing to do with education: its purpose was to mark and commemorate the anniversary of the Bombardment which had taken place just 12 months earlier.

The organisers of the occasion were clearly taken by surprise: they had assumed that the spacious school hall would be quite sufficient. However, they had underestimated the turn-out to such an extent that the hall was filled to capacity and a second, overflow assembly had to be hastily accommodated in the outside yard in front of the school building. While Archdeacon Macknarness addressed those indoors, the vicar of Scarborough, the Rev CC Cooper, improvised with the remainder outside.

The Muni was chosen as a venue presumably because it was thought to be neutral territory: all the Anglican and Free Churches were represented, but there was still some inter-denominational friction evident, particularly after recent events at Snainton.

Only the Archdeacon’s words were fully reported in The Mercury of December 17, but they reflected the common religious assumptions of that time which a century later seem rather strange. After the experience of the previous 12 months of world-wide carnage, the Archdeacon thought that the bombardment of Scarborough had caused relatively little damage and loss of life. For him, as for nearly everyone else, the material destruction and human casualties of December 16, 1914, now appeared almost trivial. Also, the innocent euphemism that had characterised public opinion a year earlier had now evaporated. Far from predicting an early victory and peace, Macknarness told his audience that the worst was yet to come. There was still much “sin” in the country, much “wanton self-indulgence”. Was he saying that the huge suffering caused by the war was divine punishment for mankind’s misdeeds? If so, it was a verdict then shared by many who were there at the Muni.

Jottings did not say whether he was present that evening. Nevertheless, he had his customary bitter and barbed reflections on the event. He noted the absence of several leading citizens who had left Scarborough for “the comfort of the waters of Harrogate”. They would not be missed, he wrote; the town was well rid of them; and they should not return. He also deplored the “idle gossip” and “silly stories” that were currently circulating in the town. The nation was not overrun by German spies; there had been no fierce encounter in the North Sea between the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet and the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet. He advised Scarborough’s physicians to scorn the “yarns” of their gullible and nervous patients.

Finally, Jottings pointed out mischievously that the group of Scarborians who had best cause to remember the Bombardment were the brewers, publicans and licensed victuallers. Had readers not noticed that not a single public house in the town had been damaged by German shells, whereas many of its places of worship had received direct hits? “The publicans were saved but not the parsons.” Amongst licensed premises he did not include the hotels, such as the Grand, Royal and Prince of Wales. Was Jottings poking fun at the Archdeacon and his explanation for what he had called the “terrible catastrophe [that] had befallen the world”?

Jottings had also something to say about two other items of news. The Canadian relief fund for England’s east-coast “watering places” amounted in total to £150,000, but as yet decisions on how it would be allocated had not been announced. In his opinion, some of the money should go to “lodging-house keepers” who had been so severely hurt by the slump in the holiday trade. On the other hand, not a penny should be paid to ordinary rate-payers who were in arrears. Jottings believed that all the people of Scarborough “were in it together”.

The timetable for Lord Derby’s voluntary recruitment scheme had now expired. Its success depended entirely on how many single men had come forward to offer their services to the war effort, but it was obvious to observers that unmarried men had shown no greater willingness than married men. As a result, conscription would become unavoidable. Yet it had not been merely a question of willingness: a high proportion of volunteers had been rejected on medical grounds. For instance, the North Riding Education Committee, meeting in County Hall, Northallerton, had agreed that male teachers would have to be spared from the classrooms, but nearly half of them had been considered unfit for military duties.

This information opened the way for Jottings to air another of his prejudices, that against youthful obsession with outdoor sports. Gleefully, he declared that the British were “a nation of crocks” because its young men foolishly indulged themselves in all manner of vigorous, physical recreations. Youthful exercise was one excusable activity; too much of it led in later life to “varicose veins...the greatest pitfall”. At the advanced age of 74 perhaps Jottings knew more than most men about varicose veins.

Not much press reference yet to Christmas and it’s already December 17! Didn’t our predecessors know that Christmas begins in October? Still, Santa Claus had already passed over the Kaiser’s U-boats and mines and dodged his Zeppelins and he was now waiting for Scarborough’s children in his grotto at Boyes’ new Remnant Warehouse in St Nicholas Street. So all was well for Christmas 1915.