The Scarborough bombardment: The day war came to the Yorkshire coast

Scarborough Castle was shelled repeatedly during the bombardment
Scarborough Castle was shelled repeatedly during the bombardment
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The Scarborough bombardment in 1914 was the first time civilians had been targeted on English soil during World War One.

Two German battleships appeared in the bay one morning in December, and proceeded to fire over 500 shells at the undefended seaside resort.

Damage to the Merryweathers' shop. Emily Merryweather was killed while trying to usher people to safety in their cellar

Damage to the Merryweathers' shop. Emily Merryweather was killed while trying to usher people to safety in their cellar

It was part of a concerted attack on the east coast which also saw Whitby and Hartlepool targeted, with the latter - an important port - suffering the worst damage.

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In Scarborough, 18 people died and buildings including Scarborough Castle and the Grand Hotel were hit. One victim was a baby boy, another a shoemaker who died from wounds ten days later. Most victims were younger adults aged 20-45, and the oldest was a 65-year-old man. Two nine-year-old boys died. A 15-year-old became the only Boy Scout to die during World War One. Three housemaids, a postman and an architect were killed, and a store owner who was ushering others to safety in her cellar.

It's thought that the German command may have believed that the Norman castle was still a military garrison, or that they were trying to destroy a secret wireless station which escaped damage.

Damage to the Royal Hotel

Damage to the Royal Hotel

People panicked and tried to flee Scarborough by road and rail during the half-hour attack by vessels Derfflinger and Von der Tann. Many thought that it was the first salvo ahead of an invasion of the coastline. The railway station became a first aid post.

The Coastguard station on the cliff edge was destroyed, and the 18th-century castle barracks damaged beyond repair. The medieval curtain wall was hit by several shells. The keep, built in the 12th century, withstood the bombardment, although scars on its brickwork can still be seen today.

The attack finished when the ships headed north to Whitby, where the town's famous abbey was hit and seven more people were killed.

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A crowd survey damage to railway lines and a bridge

A crowd survey damage to railway lines and a bridge

The incident had a huge impact on national morale - the Germans were demonised as 'baby killers' for deliberately targeting civilians hundreds of miles from the battlefields. Recruitment experienced a boost from men determined to avenge the North Sea attacks.

Stories emerged later of a roadworker who was told a day before the attacks by a mysterious elderly man that the Germans would come 'quickly' for the town.

One man told of how he spotted the ships close to shore from his window and thought they were British before a shell crashed through his house. A guest at a boarding house left his room just moments before a shell destroyed it.

Shells even penetrated inland, hitting the villages of Cayton, Burniston and Ayton. At a local bookshop, the owner reported that the only book which had fallen from the shelves was one about Imperial Germany.

Men aboard the town's fishing trawlers spotted the German fleet escaping without pausing to attack them. They were described as travelling at incredible speed.

Scarborough would have suffered more casualties had it been peak holiday season, but the town was quiet. Nevertheless, the government's propaganda chiefs used the resort's fame and associations with wealthy visitors to drum up patriotic fervour, despite Hartlepool enduring heavier losses of both life and property.

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The story comes to life

The 1914 bombardment is the subject of a new play to be performed at the Scarborough Open Air Theatre on August 29.

A condensed version of Three Ships Came Sailing By by arts academy On Stage is part of the venue's family entertainment show.

Writer and director Liz Coggins wrote the drama after hearing family stories of the tragedy.

“My grandmother used to tell me about it, as she could remember it, and she always said the Scarborough Spa Orchestra kept on playing in 1917 when a submarine entered the bay.

“I remember my mother, an author, used to talk about how she had studied it but never really got chance to put pen to paper and write a novel about it. "

The play's narrator is Spa Orchestra founder Alix McLean.

“I read everything I could and the characters are loosely based on people who actually lived through the bombardment. It is a play with music with an emotional ending where we pay tribute by name to each of the dead of this disaster.”