A century ago the First World War came to the Yorkshire coast and it was a day our town of Bridlington should consider itself very lucky.
But most of today’s residents have forgotten that event on 16 December 1914, along with Winifred Holtby’s letter to the Bridlington Free Press.
The British government allowed the German Navy to encroach on the coast of Yorkshire. Winston Churchill, who at the time was the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, wanted to ambush the Germans on their retreat but even he was shocked at what unfolded.
The Germans came at breakfast time and began shelling the coast, firing on civilians.
Following a visit from U-boat 17, six German battle cruisers commanded by Franz Von Hipper approached Hartlepool.
The battle ships along with another vessel, Blucher, began shelling Hartlepool while people were sitting down to breakfast tables resulting in the death of 12 residents.
Meanwhile, the Derfflinger and Von Der Tann steamed south to Scarborough.
Winifred Holtby, later the famous authoress born in Rudston, was a pupil at Queen Margaret’s school in Scarborough, when at 8.05am the shells rained on the town for 30 minutes.
The school was evacuated and what young Winifred witnessed would leave a lasting impression on her. She wrote an account for the Bridlington papers, which kicked off her writing career.
“Over the town hung a huge mantle of smoke, yellow, unreal, which made Scarborough look like a dream town, far, far away I heard the roar of a gun, instantly there was a crash and more yellow smoke.
“I saw one huge brute of a man, mounted on a cart horse, striking it with a heavy whip, tearing at full gallop down the street caring nothing for woman and children in his path. Then a huge black car, HONK! HONK! swept by with only one occupant, a lady dressed in expensive furs, all alone in a great big car, she did not stop to pick anyone up.”
A 14-month-old baby was among the 18 people who died in Scarborough, which branded the Germans “Baby Killers”.
The Kolberg, another cruiser appeared off Bridlington, but luck was with our town – her orders were to lay a minefield and not shell the town.
A converted drifter from Grimsby hit one and all the crew were lost, with only one body recovered.
Winifred Holtby became a nurse during the First World War and served abroad, also becoming an activist for women’s rights and later for South Africans’rights.
Sadly her fame followed only after she die from Bright’s Kidney Failure in July 1935. She was brought home to Rudston and lies in the church yard, bringing her laurels with her.
Her novel South Riding was a huge best-seller and later adapted into a film and based around Bridlington.
Thanks to that event a century ago, when the German Navy brought the war to Yorkshire, it ignited Winifred’s passion for writing and put Bridlington on the map.