When the Great War came to North Yorkshire

- 10 November 2018 -

I find it fascinating discovering history near my own doorstep in Coxwold. On the eve of Remembrance Sunday, at the time when we are all reflecting on the consequences of war, thoughts are drawn in particular to the centenary of the end of the bloody First World War (or Great War as it was then known). Although most cities, towns and villages (including Coxwold) have a war memorial, a recent visit to Oliver’s Mount overlooking Scarborough provided a new twist. I have a great interest in landscape follies and similar structures and so was drawn to the enormous obelisk that sits on Oliver’s Mount above Scarborough. Rather than being a frivolous folly, this obelisk is a magnificent war memorial – but it has an interesting twist as not all those commemorated are from the military. There is also a plaque recording the names of civilians killed in bombardments of 1914 and 1917. Intrigued, I had to find out more about when the Great War came to North Yorkshire.

Cutting a long story short, Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914. Just over 4 months later, and before the terrible trench warfare of the Somme and Ypres had commenced, the Great War came to us here in North Yorkshire. In an attempt to draw the British Navy out into the North Sea for battle, the German Navy launched an attack on Scarborough as well as Hartlepool and Whitby. This wasn’t a bombing raid. This was a Naval bombardment. The attacks resulted in 592 casualties, many of them civilians, of whom 137 died. Whilst now almost beyond human memory, at the time the attacks caused public outrage and was used as a rallying cry against Germany for an attack upon civilians. The attack on Scarborough became part of a British propaganda campaign. One poster simply stated: “Remember Scarborough! Enlist now.” Another bore the headline: “Avenge Scarborough – up and at ’em now. The wholesale murder of innocent women and children demands vengeance. Men of England, the innocent victims of German brutality call upon you to avenge them. Show German barbarians that Britain’s shores cannot be bombarded with impunity. Duty calls you now. Go today to the nearest recruiting depot and offer your services for King and home and country.”

So what happened during the bombardment? On 16 December 1914, at 8 in the morning, and without warning, the German Navy began shelling the town. Scarborough Castle, the Grand Hotel, three churches and various other properties were hit. People crowded to the railway station and the roads leading out of the town. At 9.30, the bombardment stopped and the two German battlecruisers moved on to nearby Whitby where a coastguard station was shelled, also hitting Whitby Abbey and other buildings in the town. Later in the war, on 4 September 1917, there was also a U-Boat raid on Scarborough with two people being killed during the bombardment. The front line had once again come to North Yorkshire.

The foundation stone for the war memorial obelisk on Oliver’s Mount was laid on 16 September 1922. Oliver’s Mount is now best known for motorbike racing and for its stunning views over Scarborough and the coast with Scarborough Castle prominent. Scarborough is a classic British seaside town today with no obvious traces of its wartime history. Scarborough is located just an hour’s drive across the North York Moors from Coxwold where there will be a short service at the village war memorial on Sunday 11 November 2018. There are other reminders of warfare on the North Yorkshire coast, including the remains of pill boxes at picturesque Cayton Bay near Scarborough. Thankfully, Scarborough and the North York Moors national park are now enjoyed as holiday destinations and wartime memories pass into history. But we must always remember them…

Scarborough war memorial
Scarborough war memorial