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Weardale "Pals" Under Fire: Thrilling experiences during bombardment

Letter from John Carr reported in the Auckland Chronicle

The following letter dated “Hartlepool Wednesday”, recounts the experience of Mr J Carr, son of Mr J T Carr of Cowshill, Weardale, who is serving in the Durham County Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry:

“Today has been somewhat exciting. We were called up this morning at 5 o’clock and served out with 100 rounds of ammunition each and marched off to our appointed defensive positions on the coast, some in trenches and others a bid behind as support. These positions are for preventing the landing of an armed party. I was amongst the supports. At first we supposed that this calling up was for practice such as we have been expecting for some time. About 8:30, however, the sound of heavy guns from the sea warned us that these was some serious business going on. I could not see the sea from where I was, so could not tell what was happening. Nearer and nearer the sounds came, then shells began to burst, some at comfortable distances, others fairly near. Thus the bombardment of Hartlepool began in real earnest. A terrific heavy gunfire was kept up for half an hour, then suddenly stopped, owing, as I afterwards heard, to our own battleships coming up and engaging the enemy. I suppose our ships are now chasing the Germans as they are not to be seen at present. The nearest “shave” we had was when a shell burst on an embankment above us, about 15 yards away. Splinters dropped within a few feet of us.

I have described the bombardment as I saw it from my position. Other sections of our battalion have not come through this, our baptism of fire, so well as the section I was in. A section on guard at the Lighthouse battery had a serious misfortune, having five men killed and several wounded. Out of the section of 20 men only four escaped unhurt, and this was all done with one shell. I did not see them myself, but I am told they behaved courageously and died like true British soldiers. The number of civilians killed in considerable, but I do not know the number. There are many houses in ruins and, I think, two gas works destroyed.

All the big guns here are unharmed. They fired over 100 shells during the action. The town is quite quiet again now. You would hardly think that a few hours ago death-dealing shells were flying indiscriminately over it. During the time the action lasted it was what reporters term ‘a veritable Hell’. This was our baptism of fire and was a trying time, but the spirit of the men of the County Battalion remains as firm and unbreakable as ever. I enclose a bit of the wadding which came from the shell that burst nearest to us. The cunning strategy employed by the German ships to get near the coast, was typical of the German base treachery. They flew the British flag and fired shells out to sea as though firing at an enemy. The coast batteries consequently let them come quite close to the shore. Then the Germans commenced firing broadsides on the town.

Please do not worry about me. I am in the best of health and not at all disturbed by this morning’s events, though I am greatly sorry for the poor people who have suffered.

Date: 24-Dec-1914

Author: The Auckland Chronicle

Where to find this: Durham County Record Office

Contributed by Durham County Record Office

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