Being born in 1960 I know little of the two wars that our country fought and all I saw were the surviving bombed buildings from the Second World War that provided makeshift playgrounds during my early childhood in and around Waterloo Street and Charles Street. My family knew these dark years all too well however. My father was born in March 1915, when the First World War was well underway and my mother in June 1918 as it neared its tragic conclusion.
As yet I know of only one casualty from our family in the First World War – that of my great uncle Sidney Gibson who signed up to the 11th Service Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment (the Tradesmen) soon after its formation in September 1914, and was killed in action in August 1916 at just 20 years of age. I think other brothers of my grandfather fought too, and the photograph shown opposite is probably my great uncle Harold, with my great grandmother Sarah seated. The photograph was taken at Seaman’s Studio in Prospect Street and is date stamped 23rd September 1916.
My father fought in the Second World War, a war our family like so many others fought at home as well as abroad, but that’s another story for another page and time. This is my short tribute, a mostly pictorial look at Hull in the First World War as by the time most of you are reading this we will be commemorating 100 years since the outbreak of the war in 1914.
This page then, stems purely from my interest in Hull’s social history and from related photographs in my own collection, some of which I share here. I am not a military historian – and wouldn’t wish to be – and for those wanting a detailed account of the war I can only suggest they consult the sources listed in the bibliography at the foot of the page. I must admit that whilst researching the subject (initially for this page on my web site in 2009) I have been surprised at the extent to which the First World War effected those left at home, and I now have an even greater admiration for the people of Hull – not least of which those members of my own family who endured those gruelling years.
In 1914 the city of Hull was still enjoying the fruits of a sustained period of renewal that culminated in more new streets and worthy buildings being constructed in the city, than at any other period before the 1950s. The older streets in the west of the city such as Paragon Street, Waterworks Street, and Chariot Street, had all been redeveloped and complimented by grand new thoroughfares such as King Edward Street and Jameson Street. So it must have come as some surprise when at 11pm on Tuesday 4th August 1914 England declared war with Germany, thus confirming this country’s involvement in the First World War.
Our modern, informed view of war and its atrocities is borne of many all too graphic reports in the various media, and we shudder when we hear of another conflict overseas, but sadly this was not the case in 1914. Crowds gathered outside the Hull Daily Mail offices in Whitefriargate to hear the deadline of our ultimatum expire, and as the deadline came and went, cheering and patriotic singing was begun oblivious to what tragic events were to follow. This excitement and patriotic fervour could only have come from the Imperialistic way in which our victories, and in some cases even our defeats, had been reported during the hostilities of the late 19th Century. Little did Hull and England know what was to come as the government passed the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) in August 1914, effectively placing the country under martial law and enabling widespread control over every aspect of daily life.
The initial surge of voluntary enlistment, spurred on no doubt by Lord Kitchener’s and other campaigns, saw an average of 30,000 men a day rush to sign up by the end of August 1914. So many that in Hull the old recruiting office at 22 Pryme Street was soon unable to cope and the corporation made the newly built City Hall available from 6th September 1914. It was here that military bands played on the balcony, speeches were made, hoardings were hung, and regular displays were made in the new ‘square’ to entice young men to sign up.
Shown above opposite is one of the early tanks that were used in the First World War from 1916; this one was being used more as a morale booster in the new Victoria Square in the final year of the war.
This central location accounted in a large part for the huge numbers of Hull men who signed up, however this enthusiasm – possibly a mixture of the desire to travel, the lure of paid work, and in many a true sense of idealistic patriotism, quickly subsided as knowledge of the war and its casualties fed back home. As many of the large groups of men who volunteered were neighbours or brothers, the knowledge that friends, neighbours and work colleagues may be more likely to join up if they knew they would be fighting alongside each other, led to the formation of the so called ‘Pals’ battalions.
The speed at which these units were raised led to unofficial names being coined, later officially adopted, and the sight of men drilling in civilian clothes whilst uniforms were quickly sourced became a familiar one all around Hull. The inevitable down side of this brave union came when the four Hull Pals battalions incurred their chilling casualties, and the terrible loss was felt all the more by those left stunned at home.The four Hull battalions were the Commercials, formed first and mostly from the Wenlock Barracks; the 2nd Hull Battalion – the Tradesmen was formed chiefly following the opening of City Hall as a new recruiting office.
The final two Battalions, the Sportsmen & Athletes and those known as T’ others were formed soon after, completing the ‘Hull’ Brigade. Each Battalion consisted of 1,050 men, and a 5th, or Reserve Battalion, was also formed – mostly of men of a smaller stature – thus gaining them the nickname of ‘The Bantams’, also known as the ‘Lord Roberts’ or ‘Bob’s’ Battalion. The Athletes are seen here in September 1914 drilling on the Anlaby Road ground of the Hull City AFC, near West Park.
Soon after the Pals were formed many other units were created such as The Divisional Ammunition Column, which took many of its number from the City Police and Tramways workers.
Another group of volunteers in our area, although initially an amateur group, were the ‘rifle clubs’, given impetus by the Hull Golf Club who made up the second of the three battalions that were formed, and pressed for their official recognition. The three battalions were generally made up of men mostly too old to fight who sought to defend at home in the face of any invasion, and in July 1916 their perseverance paid off and the corps was given official approval becoming the East Yorkshire Volunteer Brigade. Men were soon desperately needed to replace those lost as well as to fill the void in the territorial and the regular army.
In 1915 further new schemes were brought in to encourage recruits, and men between the ages of 18 and 41 were urged to attest their willingness to join up, should they be called upon. These men frequently wore arm-bands that had been issued to prevent them being labelled as slackers, or worse - cowards. Despite all this, and over two million men having enlisted by the end of 1915, the only answer to the desperate shortage was conscription. This came courtesy of the Military Service Act in January 1916 (which had been enabled by the National Registration Act of July 1915), with single men being the first targeted, soon to be followed by all men between the ages of 18 and 41. The desperate final hours of 1918 saw this upper age limit extended to include men up to the age of 51, but thankfully few of this older group were ever sent to the Front and were mostly used as home defence such as the Courteney Street Night Patrol shown here, who kept a vigilant eye on the night sky as Hull awaited the Zeppelins.
The Hull Daily Mail reported a ‘striking scene in the Humber’ in 1914 when 400 trawlers returned home to safety at the outset of the war. Around 100 were anchored in the Humber, whilst the rest filled the fish docks – a scene never to be repeated. The fishermen of Hull and Grimsby were seen as the ideal candidates to mine-sweep and their vessels were ideal for the purpose; work was soon underway to re-fit fishing vessels and even Humber ferry-boats for their new use as minesweepers etc. In total the Humberside area supplied over 880 vessels and 9,000 men from the fishing trade.
The fishing industry was decimated in Hull and only 93 of our trawlers were actually out fishing, as the admiralty had commandeered around 300 others for minesweeping and the search for submarines. As a consequence almost all of the fish & chip shops in Hull remained closed throughout the war. To balance the loss of Hull trawlers an amazing 40 new vessels (mostly trawlers) were launched during the war years by Earle’s shipyard alone, whilst other firms built another 35, and at a time when there was clearly a shortage of male labour. At the end of the war only 91 Hull owned ships were still afloat, nine of which had been built during the war. In total 670 vessels were lost from the Humberside region, of which 214 were minesweepers. As a general rule with each loss of a minesweeper nearly half of the crew was also lost. This is the crew of the Hull trawler Sea King that was launched in June 1916, and owned by the firm of J H Robins & Co of Hull. It was used in both World Wars as a Minesweeper and survived the First World War only to be lost in service in 1940 during the Second World War.
Several social centres were set up for the solders in Hull, not least of which was the Soldier’s Club that was located within the Beverley Road Baths (shown right). Another venue, catering mostly for the families of those away fighting, was the Soldier’s & Sailor’s Wives Club in Mason Street. Paragon Station was the location for another well-known Rest Station and Canteen set up in September 1914 and manned by a Voluntary Aid Detachment. Several hospitals were set up around the city for military use such as the Royal Navy Hospital in Argyle Street with 220 beds; Lady Sykes’ Hospital set up within the Metropole Assembly Hall in West Street; Reckitt’s Hospital founded within their works, which had 45 beds, and the Brooklands Officers Hospital in Cottingham Road that made use of a pre-existing facility.
Peel House, the headquarters of the Voluntary Aid Service at 150 Spring Bank was famous in the later years of the war for co-ordinating the many thousands of parcels of clothing and other essentials sent to prisoners of war, and organising many fund raising events. The Voluntary Aid Committee was initially set up by Lady Nunburnholme and also trained nurses and located hospital accommodation for troops stationed in Hull.
Whilst the men were away fighting their women left at home were often called upon to fill their places at work. An example of the importance of female labour in Hull can be seen in figures from Rose, Downs & Thompson’s foundry in Hull where in July 1914 just three women were employed. By October 1918 the figure had risen to 359 – over a third of the workforce.
It was not only munitions and voluntary work that women carried out unquestioningly but work on the tramways where female tram conductors were employed to fill situations left by men who were being lost to the forces at a rate of two a day. The women also worked in agriculture where they were so in demand that Womens Land Army was formed in 1916. Some women did actually enter the armed forces, in non-combatant roles, thus allowing more men to be freed for active service abroad. By 1918 approximately 1.5 million women had replaced men in work and their reward came partly in the right to vote being given to women over 30 in June 1918 and, possibly more importantly, in their reviewed role within society as a whole.
H G Wells had written of terrifying spacecraft and devastating aerial warfare in War of the Worlds in 1898, and for some this terrifying new vision must still have been fresh in their memory when Zeppelins with their hanging gondolas appeared through the night clouds over Hull. The first attack by Luftschiff no.9 came on Sunday 6th June 1915, and only happened due to high winds that prevented Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Mathy from reaching his primary target of London.
Damage to Blenkin's store in Queen Street is shown right, and other damage in Queen Street below.
Travelling from the coast over Bridlington, following the railway lines towards Hull, he arrived before midnight and dropped flares intended to light up the dockland area. Oblivious to the threat of aerial attack, Hull was defenceless except for the hastily pointed guns of HMS Adventure under repair at Earle's shipyard at Alexandra Dock. Hull had no response to the 13 high explosive and 50 incendiary bombs that destroyed 40 shops and dwellings and resulted in the death of 24 civilians. Coming over Hull from the north the Zeppelin arrived in the area around 11.40 pm and was over Hawthorn Avenue at midnight exactly according to one contemporary report.
A second visit was planned by the L.9 on 9th August 1915, but through misjudged dead reckoning the inhabitants of Goole took bombs intended for Hull resulting in 16 dead.
On 5th March 1916 there was a further attack by two Zeppelins, which had been intending to bomb Rosyth in Scotland, but again high winds caused them to divert firstly to Flamborough Head (L.14) and quickly on to Beverley and then Hull. The high winds restricted her ability to make good aim and whilst she hovered L. 11 came out of the clouds en route from the Tunstall area. Cloud still covered their target and they hovered for over an hour awaiting a clear view until finally, as Hull citizens watched helplessly 3,000 feet below, they began their bombing. One bomb that fell in the Humber near Earle's Shipyard partly destroyed a ship in Dry Dock there and other damage was sustained in the city centre where the glass roof of Paragon Station was destroyed and a further 17 civilians were killed.
Bombs were later dropped over Waller Street, Dansom Lane (where Hewetson’s sawmill was badly damaged), Church Street in Drypool, High Street, Market Place, Queen Street, Prince’s Dock Side, Porter Street, Campbell Street, Constable Street and Selby Street whilst bombs failed to explode in many other areas. One casualty of the bombings was the shop of Edwin Davis in Market Place, which took a direct hit and was completely destroyed. Sadly Edwin Davis’ new store, built in Bond Street following the war, was also destroyed by bombing in the Blitz of the Second World War. The people of Hull were in uproar as once again Hull was attacked with no defence being raised for over an hour.
In Beverley where the only damage was thankfully restricted to nearby fields, an officer of the Royal Flying Corps was mobbed and in Hull other officials were attacked by crowds angry at the lack of response. Anti aircraft guns were promised in a response that was too little and too late, and lighting restrictions did little to quell the city’s anger and fear. Streetlamps were painted out – the upper portion in Oxford Blue and the lower part Cambridge blue and the upper deck windows of trams were painted sepia and/or blue (reports conflict on this), whilst curtains covered those on the lower deck and two blue lamps lit the faces of those inside. A warning buzzer system was initiated and when it sounded all lights had to be extinguished under threat of fines. Air-raid shelters were a familiar fixture of the Second World War but the only air-raid shelters in the First World War were those made individually by civilians in their gardens such as this in a Clumber Street garden.
Many people sought shelter in local parks when the siren sounded – an alleged 48 times according to one report. Anti-aircraft guns and searchlights from Naval vessels were acquired following the first 1916 raid and although several more raiders were driven off in 1916, the Zeppelins just flew higher, out of range of the guns. Although Hull was only a secondary target, the third raid caused more damage in Hull than in the other intended locations. Nine Zeppelins attacked the east coast 9th August 1916 dropping bombs at various points between Berwick upon Tweed and The Wash. The Hull anti aircraft gunners could not see through the Humber mist and 44 bombs killed a further nine people in Hull.
An attack by the L.41 Zeppelin on 24th September 1917 with 16 bombs did little damage and the craft was held off by the Paull searchlights, and then chased by a fighter until out of range of the lights. The final attack on Hull was on the evening of 10th March 1918 when the L.63 came via Hornsea, again following the railway lines to Hull, and dropped six bombs in Hull and six in fields at Sutton and Swine, causing only one death from shock.
Due mostly to the unfortunate fact that those killed came from the poorer districts of Hull, and that some children were amongst those dead, anti-German feeling in Hull was at fever pitch and a catalogue of unfortunate events followed the bombings.
Any Germanic sounding shops and families in Hull were hounded and attacked by a small minority of angry crowds already angered by the sinking of the Lusitania. The fate of the Hohenrein family – British nationals and including members of the East Yorkshire Yeomanry, is well documented but theirs was not the only business to close following riots in the streets and angry clashes with the police. Shops in Charles Street, Porter Street and the Hessle Road were also attacked. These angry outbursts, borne of frustration and fear were committed by a minority and dealt with very swiftly by the police and the courts. It was later considered a disgrace that mostly naturalised citizens had been attacked by an angry but ignorant few. The Hull Daily Mail as ever did little to help the situation by thoughtlessly printing letters such as the one from which the following extract was taken: -
‘Why is it that in all the Zeppelin raids over England we have not heard of the least damage being done to the life and property of the naturalised alien living in sublime contentment amongst us. Is it possible they have a secret code of signals indicating where they lie fermenting their hate, or is it that, since we have proved they are in league with the evil one, he insures them as a reward for their cooperation?’
An equally criminal act to the hounding of those being, or even sounding German, was perpetrated by those small-minded British women who gave white feathers to those men who were not in uniform or away fighting, to signify cowardice.
The E13 was a British submarine that left port in August 1915 for service in the Baltic seas, but just days later on Friday 20th August, ran aground on the island of Saltholm in the waters between Denmark and Sweden. Although surfaced and in neutral waters, a German destroyer opened fire on the stricken submarine causing severe damage until a Danish vessel intervened. The E13 exploded whilst survivors were being transferred to Danish ships killing 15 men and news of the event caused worldwide outrage and condemnation.
The bodies of the men arrived in Hull at the Riverside Quay at 7 pm on 27th August via SS Vidar and the coffins, each in their own hearse, were drawn to Paragon Station via Wellington Street, Queen Street, Lowgate, Alfred Gelder Street and Paragon Street whilst thousands lined the streets. The dead were then transferred to their homes by rail, except the one local man, Herbert Staples, who was transferred by tug to his home town of Grimsby. This sad story is one of the most remembered of the many funeral processions that passed through Hull, but by no means the only one during the First World War.
The end came – at last – when peace was announced at the 11th hour of the 11th day of November 1918, a date that we all know well due to the years of regular remembrance services held all around the country. Hull and its people would never be the same again and most streets or families had experienced a direct loss of some sort in a war that almost destroyed a whole generation of young British men.
At least 7,000 men and women from Hull died in the First World War and of the estimated 70,000 that served in the armed forces at least 14,000 of those wounded were disabled in one form or another.
In the months following Armistice Day however, more often than not in 1919, peace parties and celebrations were held throughout the city as neighbours shared their joy albeit tinged with sadness. As ever the local photographers were around to record the events and make a few bob from copies of quickly reproduced photographs, sold to the many happy faces on the hundreds of picture postcard images that were produced. Long lines of make-shift party tables can usually be seen, strewn along terraces or streets with overjoyed smiling faces from end to end, often in fancy dress. For me these poignant images are an invaluable record of one of the very few positive events from this sad time, and are particular favourites from my collection.
A peace party outside the school Northumberland Avenue
Home made versions of the rolls of honour erected by companies, often called ‘Street Shrines’, were hung in streets and terraces all around Hull. As the long list of casualties became known often separate lists were appended to the shrine, or the names of those who had fallen were marked in some way. Most were initially decorated with flowers and often the flags of our allies, but as casualties were reported many families hung pictures at the shrine or laid them on tables below. Some of the earliest shrines had dates predicting the end of the war and were marked 1914-1916, but as time wore on the 1914 was left and the other 19… left blank. Many of the later shrines often had spare, blank columns in preparation for the inevitable losses and as the casualty lists became all too regular, enthusiasm for the shrines waned.
It soon became apparent that keeping the shrines up to date had become impractical. By their very nature, the shrines were often out of date by the time they had been erected, and arguments ensued when names were missed. Some even argued that the money collected to pay for the shrines would be better spent on sending supplies to the troops.
Very few were made after 1916 when most of Hull’s shrines appear to have been erected and sadly many remained incomplete after the war, and the list of names was rarely updated or corrected. Sadly as the majority of Hull’s street shrines were generally hung in poorer streets and terraces, and were often made of wood and may not have lasted very long after the war ended. Those more substantial shrines that did survive were virtually all lost in the waves of demolition during the ‘slum-clearance’ programmes that were carried out in the 1960s and 1970s. Those very few that survived the demolition have now also been removed except for the encased Sharp Street shrine off Newland Avenue, and a rather vulnerable stone shrine at the entrance to Eton Street off Hessle Road. A further few are said to remain in storage within the Hull Museums stores. A shrine at Marfleet Avenue was recently taken down but has been replaced by a modern version in a landscaping scheme there. Shown here is the street shrine that honoured the brave of Bellamy Street.
It was a sad fact that many of those who returned from war were faced with unemployment and very little by way of compensation - that was a thing for the 21st Century. A small gesture to some of the men and their families was the distribution of small-holdings for ex-servicemen in England. In our area these were spread around the local villages such as the one shown to the right, located at Sunk Island. 8,000 acres was secured in 1917 from the Crown Colonies estate in Sunk Island alone for the returning servicemen. The scheme was fraught with problems that were partly clarified by the Land Settlement Facilities Act of 1919, brought in partly to assist returning servicemen, but also to open up allotments to everyone, not just ‘the labouring classes’. It also gave borough councils authority over allotments for the first time. Examples of the small houses, usually in pairs, can still be spotted along main roads in the area - for example on the main Beverley Road just through Dunswell.
Reckitt & Colman’s grand memorial remains within their premises, but the most fitting remaining memorial is the Cenotaph (a tomb-like monument to someone buried elsewhere) in Paragon Square, designed by T Harold Hughes, erected by Quibell’s and paid for by public subscription. A scheme for the erection of a Cenotaph was mentioned in the Hull Times as early as 1922 but it was not until 1923 that the foundation stone was laid, which states: - ‘laid by the Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor of Hull, Councillor Charles Raine JP 8 November 1923'. The Cenotaph was finally unveiled in a grand ceremony on 20th September 1924. The inscription on the huge Portland stone monument reads: - ‘Their Name Liveth for Ever More’
A Pictorial Record; Hull & the Zeppelins; Scenes of Damage Sustained in Hull 1915-1918. Hull Daily News & Hull Weekly News. Hull, 1918.
Keep the Home Fires Burning The Hull Area in the First World War. John Markham, Highgate Press (Beverley) Ltd. Beverley, 1988.
Kingston upon Hull Before, During & After The Great War. Thomas Sheppard, A Brown & Sons. Hull, 1919.
Humberside in the First World War. Stephen Kimberley, Humberside College of Further Education Local History Archives Unit. Hull, 1988.
Victoria County History of the County of York and the East Riding; Volume 1; The City of Kingston upon Hull. Edited by K.J. Allison, Oxford University Press for the Institute of Historical Research. 1969.
A History of Hull. E. Gillett & K.A. MacMahon, 1980 revised reprinted edition, Hull University Press. Hull, 1989.
English Life in the First World War. C Martin, Wayland Publishers. 1974.
Hull Street Shrines & Rolls of Honour. John Malcolm Mann, No publisher. Undated - 1980s.
www.firstworldwar.com (the propaganda posters shown here are courtesy of this site)
Nick Turner for the photo of the Athletes on Hull City's ground, and for spotting the Eton Street shrine and to the estate of Renton Heathcote for the Clumber Street air-raid shelter photograph.