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George Rowntree

The Reminiscences of George Rowntree
1855 -1940

written during the winter of 1935-36



16 December 1914.

Copied from my wife’s journal; written soon after the event.

A dark morning with a West wind brought a low lying fog into the bay. When George and I came down to breakfast, ready for our day's work, it was 7.50 by the clock. " The Manchester Guardian " lay on the breakfast table as usual, bringing us the news from the Eastern and Western theatres of War. Letters were handed in, and we had reading and a prayer in which we asked , "that our steps may be directed in the way of Peace, and our hearts strengthened." George had taken his seat at the table when he said in a startled tone, "What's that?" "Oh! nothing," I replied, but crossing the room, I looked through the window, and to my horror saw a shell strike Mr. Turner's house, "Dunollie," just below us. Then another terrific explosion, and a mass of smoke and debris rose in the air. We ran to the maids, and Newham, the gardener, came in from his toolhouse. We saw the firing, and thought there were two vessels firing at each o'ther. We little thought that each shell was directed to our ' dear old Town.

Then came a three minutes’ lull ; the vessels were turning round ready to steam away north. In the lull I calmly made the tea and put out the spirit lamp. Hilda, the housemaid, exclaimed, ' , Oh! look at yon lass washing her door step.

"Well, I never," , and ran from the room with a burst of laughter. This broke the seriousness of us all. Immediately the firing began again with much more violence and fierceness. I became very uneasy and urged that we should go into the Porch and move away from the windows. This we did and remained there until the end. Then came the heaviest firing; the noise was terrific. We could hear the swish, swish of the shells as they came over us and burst on Oliver's Mount. Some burst amongst the trees; four fell in the field on our north. Mountside was struck with three shells; Queen Margaret's Hall was badly shelled; several houses below us, Netherbank, Saxifield, Shortlands, were all badly damaged. No district in Scarborough escaped. About 300 houses were struck, and the Coastguard considered that anywhere up to 500 shells were fired.

To us it seemed a long, long time that we were standing in the Porch together. The moments were very solemn, and the crash, crash of the shells bursting shook our house to its very foundations. At one time the gardener and Hilda thought up the Mount safer, and off they ran, but a shell burst in amongst the trees, bringing hot burning earth into our forecourt, and they came back quickly, much to our relief. Shells burst as far south as the College, and one at Osgodby, near Cayton .

Then all was quiet, and by 8.25 a.m. the vessels had steamed out of our bay and went direct north on their voyage of death arid destruction to Whitby. At 9.05a.m. George heard the guns firing off Whitby. They aimed at the signal station, killed two men, and damaged the old Whitby Abbey. Here, at Scarborough, 17 lost their lives and over 80 were wounded.

By 10 o'clock the sun broke through the mist, which rolled away and left a calm peaceful bay, as if nothing had happened. But the shock told its tale and we found, as the days have gone by, that our nerves have suffered from the strain of those 20 minutes, which seemed like hours as we look back. Our ignorance of what was happening saved us from some fear, but we feel if a second raid was made on our town we should not be so well able to bear it.

Many have left , their homes; people fled from the town along the York Road and the trains were filled with rich and poor. Some returned ; as I write it is Christmas Day; the town is deserted ; houses are shut up. The Boarding Schools will not return next term, most probably not until we can say, ..The War is over."

We who stand for Peace feel it is not for us to leave our homes or run away from the post of duty. We must be willing to take all risks and trust God, who is above all, to take care of us. We are alone and shall be, for we cannot ask our friends to sleep in a house so exposed to the East Coast. We have changed our rooms, both for ourselves and the maids, and sleep at the back. This and a dug-out behind in the bank is all we have done, but as we have no cellar, George has arranged a safe shelter for us.

One of the soldiers wounded is the first man to be wounded on English soil since the days of Charles II.

Among the hurry and scurry of getting away, many went with very little clothing. Malton Friends anticipated this; they had begun to collect garments for a War Victims' Fund, so promptly sent a lot down to the station, where Friends played the part of the good Samaritan to a number .

Two ladies left their home on the South Cliff with their long hair down their backs, and in their hurry left their false teeth on the breakfast table. One man put his Christmas Cake under his arm; a woman who did not like to leave her best silk dress for the Germans quickly put it on ; a third boasted of his bravery at home, and how he was the first downstairs; his wife added, "But thou hasn't told them who thou sent upstairs for thy trousers." A little dog set off and ran straight to Scalby., found the Low Hall door open, ran through to the dining room and hid himself in the darkest corner of the room. The dog was a comp1ete stranger to the house.

The fear of a landing was in the minds of the authorities at Queen Margaret's Schoo1. Bags of biscuits had been prepared, and the whole school marched in procession for 3 miles to Seamer , carrying on a sheet an invalid ,teacher. At Seamer they sat down on a bank, and the Vicar provided them with a hot drink and some bread.

Visit of U Boats in September, 1917.

Scarborough received a little more attention than required from a U boat. It was a small affair; if it had occurred in France, probably the papers would have reported "Quiet day, nothing much doing," but it was a bit disturbing to hear a couple of gun shots, and then hear the whistling of live shells over your heads, Some fifteen shots were fired by an impudent or bold U boat that put its nose out of the water about 7 o'clock one evening at a distance of about three miles south of the town. Some Mine Sweepers in the bay took up the defensive, but failed to get the range at first; however, they did get it so nearly that our visitor thought discretion the better part of valour, and promptly went below .

Whilst it was very disturbing at the time, people, on the whole, behaved splendidly. Priscie 1ed our household into the dug-out, thereby justifying its existence, whilst I opened our shop doors and passed a number downstairs into our cellar, where they were underneath a strong concrete floor. The damage in the town was not serious to property, but nothing can replace the three lives that were lost; for lives do count, in spite of the wholesale wicked slaughter that is going on daily. The whole incident was

over in about ten minutes. A few days after, we heard further firing to the north, which resulted in a merchant vessel being torpedoed and sinking off Robin Hood's Bay. For two days after a careful search was maintained by airships and a large byplane; on the second day this aeroplane circ1ed lower and lower, then a tremendous splash; a bomb had been dropped, then another, and another. Finally the aeroplane let off a bright rocket, and went away; at the same time two Patrol Boats came up and took up their positions, one on each side of the spot where the bombs had dropped. These remained for another day or two, during which some operations were conducted, and then they went away. What actually happened I cannot state positively, but there has been no further report of a U boat in this neighbourhood. If not profane, R.I.P.

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