Story of war bombardment relics in Stockton likely to be a myth

Darlington and Stockton Times: Bob Harbron with one of the 'shells' in Green Dragon Yard, Stockton Bob Harbron with one of the 'shells' in Green Dragon Yard, Stockton

A STORY told as fact by generations now appears to be a myth.

People in Stockton have often been told that the shell-shaped iron traffic bollards at the entrance of the Green Dragon Yard were infact unexploded shells recovered during the German naval bombardment of Hartlepool during the early days of the First World War.

The tale resurfaced again after one of the shells mysteriously disappeared last week.

Bob Harbron, well-known Stockton historian, explained that army recruiting sergeants across the region would use unexploded shells allegedly used in the shelling of Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby as a way of firing up potential recruits.

The bombardment of Hartlepool killed 112 people on December 16, 1914 and a £400,000 project, funded by the Arts Council, will commemorate its 100th anniversary next year.

Other events will be held in Scarborough, where 18 people died and Whitby, where seven lost their lives (although only three were recorded as dying as a direct result of the bombardment).

Mr Harbron revealed that his own mother, then Mary Weston of Wells Yard, was evacuated in the raid as an 11-year-old.

“The army would go around putting the unexploded shells in shop windows and the like with posters saying things like, 'Remember Hartlepool' or 'Remember Scarborough'.

A lot were recruited around here and they were known as bombardment recruits. The tragedy is that a lot of them, known as Kitcheners New Army, were killed on The Somme in 1916.

“The story is that after the war nobody was interested in the shells and they ended up being used as bumpers. There were two of them, before the one went missing, and in one of them you can actually feel where the fuse would have been.”

However, the story of the bombardment shells appears to have been a myth.

Alastair Ross, of Hawkins Ross solicitors on the Finkle Street entrance to the yard, revealed: “Northern Powergrid wanted to lay a new cable there and dug it up.

"I’m from Hartlepool and know the story of the bombardment very well and I knew the shells were supposed to be from that.

"When they took it up I asked for a look but it was solid all the way through so I don’t suppose they could have been shells.

"Also the ones that hit Hartlepool were much bigger. It takes away the mystique, but there you are.”

Another Stockton historian, Alan Betteney, who has studied the historic buildings of the town, agreed that the bollards were probably purpose-built.

For more on the First World War centenary, go to thenortheastatwar.co.uk

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