The tragic story of the North East soldier who became the first to die on home soil in the First World War will be told as part of a community’s plans to mark the centenary of the start of the conflict.
A Tees Valley partnership will unveil its plans today for a programme of events on the impact of the war on the area.
Led by Hartlepool Council, the partnership also includes Tees Valley local authorities Stockton, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Darlington and the Heugh Gun Battery Museum at Hartlepool.
Also involved are Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and Teesside Archives.
Funding has come from a £394,775 grant from the Arts Council England.The project will be launched at the restored Heugh Gun Battery, which was at the centre of one of the most dramatic events in the first months of the war. Just after 8am on December 16, 1914, the German Navy bombarded Hartlepool and the battery returned fire.
A total of 119 civilians were killed together with eight of the Battery’s soldiers including Theo Jones of the Durham Light Infantry, who was the first British soldier to be killed on home soil in the war.
Theo, 27, had been a village school headmaster and church choir master.
In the breast pocket of his tunic, he had been carrying the prayer book that he had been given to him before leaving the school.
A fragment of shell had pierced the book almost all the way through.
The German force which carried out the attack consisted of the battle cruisers Seydlitz and Moltke and the cruiser Blucher. The Germans spent nearly an hour bombarding Hartlepool, sending 1,150 shells into the town.
The death toll included 15 children and 467 people were wounded.
Seven churches, 10 public buildings, five hotels and more than 300 houses were damaged.
The Heugh battery fired 123 rounds mainly at the Blucher, smashing her fore bridge, damaging some of her guns and killing nine sailors. The main elements of the Tees Valley project will include:
Helping local people to discover the artefacts in local museums through hands-on activities, research, exhibitions and online;
Exhibitions in all five boroughs, learning opportunities for schools, youth and community groups and events at which people can share stories of their family’s involvement in the social and military side of the war;
Large-scale commemorative performances in each of the boroughs, culminating on December 16, 2014, in Hartlepool on the 100th anniversary of the naval bombardment.
The project is already bringing organisations, community groups and individuals together to help to secure funding for their own projects.
Hartlepool Mayor Stephen Akers-Belcher said: “Thanks to this generous funding from Arts Council England, the Tees Valley councils will be able to help people to explore and understand the massive and irrevocable impact which the war had on their communities.
“I am sure it will be a fascinating, poignant and very fitting commemoration.”