Kate Fox: Bringing the Hartlepool bombardment of 1914 home to today's youngsters

Writer and poet Kate Fox says a project to explore a First World War disaster in the North East is teaching her valuable lessons

Kate Fox
Kate Fox

I’ve just starting working on an exciting project with the BBC and a Hartlepool school.

We’ve been the first people to hear audio recorded in the seventies with survivors of the Hartlepool bombardment and then archived away.

Pensioners told of the terror of the day in 1914 when over a thousand shells hit their town. When over eighty people died and over four hundred were injured. One talked of seeing a boy “blown to bits”. Bodies were laid out in the streets as the shells thundered above them.

We were all struck by the power of what we were hearing, and the incongruity of it happening here, in the North East.

We’ll be unveiling our poem as part of the day of memorial events on December 16. Until then, the process is as unpredictable and fulfilling as it always is working with 13-year-olds.

We were talking about fears this week. The list we produced ranged from Ebola to eggs, ladybirds to wild ferrets, clowns to being buried alive.

I looked round the room and realised that these young people were the same age as the old people in the recordings when the bombardment happened.

We watch the news and see countries like Syria or Palestine being shelled and it feels so far away. I don’t know about the kids, but I’m certainly learning a lot about our recent history. Winston Churchill’s words about how those who don’t remember history are condemned to repeat it could certainly do with being repeated to a few politicians though.

Mark Radford A scientist at work
A scientist at work

Apparently Facebook and Apple are now offering to freeze eggs in order to attract more female employees- as both have around 70% male workforces at the moment.

No matter how well meaning, this implies they’re saying to women- give us the best years of your fertility and then we’ll give you a chance of still having children at the end of it.

I’d be a bit wary if I were a Facebook employee. Only recently they were experimenting with people’s timelines to see if they could influence their moods with miserable updates.

Perhaps they’re planning on seeing if they can get foetuses to give status updates from the womb. “Looking forward to being implanted. Seeking relationship with sympathetic sperm. Lol”.

Maybe Apple are hoping the iKids will be their workforce of the future. Especially once they’ve begun feeding us all their bio-data via an App from the time they are minus nine months old.

Increasing lifechoices for employees is a good thing- but flexible working hours, extended parental leave and the opportunity for career breaks would be even more effective. For all employers.

PA Wire Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

A genuine dilemma this week when David Cameron posed alongside some Morris dancers with black faces.

Racist git or respecter of this country’s ancient traditions? Probably not quite either. Some say the blackface is because the dancers were originally “Moorish” dancers from Africa.

Others that it’s in homage to coal areas, or the fact that dancers needed to disguise themselves from their employers.

Some say that we must respect and preserve these unchanging elements of Englishness. They usually forget that folk traditions like Tyneside’s rapper dances, for example, date back only until the early 1900s. They emerge and re-emerge depending on what local communities need at a particular time.

At this particular time, I’d argue we don’t need to offend black people by echoing offensive artforms like the black and white minstrels.

Ironically, the “ancient” traditions most likely to future are those which can change and adapt to the present.

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