Kate Fox: The commemoration of the Hartlepool bombardment was moving and relevant

Poet and Journal columnist Kate Fox on how Hartlepool's schoolchildren responded as the town marked the centenary of the deadly raid

The Commemoration Society 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry at the plaque in Hartlepool
The Commemoration Society 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry at the plaque in Hartlepool

I should now confess that last week’s column was written under the influence of general anaesthetic.

I’d had an operation on the Tuesday and wrote my column on the Thursday morning. I was also on Codeine.

Looking back though, I’m relieved to note that I didn’t say anything homophobic or racist, unlike former UKIP parliamentary candidate Kerry Smith who blamed his rants on being on strong sedatives. Even in the minutes after I came round, I didn’t turn into a massive bigot.

According to my husband I just kept saying “I’m alive, I’m alive!”

A bit later after being given anti-nausea medication I became rather confused and rambling and thought I’d come up with the funniest concept in the world when I said that depressed people could have a “futility room” in their house. I was so convinced that this was hilarious, I insisted that my husband write it down. So yes, bad puns, but no right wing ranting from me on sedatives.

Waiting for UKIP candidates to say stupid things does seem to be the easiest thing in the world though.

The media and political parties should just employ people whose full time jobs is to follow them around and wait for them to say something horrendous. By the time of the election there would be no candidates left at all.

It was a gorgeous day on Hartlepool’s Headland on Tuesday. The low winter sun hazily lighting up a blue sea and sky.

Past and present mingled during the service to remember the bombardment exactly a hundred years earlier, as men dressed as first world war soldiers walked among present day army cadets.

The Mayor read the names of the 133 who died as primary school children planted ceramic poppies from the Tower of London artwork for each one.

A young lad was cuddling a black puppy throughout the service and I couldn’t help but see the young lads whose names were read out, running through the Headland’s terraced streets, dogs at their sides.

In a way the day was all about the children. I was there performing a poem I’d written with 12 students from Dyke House College in Hartlepool. We’d listened to clips from interviews BBC Tees had done with survivors of the bombardment in the seventies.

Survivors who would have been their age when shells rained down on Hartlepool for 45 long minutes in 1914. The kids talked about their fears and hopes and were shocked that events that seem to belong to apocalyptic shows and books had happened in their town.

We wrote about Mary who had been getting ready for school and was injured in the leg. We spoke about a 14-year-old boy who went to the shop for some sweets and never came back. His mother who went to find him and also never came back.

I remembered how quickly kids that age can learn. Three weeks ago in rehearsals, they were shy, self conscious, arm-folding, fidgeting, quiet as mice. Something kicked in and they became brave, confident performers.

Standing in front of the memorial reminding us that “Hope is a future that you dare to see, it’s a new generation, alive and free”.

Some schools don’t have time to offer their children activities like this now. It’s all about churning through the curriculum.

This one came about through the BBC’s outreach and, though it didn’t come with loads of box-ticking goals we were supposed to reach, their inspiring history teacher Mr McDaid is going to use poetry in future to get his students to imagine past events more vividly and was chuffed at how much more expressive and confident the kids had become.

I thought of them when I got home and heard the terrible news about the Taliban killing pupils in that school in Pakistan and when the newsreader said it was “medieval” I heard again how many names of six-year-olds, 10-year-olds, teenagers there were in the list read out of the Hartlepool people killed only a hundred years ago.

How it’s in taking time to remember and teach the true horrors of violence and war in a way that really sinks in, that we might truly move into a peaceful future.


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