Heroism & Heartbreak:True Tales from the Hartlepools at War 1914-18

Follow Us

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Heroism & Heartbreak:True Tales from the Hartlepools at War 1914-18

At the outbreak of war, the Hartlepools were major North-East ports, home to a number of well-known shipping companies and thriving shipbuilding and fishing industries. Almost every family in the town had links with the sea, with many having relatives serving in the Merchant Navy and local fishing fleets. Within this close-knit community the loss of every local ship and crewman deeply affected a great many people.

As the war progressed, German U-boats and mines took a huge toll of allied shipping, eventually sinking over 2,500 British merchant ships and nearly 800 fishing vessels, with the loss of more than 17,000 lives. Of these, over 400 merchant ships had either been built or owned in the town and more than 260 Hartlepool sailors lost their lives. Sailing on slow, largely un-armed and defenceless merchant ships, their actions were every bit as selfless and courageous as those fighting on the Western Front, yet their stories are all but forgotten or overlooked.

“Heroism and Heartbreak” aims to rediscover and retell their stories. Through family photographs, postcards, letters and diaries shared with us by the living descendants of these men, we will create a series of “talking histories” which will not only recognise and commemorate their sacrifices, but will provide lasting family memorials to those who lost their lives – but we need your help too.

We will also be recording the service histories and final fates of ships built or owned in the town that saw service during the war – some under enemy flags. Many of these ships were lost in relatively shallow coastal waters and their locations are well known – a number have also been dived on.

We would therefore ask all NAS Members and divers around the world to share with us any information they may have on these vessels. We are particularly interested in underwater photographs of the wrecks, or of easily recognisable material recovered from these sites, such as a ship’s bell or telegraph. These items offer living descendants of those who lost their lives at least some form of tangible memorial, physical proof that their relatives’ sacrifices have not been, and will not be, forgotten.

In addition, from an archaeological perspective, we would also like divers to check back through their Logbooks for information from any earlier dives on these wrecks, so that we can not only add this historic information to our “talking histories”, but also use it to help us build up a picture of how these wrecks are deteriorating over time and in widely differing conditions.

Our “talking histories” can be viewed through our ‘Hartlepool History Then & Now’ website – www.hhtandn.org – in the Hartlepool at War – WW1 section, of directly through Youtube. If you have any photographs or  information you would like to share with this project, please contact Gary at gary.nasnortheast@virginmedia.com or Mob: 07752215633.