Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914. Four months later, on 16 December 1914, the east coast of Yorkshire suffered the first domestic bombardment of the British mainland. This naval raid of Scarborough, Whitby, and Hartlepool resulted in 86 civilian casualties and the loss of seven British soldiers. One of the casualties was Whitby coastguard, Frederick Randall.
Overall, nearly two thousand coastguards died during the war - most as a result of battles at sea. More can be discovered on these men using SoG Data Online in the Records of coastguards compiled by Eileen Stage. This digital index was compiled by our volunteers using the original Coastguards’ Index.
This entry from the Coastguards’ Index shows Arthur Dean, Inspection Chief Officer Coast Guard, Lieutenant (Retired). As the Index entry identifies, Dean was appointed Chief Officer Coast Guard to Skegness on 17 March 1910 and then to Portland on 27 June that year. Four years later he was fatefully appointed to Scarborough on 19 April - only a few months before the outbreak of war. Little could he have imagined what he would experience in that role.
Four months into the war, on Wednesday 16 December 1914, the people of Scarborough were completely unprepared for the attack that would hit their town at 8am. As Chief Officer Coast Guard, Arthur Dean’s testimony at the Scarborough Petty Sessional Court on Friday 18 December remains one of the most important primary historical accounts of that tragic day.
Dean’s account was reported in many newspapers over the next few days. This report is taken from page 3 of the Leeds Mercury on 19 December 1914.
Chief Petty-officer Arthur Dean, having been sworn, said: I am chief officer of the Coastguard at Scarborough. On Wednesday the 16th, I was in my house at breakfast.
The first gun from the German ships went off at five minutes past eight. I walked out of my door, and saw the walls of the Castle tumbling down.
I stayed outside my door two minutes and then witnessed two large cruisers come in sight from behind the Castle towards the South Bay.
They opened fire with all their guns on the starboard side. They kept up an incessant fire.
Afterwards they turned round, and fired from the port side. They steamed towards the South Bay. They were out of my sight but I still heard them firing the cannonade from the port side. After a slight interval the fire was directed at all parts of the town. They kept shelling the town and the Castle. I estimate that from start to finish the bombardment lasted about forty minutes.
The Coroner: How many vessels were there?
A: There were two large cruisers and two smaller ones further outside. These smaller vessels were covering the cruisers.
The Coroner: Were they carrying any national ensign?
A: No, but they might have been signalling with flags.
The Coroner: Statements have appeared that the Castle replied to the fire.
The Witness: It could not do so. It has no guns. I would like to make one statement with your permission, sir. There have appeared conflicting reports as to the distance these ships were from the shore. The distance has been variously estimated at from two to eight miles. When they first attacked they were within six hundred yards of the Castle, and when they were going past the pier they were distant no more than five hundred yards.
Replying to a juror, the witness said all classes of shells were fired. The Coastguard Station was struck by the second shot, but they then fired thirty shells, none of which went near it.
The Coroner: It has been estimated that in all fifty shells were discharged. What have you to state as to that.
Witness: There were at least 250 shells discharged before the interval, and a similar number after the interval.
The Coroner: Quite as many in the second as in the first?
Witness: Yes: and the shells used on the second bombardment appeared to be larger than those in the first.
The Coroner: It shows the determination and the ruthlessness of the attack.
Following this bombardment, the two battleships sailed towards Whitby, which they shelled before they turned back towards Germany. A second German naval force then attacked the port of Hartlepool. Although the number of casualties was higher, and the damage done to buildings greater in Hartlepool than in Scarborough, the attack on the latter led to a major propaganda campaign, “Remember Scarborough”, and an increase in enlistments. (See lead image)
Arthur Dean relocated to Aberdeen, Scotland in 1917, and then to Caister, Norfolk in 1918. He was pensioned on 19 June 1919.
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