Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Hull at War 1914-1918

To mark the centenary of Armistice at the end of WWI in 1918, we’ve compiled a small exhibition which can be seen until the 16th November 2018. Now, we know that not everyone can make it to the History Centre, some of you work, some of you live too far away, but we didn’t want you to miss out. So this instalment of the blog is for our extended audience, and gives you a sense of what the exhibition is about. Sorry it’s a bit longer than our usual blogs, good lunchtime reading though!

Hull at War

At the outset of the First World War, Britain felt a wave of enthusiasm and patriotism which led to a great surge in voluntary enlistment into the armed forces. In Hull, there were so many willing volunteers that a second recruiting office had to be opened in the City Hall. To encourage men to volunteer, the army created so-called ‘Pals’ battalions formed of men who enlisted together and knew each other as neighbours, friends and colleagues. There were four Hull Pals battalions and one reserve battalion. About a third of the men who joined the Hull Pals never returned.

One of the Hull Pals battalions [C DIHE/2/1]

On the home front, civilians in Hull experienced many significant changes to daily life. The fishing fleet, so central to life in Hull, was almost entirely commandeered by the navy. Hundreds of trawlers were requisitioned to act as minesweepers and to search for submarines, with many being lost whilst on active service. Only 93 of about 300 trawlers were left to continue fishing.

Several hospitals and social centres were established in Hull during the war, including Brooklands Officers’ Hospital on Cottingham Road and the Rest Station and Canteen located at Paragon Station. The Voluntary Aid Service headquarters was located on Spring Bank and helped to organise fundraisers, co-ordinate the sending of care parcels to prisoners of war, and train nurses.

The women of Hull embraced the working opportunities provided by the war. The number of female foundry workers at Rose, Downs & Thompson increased dramatically to over a third of the workforce, whilst other women took up roles as tram conductors and in agriculture. Some women also volunteered for non-combatant roles in the armed forces, for instance as nurses and cooks.

Zeppelin Raids

During the First World War there were over fifty Zeppelin raids on the United Kingdom. Between 6 June 1916 and 6 August 1918 eight raids took place over Hull. The casualty list shows at least 57 people were killed and over 100 injured.

The first raid of the 6 June 1915 was carried out by Zeppelin L-9 commanded by Kapitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy. Having flown from its base in northern Germany the airship arrived over Hull around 11.30 p.m. The first bombs were dropped on the eastern docks, but the mixture of high explosive and incendiary bombs did little damage other than destroying a short length of railway track. Continuing in a westerly direction, the airship dropped more bombs, destroying a number of buildings, killing about 20 people and injuring more than 40. The raid lasted about 45 minutes, during which time at least 10 high explosive bombs and up to 50 incendiary bombs were dropped.

Aftermath of a Zeppelin raid at Holy Trinity, 1915 

The second raid on Hull took place on 5-6 March 1916 with similar results to the earlier attack. Although an air raid warning system of ‘buzzers’ had been put in place, there were no anti-aircraft defences until after the second raid. The introduction of anti-aircraft guns and the use of incendiary bullets began to blunt the Zeppelin menace. At the end of 1916 Major General von Donop took over command of the city’s defence. The integrated defence system he introduced further reduced the Zeppelins’ effectiveness. The casualty figures for the last four raids show one person killed and a further six injured.

The raids undoubtedly had an effect on the civilian population. Large numbers ‘trekked’ into the surrounding countryside at the sound of the buzzers. They also led to an increase in anti-German sentiment and attacks on the local German community. From the German perspective the raids also succeeded by keeping much needed troops, guns and aeroplanes tied up on home defence duties rather than being deployed on the battlefields.

Street Shrines

During and after World War I there was a great need and desire to remember those who had served or died for their country. Consequently, it was common for names to be listed on memorial boards, posters and plaques at various locations around villages, towns and cities. They were paid for by the companies where they had worked, churches, schools or by voluntary donations.

‘Street Shrines’, also often referred to as ‘Rolls of Honour’, did differ. They were not simply a focal point for remembering the dead, but for praying for the living who were away on active service. Shrines listed all those in service including women whereas official military monuments only named those lost or killed in action. A shrine was typically made of wooden boards with the names of those serving from the street or local area, a crucifix in the centre and a shelf below for flowers. However, they could take many different forms and streets competed against one another with ornate designs.

Roll of honour, Fountain Road terraces, 1916

The opening ceremonies were often treated as elaborate affairs, regularly involving the clergy, choir boys, bands and boy scouts. The shrines, themselves, would be decked with flags, bunting and flowers. Street shrines provided a means of expression, mobilising collective emotions and values, and could be used to recruit support for the Church and the war effort.

There was also opposition to the idea of the shrines, some feeling the money should have been sent to the troops, others complaining that names had been left out or ignored. Owing to heavy losses and the continued call up of men as the war progressed the lists were often out of date the moment they were erected. The movement did carry on, but it was generally recognised that rolls were not practical and very few shrines appeared after 1916. Over time many shrines have disappeared as a result of neglect, disrepair, redevelopment, and damage during the Second World War.

The Hohenrein Family

The Hohenreins were a local family of German descent. George Friedrich Hohenrein moved to Hull from Germany in 1848 aged just 16, and opened a butchers shop at 7 Waterworks Street only two years later. The business prospered and a second shop was opened at 22 Princes Avenue. George became a naturalised British citizen and with his wife, had two sons, Charles and George. On his death his eldest son, George William, took over the business. However George’s wife became very ill and he agreed to return with her to her native Germany. Thus, in 1907, the business passed to his younger brother Charles.

Waterworks Street butchers shop [L DBHR/1/2/37]

At the outbreak of the First World War Charles Hohenrein was keen to do his bit for Britain. However, having been declared unfit for military service he served as a sergeant in the East Riding Motor Volunteer Corps and lent his vehicles to the government to support the war effort. As the war progressed, however, public opinion began to turn against people who were perceived as having links with Germany. Hull was no exception and anti-German feeling increased following the sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania by a German U-boat, and the Zeppelin raids on the city.

The Hohenreins suffered numerous threats of injury to themselves and their property. Remembering the kindness shown to him as a child by the Hohenreins one individual sent a letter warning Charles of a planned attack on the shops. Owing to the continued threats, Charles Hohenrein decided to change his surname to the more British sounding ‘Ross’ and to close his shops until the end of the war.

After the war the shops re-opened and continued to prosper. Charles Ross became an important businessman in the area and became a director of the ‘Royalty’ cinemas in Hull in the 1930s. In 1946 Charles Ross retired and the shop was closed and sold. It was subsequently knocked-down as part of the post-war rebuilding of Waterworks Street and was incorporated into Paragon Street.

By the time the armistice came into force on 11 November 1918, approximately 7000 men and women from Hull had died in the war.

Hull History Centre

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