Monday, 21 December 2015

Defending Britain by bicycle

 George William Bottomley 1888 - 1947

On December 16, 1914, 137 people were killed and 592 injured when the Germans raided Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby.  The area had been identified a month earlier by the Germans as one with very little coastal defence in place.  Shelling of Scarborough from German battleships began at 8am on the 16th.  The castle, the Grand Hotel, three churches and other properties were hit.  At 9.30 am the battleships moved onto Whitby, hitting the coastguard station, the abbey and other properties.  Hartlepool was a much more significant target, and shelling of that began at 8.10am, with targets including the steelworks, gasworks, railways, churches and 300 houses.  Eighty-six civilians were killed and 424 were injured in just 40 minutes, as well as some military casualties.

One of the enlistment posters produced after the East Yorkshire raids.
More than a thousand shells were fired during these raids, and afterwards the attack became part of a British propaganda campaign.  You can read more about the raids here.

These raids proved just how important it was to have - and maintain - defences along the East Coast.  Which, no doubt, is how my great grandfather George William Bottomley ended up in the East Yorkshire Regiment's 5th Cyclist Batallion, playing a vital part in that defence work.  Bicycles were considered an important asset to the military in those days, and they would have offered an ideal way of keeping a close and regular eye on all parts of the coast, from the busiest to the most remote.  

It must have been a hard job. Cycling along the East Coast in all weathers and at all times.  Not as hard as being at the front, perhaps, but difficult nevertheless.  Which may well explain why George was invalided out two years later with rheumatism and heart problems.  He had suffered from rhuematic fever some years earlier, but the harsh conditions probably didn't help.  At the time of his medical discharge he weighed just 8 stone and 2 lbs.  George was awarded the Silver War Badge,which was given to men who became ill or wounded while in service in the UK or overseas.

George William Bottomley with wife Clara and grandaughter Maureen (my Mum).

George was born in  Ossett, West Yorkshire, in 1888 to Thomas William and Annie Bottomley.  By the age of 13, he was working in the town's fireworks factory, Messrs Riley & Sons.  He clearly had quite a few different jobs in his time.  in 1911, he is shown on the census as being a tramcar driver.  Five years later, when he was called up, he was a barman.  In the newly released 1939 register he is listed as a "baker and hawker on his own account", and when my grandmother, his only child Elsie, was born, he was a confectioner.

George died relatively young, at the age of 60, from stomach cancer.

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