100 years ago, the German navy bombarded Yarmouth with shells
This week marked the 100th anniversary of an event which was to change the lives of many people of Great Yarmouth, Caister and Lowestoft.
In the early hours of Tuesday, April 25, 1916 Yarmouth was bombarded for the second time by the Germans as the First World War entered a deadly phase which was to last for another two years.
Historian Colin Tooke explained: “A Zeppelin had been reported overhead during the night but had been repelled by aircraft. Lowestoft had earlier suffered considerable damage from the ships of the German High Seas Fleet which then sailed north towards Yarmouth.
“At 4.24am the bombardment began, with shells falling on the North Denes in the Newtown area causing large craters but no damage. One shell fell on the Corporation nursery near the refuse destructor on Caister Road, making a huge crater, the debris from which blocked the main road.
“Another shell damaged the Empire cinema on Marine Parade, also damaging the shopping arcade next door. A brass plaque was later placed on the north wall of the Empire to mark the event, but this disappeared many years ago.”
Many shells fell short into the sea, while others landed on the marshes beyond the town.
Shed roofs on the Fishwharf were damaged and a fish store owned by Smiths Dock Company was destroyed – barrels, swills and thousands of fish being thrown into the air.
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In Gorleston shell fragments hit houses in Trafalgar Road West.
Mr Tooke added: “The bombardment lasted about 20 minutes and it was estimated over 100 shells were fired but no warships could be seen; only the flashes from the guns as the salvos were fired. Although four people had been killed and 12 injured in the bombardment of Lowestoft, there were no casualties in Yarmouth or Gorleston.”
Many residents of Yarmouth, who had initially gathered along the seafront when the noise of the guns was heard, quickly dispersed when shells began to fall in the sea, deciding the safest place would be the marshes to the west of the town.
When the shelling had stopped the people who had remained came out to see the damage and children were quickly out collecting shell fragments, some still hot, and later to be sold as souvenirs.
Some of these souvenirs no doubt still exist in the town. Submarines based in the port, two E-class, three H-class and one V-class, had been ordered to sea on patrol in anticipation of the raid. Only one of them however sighted the enemy and dived to attack but could not get within range.
Two of the submarines had to dive when they were mistaken for German submarines and attacked by aircraft from the Yarmouth air station. The air station on the South Denes had sent up several aircraft in an attempt to attack the German fleet. Despite attempts by British warships to engage the enemy the German fleet managed to escape.
The Rector of Caister, whose rectory was on the cliffs with an uninterrupted sea view, recorded the event in the parish register. He noted: “Eight 12-inch shells [this may be an exaggeration as other reports give the number as three shells] fell in the parish shortly after 4am but caused no loss of life. After this date the church tower was used as a Naval Observation station with a crew in attendance night and day until the end of the war.”
Another resident of the village reported that the “terrific cannonade about 4am had brought many people to the streets.”
The residents made their way to higher ground in the west of the village from where they could see a huge cloud of smoke over Yarmouth.