Monday, July 05, 2010

A Devil Of A Do In Scarborough

It seems ages since I featured a postcard on the Blog so let's put things right with this 1914 postcard of St George's Church in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. It is a recent addition to my collection, being from a batch the Good Lady Wife bought me for my birthday (a selection of old postcards and a large bottle of Single Malt - now there's a woman who understands me!). The picture is not particularly exciting nor is it of any great historical interest : something like the same scene could be seen by a visitor to Doncaster today. But to those of us who are addicted to the message side of postcards - I would like to call us back side enthusiasts but that might give the wrong impression - the date of the postmark is the most intriguing element : 21st December 1914, just a few days before the first Christmas of the Great War.

The message reads as follows:
"Dear Bert, Lizzie and Freddie, Just a line to let you know I'm going to be alright. There will be no leave this Christmas. I am glad Freddie and Lizzie are looking a bit better now.  I will let you Bert know about what you told me (to) ask about back end of this week. Well we shall soon have Christmas here now. It was a bit of a devil about that Scarboro do wasn't it. Well ta ta for present. Warmest regards, Alb".
How can so few words be infused with so much possible meaning, I am almost tempted to enter the message in one of those meme contests where you have to write a story in less than 55 words. But the words wouldn't be mine, they would be Alb's and the denouement is almost too sad to contemplate. There was no leave that Christmas and no peace for many a Christmas to come. In the trenches in Flanders, the mud had yet to reach optimum consistency : but more blood would be added to the sickening mixture in the months to come. Did Alb contribute to this mix in the way so many ordinary young men did? I could find out - with the information available on-line it would be relatively easy to find his service record - but for the moment I am holding back. I am not sure I want to know. 

Contemporary picture of the Scarborough raid, December 1914.
It is possible, however, to shed more light on the "bit of a devil" of the "Scarborough doo" he alludes to in the postcard. On the 16th December 1914 two German battlecruisers and a light cruiser launched a naval attack on a number of east coast towns, in particular the holiday resort of Scarborough. Whilst the cruiser laid a minefield out to sea, the battlecruisers opened fire on a coastguard station and yeomanry barracks in the town. They also fired on the old castle and the Grand Hotel which they seemingly mistook for a gun battery. The raid resulted in the death of eighteen people in Scarborough and caused much outrage in the British press both because it was seen to be in breach of the "rules of war" and because the raid had not been prevented by the British navy. The full story of the raid can be found here.

Yet another example of how a dog-eared old postcard can take you on the most extraordinary journey.


  1. A little gem of a record. And then there was the whole story of the war .......

  2. i think i would have to look up his service records.

    then i would prolly regret it

    great mystery, alan

  3. Anonymous9:49 AM

    A fascinating post card Alan. Thanks to you (and your wife) for finding and sharing it with us.

  4. Here's to more 'dog-eared' postcards, Alan. What a fascinating story. And to think of Scarborough coming under fire from German battlecruisers seems almost surreal now. Alas, it was all too real for those innocent folk who died, just going about their daily business.

  5. You had me at the title...
    that guy can show up ANYWHERE! -J

  6. Don't forget that that first Christmas in the war was the one where all the soldiers called their own truce and met in no man's land to celebrate the holiday together.

    Great piece of historical miscellanea, Alan!

  7. Anonymous2:51 PM

    I love to read your post concerning your huge postcard collection. I agree, what stories could be added to these small, but enticing phrases. Today, being Monday after our 4th celebration, LadyCat and I are taking it easy today and enjoying our little pad here! Hope you have a great day!
    :) The Bach

  8. dang that sent my head a sinning with possibilites alan...could be a great lead in to a story. i think i would have a hard time holding off on finding the answers...

  9. I'm a "back side enthusiast" too. You're right, there is so much information in one little message. Many of my post card collection messages are like that. Lots of writing crammed into one little space. It was probably the most efficient way of transmitting of those times. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I can understand your reluctance to find out Alb's fate--there's so much life in those words. Fascinating history, as always.

  11. Interesting how a little glimpse like the one you've given can illuminate as well as a thousand words. At this rate I might have to be buying a few old postcards - you're intriguing me!

  12. I'd be tempted to look up his service records too. Wonderful post. I just love the idea that your wife gave you whiskey and postcards for your birthday. What could be better?

  13. Fascinating. Old Alb sounded quite posh too, "a bit of a do". These little snippets would have me too curious not to explore further.

  14. Wow, this is a remarkable post card. It is unnerving to know what happened so soon afterwards.


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