World War I Naval War: German Coastal Shelling--Scarborough (December 16, 1914)

Figure 1.-- George Taylor, aged 15 was buried the following Sunday afternoon. His coffin was draped in the Union Jack. The town’s scouts lined the way into the church and attended the service. George was awarded full Scouting honours. He was the only English Boy Scout to die through enemy action in the First World War. Roy Miller was the first Boy Scout to be wounded in World War one. Source: "Scarborough Pictorial"

There were a number of small engagements including German shelling of fishing villages and North Sea ports. The first such attack was on Yarmouth (November 3). The Germans concluded that further attacks on British ports would result in a Royal Navy response. The German plan was that U-boats or a powerful German force could inflict damage on the responding Royal Navy force before the Grand Fleet could assemble in force. The German Navy shelled Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough (December 16, 1914). Most of the High Seas Fleet battleships lay in wait to destroy the expected Royal Navy resonse. The Royal Navy did respond, but failed to find the Germans. This was probably fortuitous as they would have been badly out-gunned. [Kegan, p. 263]

The War

The First World War was 4 months old. The German drive had been stopped just short of Paris, but they were in possession of most of Belgium as well as some of northern France. The Westrn Front had settled down to more static trench warfare. The Germans had also gained great victories on the Eastrn Front asgainst the Russians. The citizens of Scarborough’s were kept informed of its progress from the newspapers they read. In 1914 this seaside town newspaper was the Scarborough Pictorial. It was a weekly paper published every Wednesday. The population eagerly awaited it. None more so that young George Taylor who dashed off to the newsagents for the paper. It was the first thing he did every Wednesday morning.

The Town

Scarborough is a seaside town facing the North Sea. In 1914 most people were employed in the fishing trade. Some men had joined the army and were fighting in France. The war seemed far away and their only contact with it was their men folk who were away fighting in France. There did not seem to be anything in Scarborough of military importance. There was a castle but it was not garrisoned. There was a wireless station. This listened into German shipping radio communications. These signals could pin point the position of enemy shipping. The location of this radio station was behind Falsgrave Park. There was also a Coast Guard watch station on the cliff tops that watched shipping that passed by.

Scout Troops

The Scout troops in Scarborough made themselves useful to these establishments. Boy Scouts acted as messenger boys at these locations. They also kept watch on Castle Hill as well as working at the railway station and had jobs at the lifeboat station. Scouts were later awarded ‘ The King’s Own Badge’ for the help they gave during the First World War.


No one really thought that a disused castle, a wireless station and a coastguard station would be targets for a German naval attack. In fact these had been selected for destruction by a German Naval task force. At the same time as the bombardment was being carried out other German naval vessels were to lay mines in the North Sea. The attack was planned for December 16th. The British Admiralty knew the attack was coming and planned to intercept the German ships. The British plan to went sadly wrong and did not prevent the bombardment of Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough on December 16 1914. This wa probably fortuitous for the Royal Navy force dispatched would have been badly outgunned.

The Day

For Scarborough Wednesday 16th of December dawned. It was a misty morning and there was no clear view of the North Sea. It would be the first Christmas of the war. Preparations were underway to celebrate it. Many school children were excited about the coming school Christmas plays. The first of which was to be performed on Wednesday December 16th. It was breakfast time and many children were getting ready for school. The postman was on his rounds delivering letters.

George Taylor

George Taylor was more excited than normal about going for the Scarborough Pictorial. He believed he was featured in it. The week before the Chief Scout, Baden Powel, had visited the Scout Troops at Scarborough. George had been at the parade because he was a scout. Just as he was going out of his home the German bombardment began. His father asked him not to go but believing he was in no danger he left and picked up a postcard that had been delivered to his home. This he put in his pocket. After he bought the paper he decided to show the feature about Scouting to his friend who lived some way away from his home. All the time George had been on this errand the German Bombardment had been under way. Some 500 shells reigned down on Scarborough. Homes, hotels and shops had been damages. People had fled to the railway station to escape but George was going as quickly as he could to the home of his friend. It was while he made his way along Victoria Road that a shell exploded. He was hit by shrapnel and collapsed in the street. Neighbours seeing the boy fall rushed to his aid. He was taken inside a house and when the postcard was found giving his address someone went to tell his parents what had happened. Unfortunately by the time George’s parents arrived he had died. [Marsey]


Meanwhile at the wireless station there was much activity. The shells burst all over the town but none actually hit the wireless station. here were children all over. Some went to the harbour and watched the shelling but when shrapnel fell near to them picked it up and ran home. The Boy Scouts on duty at the wireless sttion raced around Scarborough delivering messages. The Scouts at the railway station assisted the railway personnel in crowd control and may have given first aid to distressed passenger’s cuts and bruises. On the cliff top at the Coast Guard Station there was much activity. It was targeted by the German gunners and came under heavy attack. Shell after shell exploded. There were fatalities. A Coastguard man was killed when a shell exploded near to where he was standing. Several soldiers were wounded. Roy Miller was the Boy Scout on duty at the time. He was hit by shrapnel and sustained leg injuries. He stayed at the coast guard station throughout the attack. Only when the shelling stopped did he leave for hospital.

William Ellis

A 9-year-old boy named William Ellis was on his way to school. He was photographed that December morning passing a badly damaged shop. He can be seen wearing shoes, a winter overcoat, knee socks and a cap. He was photographed walking along the street with his hands in his pockets. He was on his way to school. When he got there he was shocked to find that his classroom had received a direct hit and was a pile of rubble. It was a horrible thought for a 9-year-old boy to realise that that the attack taken place at a later time he would have most likely been killed.

British Scouts

George Taylor, aged 15 was buried the following Sunday afternoon. His coffin was draped in the Union Jack. The town’s scouts lined the way into the church and attended the service. George was awarded full Scouting honours. He was the only English Boy Scout to die through enemy action in the First World War. Roy Miller was the first Boy Scout to be wounded in World War one. The Scarborough Pictorial of December 16th featured the visit of Baden Powell to Scarborough’s Scouts. [Marsey]

Andrew Mirnonenko

The Scarborough Pictorial also carried a fitting story about other children caught up in the war. There was the story of a 12-year-old Russian boy called Andrew Mirnonenko. He had run away from home and joined a Russian regiment. He had been used as an errand boy. He had got ammunition for the soldiers and helped the wounded to hospital. All this was done under the heaviest of firing. He had been allowed to join some soldiers on a recognisance mission. He had become separated and lost his way in the dark. He found a German artillery unit. He sneaked through the camp, while the soldiers slept. He unscrewed the breeches from two guns and then escaped. The next day he found his way back to the Russian lines. For his bravery he was awarded the Order of St. George. [Scarborough Pictorial, December ??, 1914.]


Keegan, John. The First World War (Knopf, 1999), 475p.

Marsey, Mark. Bombardment - The Day the East Coast Bled.

Scarborough Pictorial

William Ferguson


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Created: 9:00 PM 6/18/2005
Last updated: 10:22 PM 6/18/2005