20th Century

First World War York

England & Scotland Forever (c) CYC Imagine York

1914AD - 1918AD

The First World War visited terror on North Yorkshire when German battleships shelled the East Coast, including Scarborough and Whitby, in December 1914.

York came under attack later.  The most serious of the Zeppelin raids took place on May 2, 1916.  The distinctive cigar-shaped shadow of a German airship was spotted over the city at about 10.30pm.  For the next ten minutes it dropped 18 bombs, destroying houses, killing nine people and injuring 40 more.  Fear of future raids increased and a number of people were subsequently prosecuted for showing lights at night.

As a garrison town, York had an important role to play in the war.  The number of military personnel stationed in the city grew rapidly.  Schools were taken over to house servicemen, and more were billeted in the tented village on Knavesmire.

After conscription was introduced in 1916, the authorities had to decide how to deal with conscientious objectors.  This issue was particularly sensitive in York with its Quaker population.  One of the city’s MPs, Arnold Rowntree, was a pacifist and an opponent of conscription.  In the event, about half of the young male Quakers joined up.

When the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, about 10,000 people attended a speedily-arranged Service of Thanksgiving at York Minster.  A bugler from St Peter’s School played the Last Post.  Workers were given the day off and parts of the city centre were decorated with bunting.

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