Hartlepool Dixon ChildrenAmongst those killed during the German Navy’s Bombardment of the Hartlepools on the 16th December 1914 were a significant number of young children. Newspapers in particular focused on these deaths for propaganda purposes as they were seen by many as clear examples of German atrocities on the British mainland.
The most famous of these is the story of the Dixon children.
The Dixon family lived in William Street in Hartlepool. As the attack started the family, comprising mother Margaret, 14 year old George, 12 year old Joseph, 8 year old Margaret Ellen, 7 year old Albert, 3 year old Billy, and baby John, fled from their home.
Carrying John in her arms, Margaret led her family through the panicking crowds, reaching the junction of Church Street and Victoria Place before being subject to a direct hit from an exploding shell. Margaret was knocked to the ground with her right leg blown clean off, while George, Margaret Ellen and Albert were all killed instantly.
Despite her terrible injury the still conscious Margaret urged Joseph to carry Billy to safety. Needing no second bidding he picked him up and ran over a mile inland before finally collapsing. Rescued by solders and taken to hospital, seventeen pieces of shell splinter were eventually removed from his legs.
Miraculously both Margaret and baby John also survived, being rescued by local volunteer medical personnel. Their father, who had been serving in the Army in Belgium, was granted a compassionate discharge so that he could return home to take care of his family.
Within days the London and International newspapers carried family pictures of the three dead Dixon children on their front covers, sold to enterprising journalists by local photography studios.
These stories and especially accounts of the funerals of other children directly led to a huge increase in local men volunteering for service in the armed forces during 1915. Unlike elsewhere, the Hartlepools needed no propaganda posters to encourage recruitment: everyone personally knew a family who had had members killed or wounded.