16 AUGUST 1915

To Parton index 

About 1910, on the brow between Lowca village and Lowca Beck, a plant was installed by one of the top German manufacturers to extract benzene, and related chemicals such as toluene (the key ingredient of the explosive TNT) from coal. During the First World War, the toluene plant was designated Top Secret- you might want to read the last sentence again to appreciate the full humour of that. On 16 August 1915, a German U-boat surfaced off Harrington (much to the surprise of the harbour-master, who was out fishing in a small boat) and swiftly started a bombardment of the Lowca area. Here's the official report of the incident, as printed in the local newspaper:

Whitehaven News 19 Aug 1915
OFFICIAL REPORT, Press Bureau, 16th August 1915, 8.35pm

A German submarine fired several shells at Parton, Harrington, and Whitehaven, between 4.30am and 5.20am today, but no material damage was caused. A few shells hit the railway embankment north of Parton, but the train service was only slightly delayed... No casualties have been reported.

The details of the story were published later of course (see, for example, the Evening News and Star, 3-4 October 1968) and a postcard was even produced showing the alleged locations of shell explosions in Whitehaven (occasionally reproduced in local books and newspapers, such as the Whitehaven News, 24 January 2002) but the best contemporary account of the Lowca part of the raid seems to be a poem by Joseph Holmes (1859-1930, then a stationmaster on the Lowca line) which was sold on handbills for 1 penny (about 0.5p), with the promise that "Proceeds of sale will be given to the Soldiers' Tobacco Fund"

  The Bombardment of the Cumberland Coast

On August Sixteenth, old Kaiser Bill
Said to his men, "Now prove your skill,
And try and reach the Cumberland coast,
The feat of which I'd like to boast."

The Kaiser's word they did obey,
And fired away in Parton Bay,
With shot and shell they did their best
To put the Lowca works to rest.

The damage done was not so much,
The Benzol plant they did not touch,
One shell fell here, another there
Which gave the workmen quite a scare.

The inhabitants too grew quite alarmed,
Because this port is still unarmed,
This opportunity the enemy seized,
And rained the shells just where he pleased.

Two shells went through a cottage home,
The father shouts "A German Bomb,"
The children then ran out like bees,
And joined the Lowca refugees.

The submarine then made its way
Across the dub from Parton Bay,
To find some other defenceless port
Where German fiends could have their sport.

[The final two verses of the poem present a rather accurate prediction of the retribution which would fall upon the Germans when they were eventually defeated. Sadly, the prediction does not extend to the regrettable longer-term consequences of this retribution.]

My thanks to Cumbria County Council's Local Studies Library in Whitehaven