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George William Temperley during the First World War

George W Temperley was an ornithologist and key member of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne (NHSN) until his death in 1967. He witnessed the 1914 raid on Scarborough during WW1.

George W. Temperley, NHSN Archives

‘This morning Scarborough was touched for the first time by the Great War’ – Marguerite Temperley,  16 December 1914

George William Temperley (1875-1967) was a member of the Natural History Society from 1906 until his death in 1967. He was a talented naturalist, with particular interest in ornithology and botany. From 1913, Temperley lived in Scarborough, where he worked as Secretary to the Council of Social Welfare, witnessing first hand the bombardment which occurred in 1914, killing 17 residents of the town.

The diaries of Temperley’s wife, Marguerite, offer a striking insight into the effects of the First World War on the Homefront. Her diary entry from 16 December 1914 records the fatal raid on Scarborough. The German Navy targeted the northern coast, including Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby in the early hours of that fateful morning. The ships opened fire with giant naval guns, desolating these quiet, coastal towns. During the bombardment 137 people were killed, while hundreds more were left injured and homeless as a result of the damage waged by the German fleet. Notably, Scarborough was vulnerable as it did not possess any gun defences and the harbour was not suitable for warships. However, German intelligence led them to believe that Scarborough, like Hartlepool, was defended by gun batteries which rendered it a legitimate military target under the rules set out by the Hague Convention of 1907.

1914 – We are living in Scarborough. December 16th. This morning Scarborough was touched for the first time by the Great War which had begun at the beginning of August. At 8 o’clock we, George, Bernard and I were assembling for breakfast when suddenly a great banging was heard. Thunder – I saw lightening said Bernard. But as the bangs continued in quick succession we realised it was the sound of guns. George, half shaved ordered us to the cellar. The firing continued for about ten minutes then there was a break during which coats and food were fetched down. The firing began again and continued for about another ten minutes before another silence. My trembling abated and I cut slices of bread and jam to dole around. I danced a highland fling to keep warm, there being plenty of space.

George went out when a long pause seemed to suggest that all was over and soon returned with tales of woe, wreckage and loss of life. The three battleships had made off at high speed. A house in Royal Crescent had a corner of its roof opened up, in Prince of Wales Terrace the hotel was damaged, new breaches appeared in the already ruined castle; the Grand Hotel was badly hit on the sea side and in South Street many shop windows were shattered.

Although Scarborough suffered greatly, it was nothing compared with that of Hartlepool where the death toll was over 100. Whitby came in for a share of the enemy’s spite on the same day. A fog helped the carrying out of the enemy’s plans and they got away safely.

Quotations from Marguerite Temperley’s diary, taken from an unpublished biography by Joan H. Proudlock, ‘George W. Temperley, Botanist and Ornithologist 1875-1967’ (2016) held in the NHSN archive.

Although the attack on the northern coast was not of military significance, it did lead to significant loss and distress for the civil population. More importantly, it led to a rise in young men enlisting, in an effort to avenge the devastation inflicted on their home towns.

© Library of Congress LC-USZC4-11361

A further impact of the raid was a loss of confidence in the Royal Navy, after many blamed its failure to intercept German intelligence and the inadequacy of coastal defence, leaving Scarborough and the other towns involved defenceless.  In the immediate aftermath of the raid, there was an outpouring of public anger towards Germany, who they believed had broken the rules of war,  targeting undefended areas.

Tempereley was at home on the morning of the raid, preparing breakfast with his family when the bombardment began at around 8 o’clock. The Temperley family initially mistook the sound as thunder, but as the raid continued they soon realised it was something more sinister. The family, like many others across Scarborough were taken by surprise, and took shelter in their cellar. In her diary, Marguerite writes that she danced a highland fling in an effort to keep warm, a rather comic image in the midst of utter destruction.

© Historic England

Marguerite goes onto to describe the extent of the attack, with houses torn in half and roofs blown off while the already ruined castle suffered further damage. The image above shows Scarborough Castle, photographed soon after the attack. This section of the castle was hit by two shells during the raid, the scars of which are still visible today. The Temperley’s lived at 23 Esplande Gardens, which survived the raid unscathed but this was located close to Royal Terrace where Marguerite noted that a house had its roof blown open.

‘As the bangs continued in quick succession we realised it was the sound of guns’ – Marguerite Temperley, 16 December 1914

Notably, George and Marguerite were pacifists. Local historian Joan Proudlock believes that George may have been a conscientious objector based on the research she has carried out, however, she emphasises that this is uncertain. The nature of Temperley’s work in Scarborough remains unknown, Proudlock suggests that his employment at the Council of Social Welfare was perhaps  an alternative form of service during the war, rather than active service in the army.

In 1913, the Temperleys witnessed the first biplanes taking off from Scarborough. The image below shows a postcard sent by George W Temperley to his uncle, Harry Charlton. He writes ‘this is the water plane that came to Scarbro! It is being oiled and overhauled ready for the next flight. You know it flew past Sunderland, then over scotland and fell into the sea near Ireland and was smashed’.

Image courtesy of Joan H. Proudlock

During his time in Scarborough, Temperley began developing his skills as a lecturer, holding talks on natural history, ornithology and botany to local groups including the newly formed Women’s Institute. Soon after the end of the war, in 1919, the Temperley family moved back to Gateshead.

Upon his return to the North East, Temperley became an increasingly active member of the Natural History Society. He made extensive trips around the region, a commendable act for a man without a car! In 1927, he contributed to a series of ‘Young People’s Lectures’ giving a talk on 4 January entitled ‘Tales of the Birds’. It was not until he retired from social welfare in 1928 that his love of natural history was able to flourish. In 1930 he became the Honorary Secretary to the Society, and later, a Honorary Curator in the Hancock Museum. From 1935, he began compiling an annual ornithological report for Newcastle and Durham, a task which was later inherited by Fred Grey after Temperley’s death in 1967.


field trip pic

Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne Ornithological Field Trip to Teeside. (Temperley right, NHSN Archives)

Temperley acquired a reputation within ornithological circles, becoming well acquainted with Viscount Grey, George Bolam and Abel Chapman. In 1951, he published A History of British Birds of County Durham, the crowning achievement to his work as a naturalist.

The Natural History Society of Northumbria holds numerous archives relating to George Temperley. The archives include his field diaries, natural history records and photographs, he remained a key member of the Society until his death, contributing to the development of both the Hancock Museum and the Society even after the major financial difficulties experienced during the First and Second World Wars.


field trip pic 2

23 March 1951 – Temperley can be seen to the far left ‘watching a flock of 250 Barnacle Geese and some Pink-footed Geese on the Solway Marshes’. (NHSN Archives)

Written and researched by Ashleigh Jackson, a History and English Literature undergraduate student from the University of Edinburgh on a summer placement with the Natural History Society of Northumbria in 2016.