I have often spoken about how the River Humber is a dramatic and beautiful place. The North Sea winds race in from the savage straits past Spurn, and the iconic Humber Bridge rises from the choppy waters with a mix of almost stalinist utilitarism, eye dominant proportion, and humbling grace. If the River Humber is beautiful, then the city of Kingston Upon Hull (or 'Ull' as we pronounce it in these parts!) is positively captivating, basking in the deepening swings of a cultural rebirth, and as soaked in history as the River is soaked with drama.
The vista that is this breathtaking waterway lends itself easily to conjured scenes of wartime Britain. The smell of dust and chordite, the rumble of explosions, and the wail of sirens. German aircraft dodging and weaving the bullets of the artillery stations at Paull and Saltend, as the selfless men of the Merchant Navy make the same manoeuvres as their ships head towards the dangers of the open seas in a bid to sustain the war effort, my own grandfather among them.
A world away from the devastation and permeating fear of conflict, and filled with architecture that would bless even the most picturesque European holiday bolthole, Hull is gradually emerging from decades spent languishing as the butt of everybody's jokes. From tired comedians to tourism executives, Hull has for years been unfairly regarded as a dump by bloated fools who have never bothered to actually visit. This great city has a even greater future ahead. It is home to some of the hardiest, most industrious, funny, charming, and engaging people you could ever meet, and it is they who will ensure that Hull's future is measured way beyond the culmination of our time as UK City of Culture in 2017.
One of our perennially underused assets is our history as a City. For hundreds of years, Hull has been massively important in so many areas of domestic and international events. Our Charterhouse, one of the most beautiful buildings you will see anywhere, is over 700 years old and still provides social housing for the elderly to this day. It's chapel is simply awe inspiring, and also provides a final resting place to one of the Knights Templar. In 1642, Sir John Hotham refused King Charles I entry into the city, an act which led to the Siege of Hull, widely acknowledged as being the first major military episode of the English Civil War. The infamous naval vessel, and scene of one of the most iconic mutinies in maritime history, HMS Bounty, was built in Hull, starting life as MV Bethune. Guy Fawkes, and several of the conspirators embroiled in the gunpowder plot are believed to have met in the Ye Olde White Harte public house, in the city centre, where the very table they plotted around still exists to this day.
I could go on, and on, and on. Hull has been an unsung lynchpin in the historical makeup of our nation, a role it continued to fill effortlessly, even during Britain's darkest days during World War Two. Just as we have done throughout recorded history, Hull played an indispensible role in the allied defence of home soil, and indeed in the eventual allied victory, with the inhabitants of the city paying a massive price.
With the exception of London, the city of Hull was the most heavily bombed location in the UK. Not only was the city targeted ruthlessly by Luftwaffe pilots because of the strategic importance of the docks, it also suffered as German pilots dumped unused incendiaries and shells on the city as they fled the pursuing RAF. So why then, has Hull's sacrifice, and importance to the war effort been effectively whitewashed from popular history by the BBC? The prime time show, 'Blitz Cities' looks at Cardiff, Liverpool, Norwich, Birmingham, and (of course!) London.
In the wartime air raids, over 90% of housing in Hull was destroyed or damaged, nearly 87,000 homes in total, causing over 150,000 residents to be homeless. Nearly 1300 civilians died, and over 3000 were injured as a result of almost 900 relentless attacks on the city. Hull was only ever referred to as a "north east coastal town" with the true extent of the devastation never being relayed to those beyond the northern bank of the Humber. Indeed, the 13 fatalities and 22 casualties of the Luftwaffe bombs dropped on the city's Holderness Road on 17th March 1945, and machine gun rounds fired at civilians leaving The Savoy Cinema, provided the last recorded victims of a German attack on British soil.
The BBC claim that Hull was omitted from this show because it has used celebrities to explore their home towns, but they do the whole episode of war, and of the reporting of history a massive disservice. So heavy was the workload for the volunteers in the civil defence teams, and the air raid wardens of our city, that they soon necame expert in the art of conducting high risk rescues from bombed buildings. So brave were the volunteer forces of Hull, and so skilled were they at rescue, that their techniques were adopted by the war office, and rolled out across the nation to help save countless lives under the raining bombs of German warplanes, and the firestorms they left in their wake. The "Hull Lift" as it was known, became one of the key techniques for extricating trapped people, and the daring and brave efforts of firemen and the like that accompanied these rescue methods became a flagship standard to which firemen and volunteer responders across the empire were measured against.
Sadly, the BBC have form on this. The corporation's popular programme 'Coast' explored every nook and cranny of the UK coastland. Except Hull. Now, I don't want to divert attention too far away from the main thrust of this article, but I am genuinely mystified.
Are the Beeb allergic to our city? Do they simply not like us? Have we said something to offend?
I do not wish to paint this great city as a victim, nor do I wish to unfairly vilify auntie. But the BBC needs to realise that stories do not rely on whichever celeb has the most persistent agent, just to be regarded as compelling. The experience of war is one I cannot begin to imagine, but the chance for this city to finally have its heartbreaking, and inspirational wartime stories presented to the wider world, do not need a celebrity. They need to be given the oxygen of fair and honest coverage.
I am not a celebrity. I am just a Train Driver. But I love my home city. I will gladly show programme makers from the beeb around Hull. I guarantee that they will be compelled, humbled, and inspired by the sacrifice and resolve of this city's people, and by the legacy and scars that the war left on Hull.
We will take those scars with us. Even as we walk proudly into that bright future. So come on BBC. Stop ignoring us, come take a walk with us. See for yourselves.