The sinking of the Lusitania, torpedoed on Friday 7 May by a German submarine with the loss of 1,198 passengers on its return to Liverpool from New York, was to be the trigger for a violent expression of public outrage across the country.
In the days that followed, storms of anti-German protest broke out all over Britain, German shopkeepers and their premises being attacked in major centres such as London, Liverpool and Manchester, but also spreading to other regions, including the North East and Yorkshire.
So it was that on the evening of Saturday May 15th a soldier had kicked in the Hicks’ back door, damaging it slightly. But matters took a much more serious turn the next night, said the Berwick Advertiser, when ‘an excited band of youths and girls emerged from Walkergate Lane, disturbing the Sunday night quiet with the noise they made.’
By 10pm a crowd of 400-500 people had gathered outside the two pork butchers’ shops, the police too few in number to contain or disperse them.
Frederick’s granddaughter Caro Hick says the children were absolutely terrified, and the eldest son Fred (later known as John in Ireland) was sent to guard the alleyway with a water hose in case the rioters attempted to get round the back.
Granddaughter Marie, whose mother Nora lived to the age of 99 and spent all her life in Berwick, said she had often spoken of what happened the night of the riot. She told Marie that the two youngest children – herself and Robert – were passed over the back yard wall to neighbour Mr Wood, who owned Woods’ Hotel next door, to keep them safe.