Perhaps you are wondering if the story you have just read can possibly be true. If it was, why have we not read of it before now? How could such a night, probably the most momentous and memorable night ever in the Derwent Valley, have been almost forgotten? Despite having grown up in High Spen and Rowlands Gill and having had an interest in local history, all I had ever heard of that night was that the Green Tree Inn at Barlow had been destroyed by a bomb and a man killed. My father’s 1942 diary did not really add much: “Air-raid 2.35 am to 4.05 am. Barlow hit, time bomb left. Went for walk to Barlow with Celia”!
Then, in 1974, I was given access to the unwanted plans and records of the defunct Blaydon Urban District Council which were due to be incinerated. Quite by chance I came across a list of war- damaged properties for that night, and I realised the extent of the raid. In 1979, I was fortunate to have the opportunity of a long talk with Bill Meehan who had been the village policeman from 1936 to 1948. His memories of the raid were still vivid. Shortly afterwards I found accounts of events at Axwell Park and Winlaton Mill written by youngsters shortly after they happened.
More recently I have talked at length with Jack Edgell of Beamish who found his father seriously hurt after the time bomb exploded, with Bill Roddham who helped carry Arthur Maughan’s body at Barlow, with relatives of the Andersons, Swaddles, Seymours and Musgroves, and with Mr Barry Blenkinsop who was serving with the National Fire Service and attended the fires at Hagg Hill Farm -it was his wife who dodged the bullets at Lockhaugh.
I was also most fortunate to find Mr Sydney Robinson who delivered the message to Blaydon with bombs falling around him. His father, it turned out, had been in charge of the Blaydon Report Centre for much of the war and had kept a copy of the official log book. This was now in his son’s possession and it was kindly loaned to me. It proved to be a gold-mine of information. (Incidentally, Sydney was awarded the Scouts’ Gilt Cross for his work that night; on one side are the words “For Valour” and on the other the date- “1.5.1942”. He modestly says that many scouts did more than him, but when one hears other people’s versions of the story, and of his exploits in earlier raids, his award was clearly deserved.) More information was obtained from the “Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour” which was compiled by the Imperial War Graves Commission, and from the log of Durham A.R.P. County Control.
Everything in the above account comes either from official records or from newspaper or eyewitness accounts. It is a true story; but why has it not been written before? The main reason is undoubtedly the quite strict censorship which was imposed on newspapers at the time. The raid, though not mentioned at all in the Blaydon Courier, was covered at length in the Journal and Evening Chronicle -but not a single place-name was given! Thus we read of events at Lockhaugh: “When bombs fell in fields some houses and farm buildings were damaged by blast, while on one field a heifer was killed”. And of the events at Barlow: “A public house was one of the buildings hit in another district and there was one fatal casualty. Many families had to be evacuated and there was some damage by incendiaries. A few people received minor injuries.” Some of the fatal casualties were named in these reports, however, and this helped identify many of the seriously affected areas -death certificates give “Place of death” and “Home address” of the deceased.
Censorship was not always so strict; there were quite detailed accounts of the raid on York two nights earlier. So why was our raid described in such a circumspect manner. The reason was quite simple; the Germans had missed their target. Berlin Radio announced next day that they had made a “heavy raid on Sunderland”. If they thought they had bombed Sunderland, why tell them any different?
Without a full newspaper account to bring the various threads of the story together, folks in each village remembered the events in their own areas in isolation. Dates were often forgotten, so even if anyone did hear of events in another part of the area there would be no reason to associate those events with what had happened in their own area. Very few people were in a position to know the whole story. Even P.C. Meehan, who was so involved in the aftermath of the raid on Lockhaugh, had not heard of the bombs at Winlaton and Axwell Park or of the unexploded bomb at Winlaton Mill!
Nonetheless it is still rather surprising that the raid has not passed into local folklore. Many will have heard of the raid which hit Matthew Bank in Newcastle (9.30-10.00 p.m. on 29 Dec 1941). Five people died that night at Matthew Bank and another nine elsewhere in the area. In the raid of 1 May 1942, 32 died in the North-East including eleven at Holly Avenue, Wallsend, eight at Beamish (including the son of the Deputy Regional Commissioner), and six at Longbenton. Yet who had heard of the events in these places?
Why was our peaceful Derwent Valley subjected to what was undoubtedly a concentrated attack? One stick of bombs might be a lost bomber dumping its load, but parachute-flares, machine-gun fire, thousands of incendiaries and 60+ high-explosive bombs -all in the Derwent Valley- seems like a deliberate attack. So why did they do it? There were many theories. At Gibside and indeed at North Lodge, Beamish, decoy sites had been set up. These had oil burners and, when these were lit at night, the sites were meant to look like burning factories. If incendiaries fell, say, on Vickers Armstrongs factory on Scotswood Road, the sites would be lit up in the hope of drawing some at least of the following bombers away from the real factory. On this occasion, of course, the Luftwaffe had done the job themselves -the flares and incendiaries were well away from important factories and heavily built-up areas- so why light the decoys. In fact, most eyewitnesses agree that the decoys were not used that night.
Others have wondered if perhaps the Derwenthaugh Coke Works had drawn the bombers there? It is possible; the many coke-ovens in the area, especially the large by-product plants like Derwenthaugh, were impossible to black out -when they “pushed” the ovens, the white-hot mass of coke would be easily visible from above. On the other hand, none of the other coke-works were attacked and there is a strong possibility that they were used by the Germans as navigation points. The Germans would certainly have known what they were and exactly where they were; the large plants -Derwenthaugh, Norwood, Hebburn- were of German design and had been built by German engineers. One of the plants, Ottovale at Blaydon Burn, even took its name from its German connections.
Some suggestions were quite fanciful. It was well known that some country houses were being used by the Secret Service to train spies and saboteurs. Was Axwell Hall, they wondered, being used for such highly secret work that the Luftwaffe was despatched to destroy it? The answer is simple. No; Axwell Hall continued with its peacetime function -housing naughty boys.
There really isn’t anything in the area to justify the effort that the Luftwaffe put into the attack that night. Even if they just meant to kill as many civilians as possible, the Derwent Valley would hardly be a sensible choice. I think it is safe to conclude that the Germans actually thought they were bombing somewhere else. But where? It certainly wasn’t Sunderland, despite the claims on Berlin Radio next day. Some bombs fell there, but the bulk of the raid was in our area, and not even the most incompetent pilot could mistake the Derwent Valley for a coastal town. So where did they think they were?
All of the evidence suggests that the intended target was Durham City. This raid occurred in the middle of a series of revenge attacks on historic cathedral cities which have become known as the Baedeker Raids. In the week prior to the attack there had been raids on Exeter, Bath and York. Just two days afterwards there was a further attack on Exeter, and in the weeks following the raid there were attacks on Canterbury and Norwich.
|Baedeker Raids (All Dates Refer To 1942)|
|30 April/1 May||Durham ??||0233-0405|
|31 May/1 June||Canterbury||0055-0230|
|6/7 June||Canterbury||Circa 0100|
|(Most figures from “The Beadeker Blitz”
by Niall Rothnie and “The Defence of the
United Kingdom” by Basil Collier)
That night has become rather legendary in Durham City itself – an account, a reprint from the Durham County Advertiser, is on sale in the Cathedral bookshop. “Civil Defence officials there had been warned by the Intelligence services that they were the target for the night and additional precautions had been instituted such as the laying of hoses from the river to Cathedral Green. Extra Fire Service personnel and Police were on duty – and although none had been told the reason, most guessed that it was their turn.”
“Tensions were high and their fears grew as moonlight illuminated the cathedral perched high above the streets on its rock pedestal. And then “The sirens screamed their alarm from the battlemented walls of the Castle, just as other alarms had been sounded from there to sleeping citizens so many centuries ago. The greatly augmented Fire Service stood by, ready to fill the maze of pipes running by kerbsides to Cathedral Green with water. The hour was at hand.”
“Suddenly a warden dashed into his post and cried ‘A miracle! Look at the Cathedral!’ Everyone rushed out and saw with great amazement that the city, which had been brightly moonlit a moment before, now lay under a pall of white mist, completely blanketing the Cathedral and the valleys.”
“Soon after, the bombers arrived overhead and the sky throbbed as they droned about looking for the landmarks that would give the city away. … The planes droned all over the sky, puzzled by the disappearance of this bomb-aimer’s dream target, and at length they flew away without releasing their deadly load”.
[Quoted from “Miraculous Mist”, Durham County Advertiser, May 1945]
They flew on, and 15 miles beyond their true target they encountered the peaceful Derwent Valley. A brief look at a map will reveal the reason that they released their devastating attack there – the horseshoe configuration of the River Derwent at Lockhaugh and the nearby Lockhaugh Railway Viaduct are very similar in shape, if not in size, to the corresponding features in Durham City! There can be little doubt that the Luftwaffe thought they were bombing Durham City.
Apart from the gravestones of the victims, there is very little physical evidence of the destruction caused during that raid in the early hours of 1st May 1942. The Green Tree Inn site was levelled, the other damaged buildings were repaired or rebuilt; even the badly damaged buildings at Beamish and Wallsend were replaced. You can, however, spot a slight difference of style between the end block of Holly Avenue and the rest -if you look for it. But there is one easily visible reminder of that night. As you leave Winlaton Mill heading north, you pass an isolated cottage on your left next to a track leading up to Hagg Hill Farm. If you look to your right at this point, just over the river in the middle of a field, you will see the shallow remnants of a bomb crater. It stands out now only because it has reeds growing in it. That crater was caused by a small, probably a 250 pound, high explosive bomb which landed at approximately 3.35 a.m. on the morning of May 1st 1942.
One final note on what became of the three orphaned Anderson children from Holly Avenue, Wallsend – Doris and Ronald, who were at Haughton Castle at the time of the raid, and Ann (Elizabeth Ann) who was pulled from the ruins. They were raised by their uncle, James Anderson, and his wife – two girls and a boy to add to their own two sons and two daughters. All the children got on well – hardly surprising as the two families were more than cousins, they shared all four grandparents as their fathers were brothers and their mothers were sisters!
PRINCIPAL PUBLISHED SOURCES.
- Blaydon East School
- Civil Defence
- The Defence of the United Kingdom (H.M.S.O. 1957)
- British Intelligence in the Second World War Vol 1 (H.M.S.O. 1979)
- British Intelligence in the Second World War Vol 2 (H.M.S.O. 1981)
- Most Secret War (Hamish Hamilton, 1978)
- Civil Defence (H.M.S.O. 1955)
- Instruments of Darkness (William Kimber 1967)
- Ramsey, W
- The Blitz – Then and Now Vol 3 (Battle of Britain Prints International)
- The Beadeker Blitz (Ian Allan 1992)
- Attack Warning Red (MacDonald and Jane’s Publishers 1976)
- Evening Chronicle 30 Apr 1942 – 6 May 1942
- Newcastle Journal 30 Apr 1942 – 6 May 1942 and 18 Oct 1957
- Sunday Sun 3 May 1942
PRINCIPAL UNPUBLISHED SOURCES.
- Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- Copy of Log Book of Blaydon Report Centre
- Diaries and notes of the late T.W.Pears
- Extracts from records of Durham A.R.P. County Control
- Taped interview with W.S.Meehan 1979
- War Damage Report for Blaydon Urban District 1 May 1942
I would like to thank the staff of the following organisations for their assistance:
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- Durham County Council – Emergency Planning Department
- Durham County Record Office
- Durham Light Infantry Museum
- Gateshead Central Library – Local Studies Department
- Newcastle Central Library – Local Studies Department
- North Tyneside Register Office
- Northumberland County Record Office
- Royal Observer Corps – Northern Area Collection
- Tyne and Wear Archives Service
I would also like to thank the following individuals for information or assistance:
A.Anderson, Miss J.S.Andrews, Mrs T.Armatage, W.E.Axford, G.C.Bennett, F.Bewick, J.B.Blenkinsop, Mrs E.Braun, C.Brunton, A.Burton, Mrs G.Burton, T.Burton, D.M.Cape, Miss D.Cheeseman, Mrs D.Clark, Mrs C.Cowing, W.S.Davey, J.Edgell, Miss J.Futter, W.Gardner, T.Gray, A.Harrison, W.Ismay, J.Jackson, Mrs M.Laing, Mrs C.Lee, R.Logan, Mrs H.Lonsdale, H.McIntyre, Mrs G.Maclean, R.Marwood, W.S.Meehan, J.T.Middleton, Mrs O.Middleton, T.C.Middleton, E.Musgrove, Mrs D.Oliver, J.Peacock, R.Peacock, T.W.Pears, J.W.Perrin, D.Renwick, Mrs M.Ridley, N.G.Rippeth, J.S.Robinson, Miss R.Robinson, W.Roddham, R.Selkirk, A.Seymour, S.D.Shannon, Mrs E. Spark nee Anderson, Mrs D.Stoker, M.W.Surtees, R.Swaddle, F.Vickers, J.Wallace, Mrs E.Waters, P.White, A.Wright.
APPENDIX 1. HOUSES IN ROWLANDS GILL DAMAGED
IN AIR-RAID ON 1 May 1942.
(Listed under present road/street names. Modern or corrected house names are given in brackets.)
BURNOPFIELD ROAD – 6
COWEN TERRACE – , 2, 3, 8, 19, 20, 21, 22, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32
DENE AVENUE – Fern Cottage , Rosedale House 
GLAMIS CRESCENT – 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, Lockhaugh Lodge, Pine Rigg [Pine Ridge]
HIGH HORSE CLOSE – Roseville [Rose Villa]
HIGH HORSE CLOSE WST- Braeside, Briardale [Briardene], Brunstock, Gatecote, Glencourse
HIGH HORSE CLOSE WEST Hazel Cottage [Melgra Cottage], Hillside, Phyllis Cottage [Stella Maris], Windyridge
LILLEY TERRACE – 8, 36, 38
LOCKHAUGH ROAD – Briarcroft, Coulport, Glenmore [Glenmor], Glenview [Glen View], Hazeldene, Innisfree, Kinrara, Langdale
LOCKHAUGH ROAD – Linton [Rivington], Militia Cottage [Melita Cottage], Rothesay, Strath View, Toorak, Trelyon
NORMAN ROAD – Charlaw 
THORNLEY LANE – Dunswood , Thornbury , Maurice , Hollinhill Farm, Low Thornley Farm (#1), Low Thornley Farm (#2), Low Thornley Farm Cottage
APPENDIX 2. FATAL CASUALTIES IN AIR-RAID OF 1 MAY 1942.
(H.E. bomb on Green Tree Inn, Barlow. Dropped circa 3.10 a.m.)
Arthur Maughan, 29 years, of 4 Barlow Lane; member of Home Guard. Husband of Sarah Hannah, son of Miles and Isabella Maughan of 14 Queen’s Road, High Spen.
(Time-bomb dropped circa 2.55 a.m. at Station Road, Beamish. Detonated 9.05 p.m.)
Samuel Edgell, 63 years, of 12 Woodside, Beamish; Special Constable. Husband of Elizabeth Caroline. Injured at Beamish; died 3 May 1942 at Rilton House Emergency Hospital, Chester-le-Street.
Gwendoline Hannant, 17 years, of 24 Delacour Street, West Stanley. Daughter of Jane and the late Joseph. Died at Peggy’s Wicket, Beamish.
Clive Graham Lawson, 9 years, of 7 Woodside, Beamish. Son of John James Lawson, M.P. (later Lord Lawson of Beamish), and Isabella Graham Lawson. Died at Beamish.
Robert Reay, 61 years, of Urpeth Hill Top, Beamish, Special Constable. Widower of Isabel. Died at Station Road, Beamish.
Irene Seymour, 8 years, of 8 School Terrace, South Moor, Stanley. Daughter of Joseph and Isabella. Died at Peggy’s Wicket, Beamish.
Matilda Seymour, 77 years, of 14 School Terrace, South Moor, Stanley. Widow of Joseph. Injured at Peggy’s Wicket, Beamish; died 2 May 1942 at Rilton House Emergency Hospital, Chester-le-Street.
Elizabeth Ann Rebecca Spence, 45 years, of 40 South View, Craghead. Wife of Herbert. Injured at Beamish; died 3 May 1942 at Rilton House Emergency Hospital, Chester-le-St.
Sylvia Spence, 10 years, of 40 South View, Craghead. Daughter of Herbert and Elizabeth Ann Rebecca. Injured at Beamish; died 4 May 1942 at Newcastle General Hospital.
(H.E. bomb on shelter at Hiddlestone Avenue).
Eveline Garrod, 49 years, of Cragside View, Benton Park Road. Wife of Frederick Charles. Died at Hiddlestone Avenue.
Frederick Charles Garrod, Merchant Navy, 19 years, of Cragside View, Benton Park Road. Son of Frederick Charles and Eveline. Died at Hiddlestone Avenue.
Nora Rheuhema Greaves, 25 years, of Newquay, Benton Bark Road. Wife of Albert. Daughter of Capt. and Mrs E.H.E. Burdon of 4 Alderwood Crescent, Walkerville. Injured at Hiddlestone Avenue; died 1 May 1942 at Royal Victoria Infirmary.
Mary Anderson Parmley, 54 years, of Turra, Benton Park Road member of Women’s Voluntary Service. Wife of John Henry. Died at Hiddlestone Avenue.
Olive Eleanor Parmley, 61 years, of 1 Leslie Crescent, Gosforth. Wife of William Alexander. Died at Hiddlestone Avenue.
Gertrude Walker, 34 years, of Morningside, Benton Park Road. Wife of John Walton Walker. Daughter of Alfred Ernest Barker and the late Gertrude Alice. Died at Hiddlestone Avenue.
AT NORTH WALBOTTLE
(H.E. bomb at 12/13 Coley Hill Terrace, North Walbottle)
Margaret Allen, 67 years, of 12 Coley Hill Terrace. Wife of Albert James. Daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Cowen. Injured at 12 Coley Hill Terrace; died 1 May 1942 at Newcastle General Hospital.
Dora Irene Musgrove, 20 years, of 13 Coley Hill Terrace. Daughter of William and Mabel. Injured at 13 Coley Hill Terrace; died 1 May 1942 at Shotley Bridge Emergency Hospital.
William Musgrove, 54 years, of 13 Coley Hill Terrace. Husband of Mabel. Died at 13 Coley Hill Terrace.
(Time-bomb dropped at Benson’s Brickyard, Scotswood. Detonated circa 3 p.m.)
John Cheeseman, 70 years, of 1 Lesbury Terrace, Chopwell, Special Constable. Husband of Mary L. Cheeseman. Injured at Scotswood; died 5/12/44 at 1 Lesbury Terrace.
(H.E. bomb near shelter at 26 Mayswood Road, Fulwell.)
Edith Swaddle, 48 years, of 26 Mayswood Road, Fulwell. Wife of John. Daughter of Mr and Mrs A.C. Copley of 12 Ross Avenue, Dunston. Died at 26 Mayswood Road.
John Swaddle, 48 years, of 26 Mayswood Road, Fulwell, Fire Guard. Husband of Edith. Died at 26 Mayswood Road.
(H.E. bomb dropped on the east end block of Holly Avenue circa 3 a.m.)
Annie Elizabeth Anderson, 64 years, of 43 Willow Grove. Wife of James. Died at 43 Willow Grove.
Elizabeth Ann Anderson, 36 years, of 159 Holly Avenue. Wife of Stanley. Daughter of William James and Matilda Wright of 107 Back Benton Way. Died at 159 Holly Avenue.
Elsie Anderson, 19 years, of 43 Willow Grove. Daughter of James and Annie Elizabeth. Died at 43 Willow Grove.
James Anderson, 65 years, of 43 Willow Grove. Husband of Annie Elizabeth. Died at 43 Willow Grove.
Stanley Anderson, 36 years, of 159 Holly Avenue, member of Home Guard. Husband of Elizabeth Ann. Son of James and Annie Elizabeth. Died at 159 Holly Avenue.
Stanley Anderson, 11 years, of 159 Holly Avenue. Son of Stanley and Elizabeth Ann. Died at 159 Holly Avenue.
Arthur Dempster, 29 years. Son of Andrew and the late Sarah. Died at 156 Holly Avenue.
Margaret Gallantry Duffy, 32 years. Wife of Joseph Duffy. Died at 156 Holly Avenue.
Margaret Elliott, 22 years, of 151 Holly Avenue. Wife of Robert Hilton Elliott. Daughter of Nicholas and Isabella Atkinson of 6 Shafto Street North, Rosehill. Died at 157 Holly Avenue.
Nicholas Lee, 18 months, of 157 Holly Avenue. Son of Private Samuel Lee (Black Watch) and Doris Lee. Died at 157 Holly Avenue.
William Alexander Lee, 18 months, of 157 Holly Avenue. Son of Private Samuel Lee (Black Watch) and Doris Lee. Died at 157 Holly Avenue.
HE on Bank Street at 3.30 a.m.
Audrey Humphrey, 14 years, of 28 Bank Street. Daughter of Harold and Mary Elizabeth Humphrey. Died at 28 Bank Street.
Harold Humphrey, 44 years, of 28 Bank Street. Husband of Mary Elizabeth Humphrey. Injured at 28 Bank Street, died 4 May 1942 at Victoria Hospital.
Laurence Humphrey, 8 years, of 28 Bank Street. Son of Harold and Mary Elizabeth Humphrey. Died at 28 Bank Street.
Mary Elizabeth Humphrey, 42 years, of 28 Bank Street. Wife of Harold Humphrey. Died at 28 Bank Street.
APPENDIX 3. OTHER AIR-RAID CASUALTIES IN BLAYDON &
WHICKHAM URBAN DISTRICTS
H.E. bombs at Sunniside on Monday 12 May 1941 (Alert from 12.16 a.m. to 3.06 a.m.)
George Waller Shanks, 23 years, of 1 Fernville Avenue, Sunniside. Son of Thomas and Frances Jane. Died at 1 Fernville Avenue.
H.E. bombs at Blaydon 10.15 p.m. on Monday, 1 Sep 1941 (Alert from 10.03 p.m. – 11.45 p.m.)
John Cowings, 36 years, of 3 Thorpe Avenue, Ryton. Husband of Hannah. Son of Jane and the late James of 21 Whitewell Terrace, Ryton. Injured on Venture bus at Tyne Street, Blaydon; died at Blaydon First Aid Post.
Albert Greenfield Dodgson, 56 years, of 10 Delacour Road, Blaydon; Firewatcher. Husband of Emily. Injured at 10 Delacour Road; died 18 Sep 1941 at Newcastle General Hospital.
Emily Dodgson, 17 years, of 10 Delacour Road, Blaydon. Daughter of Albert Greenfield Dodgson and Emily Dodgson. Injured at 10 Delacour Road; died 6 Sep 1941 at Whickham Cottage Hospital.
Thelma Dodgson, 20 years, of 10 Delacour Road, Blaydon; member of Women’s Voluntary Service and A.R.P. volunteer). Daughter of Albert Greenfield Dodgson and Emily Dodgson. Died at 10 Delacour Road.
Martin Heanagham, 59 years, of 30 Robinson Street, Blaydon. Husband of Mary. Died at Donald Brown’s Engineering Works, Tyne Street, Blaydon.
William Irwin, 17 years, of 24 Burnhill Gardens, Greenside. Son of Thomas Fellows Irwin and the late Dora Irwin. Injured on Venture bus at Tyne Street, Blaydon; died en route to Blaydon First Aid Post.
John Henry Moore, 72 years, of 8 Delacour Road, Blaydon. Husband of Margaret. Died at 8 Delacour Road.
Margaret Moore, 73 years, of 8 Delacour Road, Blaydon. Wife of John Henry. Died at 8 Delacour Road.
APPENDIX 4. 1994 POSTSCRIPTS
When copies of “When Bombs Fell on Rowlands Gill” began circulating I half expected to have some major error or omission pointed out to me; after all I was writing about events which occurred before I was born – unfortunately not long before. This has not happened and all the comments I have heard have been complimentary. Further research, however, has revealed both errors and omissions and these are detailed here together with a little more speculation.
1. Alert Times
The RED alert, the signal to sound the sirens was issued at 0233 on the morning of May 1st 1942. This was, as I stated, the first warning that Blaydon Report Centre received because the preliminary YELLOW warnings had been abolished in October 1941. However, there was another sort of preliminary warning still used. This was the PURPLE or “lights” warning which was sent only to premises with “exempted lighting”, in other words places, such as railway goods yards, which were allowed to break the blackout restrictions. The PURPLE told them to extinguish their lights. I now know that a PURPLE was issued in the Newcastle Warning District at 0222 that morning.
2. Unexploded Bomb at Blaydon Haughs.
I stated that the UXB at Blaydon Haughs was beside an ICI factory and that the factory was badly damaged when the bomb exploded at 10.05 a.m. I have recently met a gentleman who lived nearby at the time and was able to tell me exactly where the bomb was located, and I have recently received a letter from Mr Leslie Almond of Ponteland who worked at the only factory on Blaydon Haughs which might have been mistaken for an I.C.I. works, the Blaydon Manure & Alkali Co. (1877) Ltd. This factory manufactured Fertiliser and Sulphuric Acid and also, as their contribution to the war effort, Blanc Fixe or Baryta -Barium Sulphate- which they made from Witherite -Barium Carbonate- mined at Settlingstones, north of Haydon Bridge. This product was used by both Kodak and Ilford as a coating for their photographic papers for aerial reconnaissance purposes. As to the location of the bomb, it was nearly half a mile from the factory not far from the railway bridge over the Tyne, and the only damage caused by the bomb was to a railway fence, exactly as the A.R.P. report stated.
3. 200th Alert.
My assertion that the alert of May 1st 1942 was the two-hundredth time that the siren had sounded in Rowlands Gill, is also incorrect. I did not pluck the figure from thin air, it was calculated on the basis of the information I had at the time:- first, a list of air raid alerts from October 1st 1940 and secondly, from Blaydon East School’s booklet “Civil Defence”, mentioned earlier, the “fact” that there were 234 alerts in the area during the course of the war. By counting back from the last alert, on March 3rd 1945, I did indeed arrive at the figure I gave. I now have a complete list of alerts and there were 256, not 234. So can we assume that it was the 222nd time that the siren had sounded? Unfortunately no. I had also assumed that Rowlands Gill had a siren from the beginning of the war but it seems that this was not the case.
4. Bombs on Beamish.
Mr Jack Edgell, son of one of the victims of the Beamish time bomb, told me that prior to the raid of May 1st 1942, the only bomb dropped on Beamish had been an oil bomb. In my account I assumed this to be true, but I have since had access to official bombing records for 1940 and 1941 and I find that Jack’s recollection was not accurate. There had indeed been an oil bomb but it was dropped along with conventional bombs, and there was a raid on another occasion before the May 1st raid. At 10.40 p.m. on the night of September 1st 1940, seven high-explosive bombs and one oil incendiary bomb fell on Beamish. The first three were in fields to the south of Beamish, then there were three in Beamish Woods and finally two at Heugh Tops. The distance from the first to the last, which was the oil bomb, was about three-quarters of a mile. The HE bombs were small and made craters about eight feet in diameter and four feet deep. The incendiary bomb exploded, scattering debris over a radius of about twelve yards, but the oil failed to ignite. Two black patches about 18 inches in diameter were found. A few house and shop windows were broken but there were no casualties apart from a dog which was killed. The second raid occurred at 10.10 p.m. on December 8th, 1941, – about forty incendiary bombs fell in fields just to the east of Beamish. They set a hedge on fire but this was quickly put out.
5. Bombs at Longbenton.
There were two mistakes in my account of the attack on Longbenton – the bombs fell on Benton Park Road, not Hiddlestone Avenue, and the six fatal casualties were not all in the same shelter, there were five deaths in one shelter and one in or near another. The confusion about the location stemmed from the initial reports to Newcastle Report Centre (in Jesmond Dene House).
0318 from Warden Post C5. “HE at 0315 Hiddlestone Avenue. Rescue Party and First Aid Party on the spot”.
0325 from Warden Post C5. “HE at Benton Park Road, Western End. 3 dead, 2 injured, 3 trapped. G.P.O. wires and electric cables damaged”.
0347 from Air Raid Warden Hall at Post C5. “1 shelter, 1 house. Direct hit. Hiddlestone Avenue. 5 dead and 6 injured. 2 ambulances required.”
0350 from Inspector Thompson at Post C5. “1 HE dropped in garden, Lidsdale, Benton Park Road. Railway skirts craters”.
0350 from Inspector Thompson at Post C5. “1 HE at rear Turra, Benton Park Road. Water, gas and electric mains damaged”.
Not surprisingly, the authorities thought that messages 1 and 3 related to one incident, which they designated C1 (i.e. the first that day in “C” Police Division) and that the others related to another -C2. Police were despatched to both incidents and it was some time before the Report Centre staff realised that all the reports related to a single incident on Benton Park Road opposite the junction with Hiddlestone Avenue.
The dead were taken to Stanmore Road Mortuary and three of the injured were sent to First Aid Post No 6, one of them was transferred to the R.V.I. In view of the large number of damaged houses, Cragside Rest Centre was opened, but only two people made use of it and they only stayed for one hour. At 5.10 a.m. two sitting ambulances arrived at the incident, one was returned to its depot and the other was used to ferry bombed out people to the homes of their friends. At 5.20 a.m. another body was discovered at the rear of the house called Turra and another rescue party and an ambulance were called.
When all the confusion was resolved it became clear that a stick of four bombs had fallen behind houses to the north of Benton Park Road. The first was behind the semi-detached houses Liddesdale and Thirlmere. The second was behind Red Lea, Morningside and Turra. Here one woman was found dead near a shelter behind Turra. The third bomb was behind Stylcroft and Cragsideview right alongside a concrete air-raid shelter. Five people in the shelter were killed. The fourth bomb was in a field to the north of the railway line which ran immediately behind the houses. Thirty-two houses were rendered uninhabitable and about eighty had minor damage. There was also blast damage to Robb and Weakford’s Garage and three or four shops at Four Lane Ends. The fourth bomb and the damage at Four Lane Ends were in Northumberland County.
There was damage to water, gas, electricity and telephone services but no roads were blocked and early fears of damage to the railway line were proved wrong. As usual the A.R.P. services performed well – three ambulances, three rescue parties, three sitting cars (ambulances) and one first-aid party were sent to the incident. The police recorded that in addition to the inspector, two sergeants and seven P.C.s sent to the incident, no less than forty-two men had turned up for duty.
6. Bombs at Sunderland.
Some more information has come to light about the attack on Sunderland in which John and Edith Swaddle were killed. There were four bombs at 2.59 a.m. to the east of the L.N.E.R. Newcastle to Sunderland railway line and immediately south of Station Road, Fulwell. Fulwell Fire Station, which had been opened three weeks earlier on April 7th by the mayor, Councillor Myers Weyman, was hit by the first bomb and one-third demolished. One fireman, Walter Sharpen, was buried under bricks but was rescued unhurt, and the switchboard operator, Mrs Hetty Rodgers, showed great bravery by refusing to leave her post. She was later awarded the Empire Medal. Then came the bomb behind 26 Mayswood Road; right on the edge of the 32 feet diameter bomb crater was a home-built shelter occupied by the Swaddles. Their son, 19 year old Leonard, who was on leave from the R.A.F., had just left the shelter to collect something from the house. He was on the stairs when the bomb struck and was trapped in the rubble. Fortunately he was rescued with only slight injuries. The third bomb demolished Fulwell Working Men’s Club and the fourth demolished buildings at Ferry’s Dairy Farm. One horse at the Dairy Farm was badly injured and had to be destroyed.
Four hundred and twenty nine houses and shops needed first-aid repairs and four houses were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished. Mrs Querry’s guest house -Fulwell House on Station Road- was very badly damaged and she was put out of business. She and her daughter found alternative accommodation nearby on Fulwell Road but, because Fulwell House had been rented, she received only 40 pounds in compensation. As if the loss of the business was not enough; her daughter had been exempted from war work because the guest-house housed military personnel, but with the guest-house gone, she was called up straight away and sent to Manchester to work in Avro’s Lancaster Bomber factory. She was there for three years. Their dog too suffered. It had been fastened in a shed during the raid and was buried under rubble. There was no physical injury but because of its experience it became uncontrollable whenever the siren sounded. Things got so bad that they had to have it destroyed in case it injured someone.
7. Bombs on Bolam.
There was one attack which I missed completely and it might well rank alongside the preservation of Durham Cathedral as a miracle. Four bombs fell on the tiny Northumberland village of Bolam, three exploded and the fourth, which penetrated the wall of Bolam Church and ended up inside the Shortflatt Tower (known as the Hedley-Dent Chapel), failed to explode. The story is perhaps best told in a letter which the vicar’s wife sent to her son shortly after the raid:-
Flying Officer J.A.Hutton
Middle East Command
Middle East Forces
We are safe and well and not unduly alarmed after Jerry paid us a visit at 4 A.M. May 1st. He was being hotly pursued by two of our fighters who were on his tail. He was very low down, & discharged the whole of his load in order to get away, but he failed to do so & lies at Longhorsley. 4 Bombs 2 1/2 tons in all. One fell, just missing the Walnut tree which still stands, 30 yds from houses wall. An unexploded one lay in the Chancel, it had passed through the lower part of the wall in the H.D. Chapel, smashing all the furnishings in that part of the Church, non of any value, injuring some windows. Providence watched over us that morning, for our house still stands. Windows and lots of Frames gone. Roof badly damaged, doors broken or damaged, glass everywhere, we were smothered with it in bed, & have not even a scratch. Damage is all repairable. Furniture is very little hurt, save for scratches, some curtains in ribbons, & the glass of your bookcase smashed. It amazes everyone in authority that our house withstood the blast. Cottage very small damage. The remaining two bombs only made large craters in Windmill field. People have been most kind. We had breakfast with the Allendales, they only had three broken windows, & a bit of one ceiling down. They offered to put us up, but we decided to come to Gallowshill. Our Sunday Morning Services were in G. dining room, converted into temporary Chapel. The Bishop has been to see us. I was much more distressed by the Telegram about you than by this latest bit of Jerry’s malice. Men are busy at emergency repairs & women are helping clear up glass & get carpets up. Much love from us both.
A copy of this letter is displayed inside Bolam Church and one of the church windows is dedicated to the memory of that night. This letter was lucky to have escaped censorship; normally any overseas letter, even one to a serviceman, which contained any reference to an air-raid, was returned to the sender. Incidentally, the reference to the German aircraft crashing at Longhorsley does not appear to be correct.
8. The Wallsend Attack.
The account of the raid on Holly Avenue, Wallsend came almost completely from Mr Andrew Anderson who remembers that night as if it were yesterday – he lost both parents, a brother, a sister, a sister-in-law and a nephew in the attack. He was actually talking to his mother when he heard the bomb penetrating the roof above them, he remembers his mother exclaiming “Oh my God” and then a blue flash as the bomb detonated. His account ended, of course, at the time of his rescue from the rubble when he and his six-year-old niece, Ann, who now lives at Low Fell, were whisked off to the Coach Road First Aid Post and then to Shotley Bridge Hospital. I was unable to find any other survivors to complete the account.
However, I have recently seen the records of Wallsend’s A.R.P. Mortuary in Vine Street. This is not a document for the faint- hearted because, unlike death certificates for war casualties, which always gave the cause of death as “Due to War Operations”, the mortuary records reflect the true horror of deaths from high- explosive bombs. It would not be fair to give more detail of injuries in respect of named or identifiable victims but the form for one 1941 casualty records under “Date and hour of finding the body” -“Portions found on dates between April 27/41 and May 13/41”. Others relate to a 12 year-old boy whose body was not even claimed for burial and an 18 year-old whose clothing and effects are given as “1 farthing”! I would defy anyone to read those records without tears in their eyes.
In relation to the May 1st 1942 raid the mortuary records emphasise the length of time taken by the rescue effort. The bomb dropped at 3 a.m. and the initial reaction of neighbours to dive into the rubble in search of their friends was prevented by the wardens because of escaping gas and standing walls being in a treacherous state. The first bodies found, those of 22 year-old Margaret Elliott, 18 month- old Nicholas Lee and 36 year-old Stanley Anderson were recovered at 5 a.m.; forty-five minutes later, at about the same time as survivors Andrew and Ann Anderson were found, the body of 35 year- old Elizabeth Anderson was recovered. At 6.45 a.m. the bodies of 19 year-old Elsie Anderson, 64 year-old Annie Elizabeth Anderson and 11 year-old Stanley Anderson Junior were pulled from the wreckage, and 15 minutes later the body of 65-year old James Anderson was recovered. The Rescue Squads’ efforts continued but no more bodies were found until the following day, Saturday May 2nd, when, at 10 am, the body of Arthur Dempster was found (age given in the mortuary records as 38 years but the War Dead Roll of Honour gives it as 29 years and the Evening Chronicle “Deaths” column as 30 years). Finally, at 3.45 p.m., more than 36 hours after the attack, the last two bodies, those of 32 year-old Margaret Duffy and 18 month-old William Alexander Lee were found.
There are mortuary records for all of Wallsend’s 32 victims, nine of these were from one family, the Andersons, three of whom died on the night of September 1st/2nd 1941, and six on May 1st 1942. The records reveal a tragic irony, the man who identified and claimed the bodies of the first three victims was James Anderson of 43 Willow Grove, Wallsend, and James again features a few pages later in another capacity – a victim!
9. Attack on South Shields.
Although I did quote a piece from “The Blitz Now and Then” which mentioned an attack on South Shields, I was unable to give any details because I was under the impression that no A.R.P Records had survived for that Borough and none of the newspaper reports seemed to relate to the area. However, Mr Roy Ripley* later brought to my attention a most useful source – “History of Bomb Damage” by Miss Flagg – which he found at South Shields Library. This consists of 37 typewritten sheets and an extensive collection of photographs and deals exclusively with air attacks on South Shields. A very large section is subtitled “Air Raids on South Shields. An account compiled chiefly from Official ARP Reports….” and is most informative. In fact, after reading it, I was tempted to rewrite several parts of this booklet, but I have resisted the temptation because Miss Flagg’s material is well covered in North-East Diary 1939-1945 by Roy and myself.
This is what Miss Flagg records for the 1st May 1942 raid:-
May 1. 03.35. to 04.05.
One H.E. bomb fell near St. Hilda Signal Cabin on the L.& N.E.R. main line. Shortly afterwards a second bomb was dropped in a field 200 yards South of Richardson Terrace, Simonside. No casualties were reported.
At 04.02. about 100 Incendiary bombs fell on the North foreshore. Two unexploded incendiaries and four carrying rows were found. During the progress of this raid two Anti-aircraft shells fell on the dock wall of Tyne Docks Basin and on the railway lines in Tyne Docks near the River Street entrance.
Slight damage only was incurred and there were no casualties.
* Mr Roy Ripley of Cramlington was a former printer who served during the war years first as an assistant in the Newcastle West Police Sub-Control, then as an A.R.P. Messenger and he ended the war in the Royal Navy. Mr Ripley had been conducting research into World War Two in the North-East for four years when I first met him and we agreed to pool our material to produce a “diary” of events in the North-East during the war years. Roy died in 1995 shortly after the diary was completed and is greatly missed.
10. “Big Bertha”.
“Big Bertha”, the fabled anti-aircraft gun which shook houses in Rowlands Gill and lit up the sky with brilliant flashes, was not at Lobley Hill as was popularly supposed. It was much closer, on Fellside Road at Whickham near Wyomns Farm, a site near the present Comprehensive School which is now occupied by bungalows. Nor was it a single gun; there were four guns on the site, and for most of the war these were the giant 4.5″ type. The Wyomns site, designated TYNE G, was mentioned in the records as early as September 12th 1939 when two of its 4.5″ guns arrived on site. There was an H.A.A. site at Lobley Hill which was designated TYNE F. This had four 3.7″ guns and first appeared in the records on October 1st 1939 when a “hutting conference” was held.