In 2016 when researching in South Shields Library about Historian and Photographer Amy Flagg (1893-1965), as well as her photographs of damage to the town by German air attacks during the Second World War, there was a number of personal scrapbooks full of the towns history and genealogy of families in the borough.
Also included was ‘Air Raids on South Shields’, these typed notes and diary entries were a record of official statistics of enemy attacks since the first bomb dropped in 1940. The next few posts feature selected pages from Amy’s war diaries. Detail from Tyneside newspapers and maps have been added to some entries.
This post tells how in over two hours King Street and the Market Place were made almost derelict by high explosive bombing. This was the night when the German Luftwaffe carried out an intensive and determined air raid on South Shields.
Thursday, 2nd/Friday, 3rd October 1941:
At 20.05 the Air Raid Message ‘Red’ was received and the ‘Alert’ sounded. A large number of enemy aircraft, flying at low altitude came in over the river. One or more of these planes succeeded in cutting loose some of the barrage balloons and it was evident that a heavy attack was developing. At 22.30 the Air Raid Message ‘White’ was received and the ‘Raiders Passed’ was sounded. In between the times Shields suffered.
The first bombs fell at 20.55. Wardle’s Timber Yard in Long Row where stacks of timber was damaged and a boundary wall was blown down blocking the road leading to Brigham and Cowan’s Shipyard. The attack was then carried, at 21.20 to the riverside and the Market Place. Three bombs fell near the river, one on vacant land near Comical Corner, one in Shadwell Street where the road and some adjoining railway lines were torn up, and the third on the new quay near Pilot Street.
A stick of bombs fell over the Market Place causing some of the worst damage done in the raid – one fell in vacant ground between the foot of River Drive and the Tyne Dock Engineering Company’s premises in Thrift Street. An Air Raid Warden on duty in River Drive was killed by blast and on the north side of the Market Place a messenger was seriously hurt.
Two more fell in the Market Place, one on the entrance to the shelter under the south east quarter, near East Street, the explosion fractured a gas main which burst into flame and set fire to a trolley bus standing nearby, the other fell on the shelter in the north east quarter.
The Market Place fires soon spread to adjoining buildings. Miller’s Stores caught fire and the flames crossed East Street and spread to the Tram Hotel, the Grapes Hotel, Jackson’s the Tailors at the corner of King Street and the King’s Shoe shop. The whole of this block was soon ablaze and had it not been for the solidity of the dividing walls at Lipton’s and Mason’s shops, more fire damage would have occurred in King Street.
Another bomb fell on Dunn’s Paint Stores and shop, demolishing the building and starting major fires spreading to Hanlon’s shop, the Locomotive Hotel, Campbell’s Lodging House and the Union Flag public house. Tins of burning oil and paint were hurled into the air and started fires in the City of Durham public house, the Metropole Hotel and the Imperial Hotel.
Crofton’s drapery stores at the corner of King Street was set on fire by a leaking gas main, then the fire spread to Woolworth’s next door, which was completely gutted. The side entrance to the Regal Theatre and Galt’s Fruit Store in Union Alley were also damaged by fire.
With so many fires and so much damage to the water mains, water had to be relayed from the Ferry Landing and the static water tank in North Street. Despite many rumours at the time, the loss of life in the Market Place shelters was comparatively small – twelve killed, five were rescued, this was partly due to the fact that as the road to the Market Place from Union Alley had been blocked in the previous raid, many people from the cinema had to go in the opposite direction to the shelters in North Street.
Three men on their way to work were crossing the Market Place as the bombs began to fall, one took refuge in the shelter nearby, but was injured, the second was killed just outside the shelter and the body of the third was never found. It was suspected that he had been blown by blast into the burning paint shop, long digging to recover his body was without result.
At daylight on Friday morning, the Market Place looked like the ruins of Ypres. Nothing could be seen but broken buildings the square was littered with debris and a tangle of fire hose. It was a scene of complete devastation. In addition, all remaining windows in St Hilda’s church were shattered, the roof dislodged and old stone walls pitted and scarred with shrapnel.
The Old Town Hall suffered heavy interior harm and none of the business premises was left intact. All the overhead wires were down and it was not until the afternoon of October 9th that buses were able to pass along King Street.
Gary Alikivi April 2021
Link to Amy Flagg’s war photographs on the excellent South Tyneside History website.
Link to Amy Flagg documentary ‘Westoe Rose’.