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 entry includes reports of widespread bombing, miraculous escapes and acts of heroism in South Shields.
Tuesday 30th September/Wednesday, 1st October 1941:
At 21.20 A bomb fell near the Market Place entrance. The rear of Crofton’s premises was badly damaged, rolls of lino, carpets and other goods being flung considerable distances. A cafe at the corner was totally obliterated and a number of people were trapped in a basement.
A Rescue Party foreman, who afterwards received the George Medal for his gallantry, was lowered head first into the cellar and succeeded in rescuing three people, despite the danger from a broken gas main and the possible collapse of heavy masonry, he continued searching for the remaining victims.
A youth and an elderly woman were found and extricated but another woman was buried up to her neck and in danger from the likely collapse of wreckage. Without hesitation he placed himself in a position to hold up the unsafe debris and maintained this position until the casualty was removed.
The Shields Gazette Offices and Printing Works received a direct hit by heavy calibre bombs, the whole printing department and part of the offices were wrecked. There were no casualties, the only occupants of the building at the time were the firewatchers who were unhurt and a reporter who was at the head of the stairs. He was knocked down by flying debris and nearly stepped out of a hole in the wall into space.
Another heroic deed resulted from a stick of bombs which fell at 21.21 near West Holborn. One 1,000kg bomb fell through the corrugated roof of the Electric Power Station, it hit and demolished a thick wall, twisted a steel girder and came to rest on the manhole of a boiler. It failed to explode but there was great danger of it doing so owing to the heat of the boiler.
A Corporation employee very courageously drew the fires. At 04.30 on October 1st it was removed by the Bomb Disposal Squad and dispatched to Newcastle as, owing to its damaged state, the officer in charge was unable to remove the fuse.
About 21.30, a bomb fell in Rydal Gardens, two houses in Ambleside Avenue were destroyed, seven people were going to an Anderson shelter in the garden and were in the hall of their house when the bomb dropped. They were trapped at the foot of the stairs, they eventually got out by a Rescue Party and Wardens, two were dead, two injured and the rest were suffering from shock.
In 2012 I made a documentary, ‘War Stories’, in the film South Shields resident Doris Johnson talked about her memories growing up during the Second World War. She remembers this night vividly as her parents lived in the area.
Friday, 3rd October 1941:
At 21.23 Hyde Street and Wharton Street was the scene of further casualties and destruction. One bomb fell in Wharton Street, six houses were razed to the ground and many more made unsafe. Two bombs fell in Hyde Street where twenty houses were destroyed and a large number damaged. In both streets people were trapped under the debris or in their surface shelters and some of the casualties were fatal.
Small fires broke out under the wreckage, human chains were formed and buckets of water were passed along, the fires were soon put out. Gas and water mains were affected and upwards of forty houses had to be taken down later. Some of the many homeless were accommodated in Rest Centres.
Nearby in Anderson Street, a bomb fell in the middle of the road between Challoner Terrace East and West. It wrecked houses on both sides of the road and a number of people were trapped in the basements; some were dead when, after strenuous tunnelling and digging they were extricated. Severe damage was done to the Synagogue, some dwellings and the service mains in Ogle and Wellington Terraces.
Throughout the remainder of the raid the whole town was without electric light and the activities of the Rescue Parties, First Aid Parties and Ambulance Service were severely impeded. The ‘All Clear’ at the end of the raid had to be sounded on police car sirens.
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’.