WITNESS: 10 EVENTS of WORLD WAR TWO

pic Amy Flagg 1941. South Shields Market. Courtesy of South Tyneside Council.

War images by South Shields historian & photographer Amy Flagg are a reminder how the Second World War impacted the town. In the ‘70s I remember playing on bomb buildings and not realising that’s exactly what they were – big gaps in streets that had been flattened by German Luftwaffe.

On TV, a documentary series World at War had grainy black and white footage of soldiers fighting on the front line cut with colour interviews of people telling war stories – witnesses to armageddon.

On the big screen in the late ‘90s came Saving Private Ryan, there was audible gasps from the audience as one of the most brutal opening 20 minutes of film exploded on the screen. Using a hand held camera we were on board the landing craft shoulder to shoulder with troops riding the waves and hitting the Normandy beach. Then the noise. Gun fire, bullets on metal, screams from young men – welcome to hell.

For this post I’ve chosen events that shaped the war and eventual victory for the Allies in 1945. If some of them went another way the world would have looked a different place.  

Maginot Line : A series of concrete domes with weapons, underground rail and air–conditioned living quarters inside them, were built by France in the 1930’s. They were to deter a German invasion who had already conquered Poland, Belgium and Holland. The stronger defence line was positioned south at the border with Germany and Switzerland, but the enemy marched north through the Ardennes forest, which the French thought was impenetrable.

Operation Dynamo: The German war machine dominated mainland Europe and surrounded French, Belgian and British soldiers – it was a major military disaster. Luckily they stalled as the Germans occupied France and revelled in a triumphant march on the capital, Paris.

Meanwhile, a call went out to the British public and they responded by sending hundreds of small boats, yachts and fishing vessels to rescue thousands of British soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk in June 1940.

But with only the English channel holding the Germans back, the Luftwaffe now aimed for complete domination of the skies and ultimate surrender of the British.

Battle of Britain: Sirens howled all over Britain, blackouts, rations, evacuations, gas masks for children, broomsticks for the Home Guard, and gardens were being dug out for air raid shelters.

The Germans never countered for high numbers of radar stations along the UK coastline which instantly communicated to the British air force that an attack was imminent. Enemy positions were pinpointed rather than patrolling an area.

In one raid Spitfires and Hurricanes defended Britain against the might of over 250 German bombers. The Luftwaffe blitzkrieg was bringing the fire.

Black Saturday: 7 September 1940 sirens went off and like a dark cloud hundreds of German bombers filled the skies over the capital. The night sky was full of smoke and in its wake a trail of destruction. The blitz was in full force as airfields, shipyards, factories and civilians were targeted.

Battle of Britain Day: 15 September 1940 an all-out concentrated day attack from the Luftwaffe over the skies of London was pushed back by the British Air Force. Helped by heavy cloud cover, the Germans retreated and only night time raids were planned.

Operation Sea Lion: Hitler wanted a plan for an all-out invasion of Britain. But the German High Command went cool on the idea. New battleships weren’t ready, the Luftwaffe weren’t the success they thought they’d be, dates weren’t right for weather conditions, and the British were gaining strength. Hitler cancelled the operation and a new plan was needed. Enter the Russians.

Operation Barbarossa: Became known as one of the largest theatres of war during the conflict as the Germans turned their attention to the Soviet Union. As in mainland Europe the German war machine was expecting a speedy victory on the Eastern front. But taking on the Soviets in their own backyard during winter turned out to be a bad tactical decision.

First they were having difficulties making tracks as mud was bogging down the vehicles, then the ground was frozen. The infantry were tired and weakened without warm clothing. In this climate the Soviets were better prepared and more experienced.

Battle of Moscow: The capital was one of the main targets for the German invasion. But Soviet determination to hold their positions caused great concern to Nazi high command. Strategic defensive moves halted the attack and pushed back the Germans who after the defeat, dismissed their General. Were cracks beginning to show in the armour of the German war machine ?

The Black Pit: The mid-Atlantic was known as the black pit owing to the high number of ships that the German U boats would take out, in five month they sank 274 – it was an onslaught.

Hitler tried to starve Britain out of the war by cutting off supplies. He sent hundreds of U boats in wolf packs to hunt down, create havoc and attack merchant ships crossing the Atlantic with food and oil. The U boats were close enough to attack from ports around France and Norway, they could reach top speeds, dive to extremely low depths, find their targets with deadly precision and co-ordinate missions to attack all at once. They were so successful that the sea became a mass grave of seaman and ships.

Fortune turned when the Americans, who had so far kept out of the war, came in with a Lend-Lease deal. They supplied Britain with a number of war ships including the Corvette – which earned a reputation as a supreme U boat hunter.

Then one of the worst military decisions of the war was made at the end of 1941. Japanese war planes attacked stationary American warships at Pearl Harbour – the USA declared war and the killing business was taken up a notch. Ultimately, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would suffer dire consequences.

HMS Bulldog: A Royal Navy destroyer built at Tyneside’s Swan Hunter shipyard, saw escort duty in the Battle of the Atlantic. In May 1941 near Greenland, HMS Aubretia depth charged a U boat forcing her to the surface, Bulldog fired and closed in on the crew who were abandoning the boat.

Sub Lieutenant David Balme of Bulldog led a small party to board the U boat, enter the wireless room, and remove the coding machine. It was taken to Bletchley Park, England where a team of intelligence officers broke the code.

By 1943 U boat power was annihilated – the hunter became the hunted. The end of the German war machine was in sight and the balance of power had shifted toward the Allies.

Research: TV History programmes and official BBC websites.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021.

TYNESIDE HERO TOMMY CRACKS THE NAZI CODE

The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Petard was built at Vickers Armstrong Naval Yard on Tyneside, she saw active service during the Second World War in the Mediterranean. On board was 16 year old Tommy Brown from North Shields who risked his life to capture vital documents from a German U-boat, which ultimately helped British code breakers change the course of the war.  

Allied shipping was taking a battering in the Atlantic. Winston Churchill wrote ‘The only thing that frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril’. On 30 October 1942, a submarine was tracked on radar near Port Said off the Egyptian coast. HMS Petard, with four other British ships, attacked the U-boat with depth charges forcing it to surface. The German seamen abandoned their vessel.

First Lieutenant Anthony Fasson, and Able Seaman Colin Grazier swam across to U-boat 559. They climbed the tower then went below and gathered together an Enigma machine and code-books. They were helped by NAAFI canteen assistant, Tommy Brown. When asked at the inquiry what conditions were like, he replied:

‘The lights were out — the First Lieutenant had a torch. The water was not very high but rising all the time. There was a hole forward of the tower and water was coming in. As I went down through the tower compartment I felt it pouring down my back. They passed some books to me’.

‘I saw Grazier and the First Lieutenant appear at the bottom of the hatch. I shouted twice ‘you better come up’, they had just started when the submarine started to sink very quickly. I managed to jump off and was picked up by a whaler’.

The U-boat became their coffin as Fasson and Grazier drowned when it sank with them and the Enigma machine inside. HMS Petard left the area signalling that documents had been captured. The treasured codebooks retrieved by Brown were immensely valuable to code-breakers at Bletchley Park in England. But nobody would know the effects of their actions, as for thirty years they were guarded by the official secrets act.

Not long after the three hero’s had blown wide open the German codes – they were read by the Allies. The convoys could now be directed away from known U-boat locations, saving thousands of lives. Long range bombers were called in and an aggressive campaign turned the war. By 1943 the Battle of the Atlantic was won paving the way for eventual Allied victory.

Tommy returned home to 6 Lily Gardens on the Ridges Estate. He was one of eleven children to Mr and Mrs T.W. Brown, his father was also a member of the forces. But when Tommy joined in April 1942 he lied to the Navy about his age. The officers found this out, so he spent his days on HMS Belfast moored on the Tyne, allowing him to spend his nights at home.

But sadly one early morning in February 1945, he died attempting to rescue his 4 year old sister Maureen from a fire at home. Called out at 2.30am and fighting through intense heat and dense smoke, it took fireman one and a half hours to extinguish the fire which destroyed half the house.

Rain poured down on a cold grey day as neighbours stood patiently outside the Brown’s home silently paying tribute to the funeral of Tommy and Maureen. In a full Naval funeral, an escort formed outside the cemetery gates and six members of the ship that Brown sailed in, were coffin bearers. Family and friends attended the graveside service in Preston Cemetery, North Shields.

His family were awarded the George Medal by King George VI, Tommy being the youngest person to ever receive the award. Today, the Exchange Building in North Shields has a stained glass window devoted to Tommy, a permanent reminder of a true hero.

If you have any information about Thomas Brown please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Research: North East War Memorials project, Celebrating Bletchley Park and special thanks to Joyce Marti for providing archive Tyneside newspaper information.

Gary Alikivi   May 2021.

LOST INDUSTRIES on TYNESIDE

Angel of the North (pic May 2015).

Between 2009 and 2016 I made over 20 Tyneside films which are available on the Alikivi You Tube channel. In 2012 Vanished was a documentary about the lost heavy industry on Tyneside now commemorated by pieces of public art along the riverside.

They reflected the past of coal, steel and shipyards which dominated our landscape. In 2004 when I was making a video about art on the riverside I filmed some of them from a helicopter capturing the location of the piece.

On the seafront in South Shields is the Conversation Piece with Tyne Anew on the north side of the river, and on the banks of the Tyne at Hebburn I talked to artist, Charles Quick, who designed Flash.

In 2002 I was invited to put a proposal in for a piece of artwork for Hebburn Riverside park. After talking to people in the area and doing some research about the history of the area I discovered there were lots of industries in Hebburn, but not so evident anymore – shipbuilding, coalmining, cokeworks and electrical engineering.

One thing that would link all those together was industrial flashes of light from the arc welding or the cokeworks.

I worked with many different communities to design flashes of light and these were orchestrated through a number of LED’s on the top, it was all solar powered so it really was looking to the future. There was no cabling linking any of the columns, it was all radio controlled. There was a radio receiver that tells all the columns when to come on and off.

They can come on at night and there’s a timetable so they always come on in the dark, and also 30 second flashes of light every 15 minutes during the day. So it was a piece that would work in the day and at night.

Also featured in the film was former Whitburn colliery miner, now artist, Bob Olley.

Well I worked at Whitburn Colliery from 1957 till the colliery closed in ’68. Whitburn was a wet pit mostly and I was working in the east yard seam three miles out under the North Sea. It took us three quarters of an hour to get in and three quarters of an hour to get out. I think it’s because it’s such an adverse industry, danger, and whatever else, a sense of humour developed.

When the colliery closed it was the push I needed to get out. When I first went into the artistic side of my life the stuff I did was very dour, mostly pen and ink work. Then I moved away from coal mining for about 15 years then suddenly I got this urge to go back to the subject.

Up to about 15 years ago I would say most people in the North East their lives were influenced by the coal industry. The amount of people that were involved with the transportation of coal, the winning of the coal, the processing of the coal, everybody’s life was touched by coal.

Metro bridge at Crossgate, South Shields over former railway line leading to Westoe Colliery. (pic February 2013).

There was a lot of railway lines which used to criss-cross around South Tyneside, now they are used for walking and cycle paths. One man who remembers what it was like was John Cuddihy.

Well I was 40 years on the railway I worked at Sunderland, up to Consett, Darlington and over to Durham. Mostly worked South Shields station, High Shields station and Harton Junction. You had a Harton railway system and you could see the trains coming from Hilda Yard and through the tunnel under where the La Strada nightclub was, then up to Harton low staithes and then we’d run the wagons back.

Then under the British rail system you had the huge system at Green Lane, a massive system at Tyne Dock bottom where you used to get these big nine ’F’ engines hauling these ore trains all the way to Consett. They would haul through Green Lane at high speed. The fireman used to be really fit to haul all the way up a bank to Consett.

If you were on the Marsden Rattler you could travel from Westoe Lane, a huge station with a signal box there an’ al – it was very impressive. You could travel through from Westoe to Whitburn and travel back it was only a short distance done on an aged rolling stock.

After that they pulled it all down, done away with it all together, there’s photographs of how it was and I took one in 1995 of the station. After that they built flats on it you wouldn’t think there’d been anything there – it’s a shame.

Holborn docks, South Shields (pic. September 2016).

By the mid 1980’s there was virtually no shipbuilding on the Tyne, but one man who spent the early years of his working life there, was Vince High.

I started working in the shipyards when I left school in 1975. My Grandad had been a welder, also my uncle. So it was a natural thing for me to aspire to be the same as them, the fact that they were welders was a no brainer for me – I wanted to be like them.

A lot of the guys prided on the fact that they never lost anytime at all. I have visions coming back of the time there was a roller shutter that used to come down dead on 7.30am.

So if you were at the top of the bank and the shutter was coming down, myself and my mate would saunter down happy to lose a quarter hours pay, but you’d see some guys running down, throwing their haversacks under the shutter just before it hit the ground and doing a commando roll into the yard just to save a quarter hours pay.

Looking at the river now compared to say 20 years ago it’s actually incredible. Clearly the shipyards to all intents and purposes are gone, that high employment is gone, but what I think is happening is we’re trying to make an alternative use for the river now.

Whereas at one time it was about industry, work and employment, now it seems to be about improving the housing and getting people actually living near the river again.

Watch the film here with narration by Tom Kelly and music from Ron Smith.

Tyneside Lost Industry – VANISHED (Alikivi 9mins 2012) – YouTube

Gary Alikivi  May 2021.

FAMILY TIES #3: JARROW SLAKE & THE GALWAY HOOKER

Fishwives by the river Corrib, returning from Galway’s fish market.

In 2007 I was over in Ireland researching my family tree when I picked up a book ‘Old Irish Country Life’ by Hugh Oram. It was packed with photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century of people working on the land, some I’ve included here along with text by Oram.

From fishwives to seaweed harvesting, weaving and cutting turf, the wonderful black & white pictures illustrated a harsh life – and these were similar scenes to what my ancestors lived through.

A branch of my family came from Galway so I was drawn to a picture that features fishwives by the river Corrib, returning from Galway’s fish market. I was also interested in the photograph of a couple of fishermen’s wives repairing nets – as faint as a pencil drawing.

Galway fishwives repairing fishing nets.

The Claddagh, meaning ‘stoney foreshaw’ in old Irish, was one of Ireland’s oldest fishing villages on the western shoreline of Galway city. The sea off Galway was rich in cod, herring and mackerel. The boats would all go out in the evening, drifting overnight and bring in hundreds of mackerel by dawn. In the 19th century over two thousand people fished the bay using the traditional boat with its red sails – the Galway Hooker.

Galway fish market which stood across the river Corrib from The Claddagh where fishermen lived.

In 1985 my Grandfather wrote his memories of an Irish family living in Jarrow, North East England.

I suppose when they were built they would be a hamlet outside of Jarrow. There were three communities like this at the time; the Old Church at Jarrow Slake, pronounced ‘Slacks’, where we lived, Quay Corner at the riverside, and East Jarrow over the Don Bridge. The Don was the river that ran past our house.

My mother’s family the Joyce’s, originated in Galway in the west of Ireland. She came from a big family, her brothers, uncles and cousins were all fishermen. I remember her one day telling me about the night they went out fishing in Galway Bay and a big gale blew up. Most of them were lost.

I remember my mother being a very hard working woman. She worked as a stoker in the chemical works over the bridge in East Jarrow. She worked there all through the 1914-18 war, and I remember taking her bait over at dinner time and getting half of it for myself.

Two World Wars happened in my life. The Great War of 1914-18 was on when I started school. We heard the Germans firing their guns on Sunderland. One day we saw a Zeppelin pass over, and I believe it dropped a bomb on Sunderland Docks.

We also went to Quay Corner to watch the Royal Navy ships come in after being in battle. I remember one, HMS Lion, her mast and bridge were all broken up and she had a big hole in her side. Also some tugs towed a great big ‘thing’ up river and moored it at the Slakes. It was like a great big house, and my mother said it was a Royal Naval hospital for sailors wounded in battle. It later became known locally as the Floating Hospital.

The old Jarrow bridge over the river Don at low tide. The slake was over the bridge.

Looking back the things I used to get wrong for seem trivial. Such as playing in the Slakes at low tide and coming in with my feet full of mud or playing on the timbers at high tide. We all did that, we would cut four or five timbers adrift and use them as a raft. But sometimes Mr Beauly the river policeman would catch us and tell our parents.

The slake was also our swimming pool, we all learned to swim there from about the age of six. By the time we were ten or eleven we were swimming in the Don and the Tyne. At high tide the Don was about twelve feet deep and we would dive off the bridge into the river.

When my Grandfather died and was cremated in 1986, his ashes were thrown into the river Don from the old bridge. Sometimes we go back to where we started.

Hugh Oram book published in 2007 by Stenlake Publishing Limited.

Gary Alikivi   May 2021.

FAMILY TIES #2: A FULL MOON & AN IRISH WAKE

In 2007 I was over in Ireland researching my family tree when I picked up a book ‘Old Irish Country Life’ by Hugh Oram. It was packed with photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century of people working on the land, some I have included here along with the text by Oram.

From fishwives to seaweed harvesting, weaving and cutting turf, the wonderful black & white pictures illustrated a harsh life – and these were similar scenes to what my ancestors lived through.

Seaweed harvesting was an industry along the coastlines of Mayo, Galway, Donegal and Kerry.

Work on farmland and fishing were major occupations in Ireland and after a long day’s work people would organise entertainment – there was no radio, TV or cinema in those days.

Relatives, friends and neighbours would enjoy endless singing and storytelling, the tradition of seanchaí – a teller of traditional stories – was hugely popular in rural households.

Killing the pig was an important ceremony and social occasion with neighbours lending a hand. Tea and the odd whiskey or two were shared afterwards, plus the latest neighbourhood news and gossip.

Superstition played a part – a pig was never killed during a month containing the letter ‘R’ and if it was done on a full moon the meat increased in size.

The Bothan Scoir, a labourers cottage, west Ireland.

Ancient customs and traditions were a big part of Irish life – and death. The wake was a send off by  family and friends in the house of the deceased before the body was handed over to the church. My Grandfather wrote of his experience as an Irish family living in Jarrow, North East England.

You know looking back on my younger days, knowing the bit about my father and the more I knew about my mother, she was a very kind woman, strict but fair, and very religious. She must have been a strong woman to work the way she did and to put up with the life she had with my father.

I often wonder how they came together as they had nothing in common with each other. One was always in the pub, the other in the church. Still, I suppose there must have been some feeling between them as she had five children to him, three sons and two daughters. As they say, there’s nothing as queer as folk.  

In 1920 I started at St Bede’s Senior School, Low Jarrow. I was eleven years old and quite a lot happened to make me grow up quickly. I detested school and did everything I could to make sure I seldom went.

The only time I was ever happy at school was during the winter because each classroom had a big open coal fire and it was lovely and warm. But in the summer I would go to school in the morning and if it was a sunny day I would go to Shields beach in the afternoon.

When my father died my mother insisted on an Irish wake, where the deceased is put on display in the front room so that family and friends can pay their respects. They all sat at a table where there was snuff, cigarettes, clay pipes and ‘baccy.

Later on the men brought in the beer and to my young mind everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves except for my father who was stuck in the corner.

Then the final touch the night before the funeral, the priest came down at 7pm to say prayers as there was no taking the coffin to the church the night before the funeral as there is now.

More Irish family ties and images from ‘Old Irish Country Life’ on the next post.

Hugh Oram book published in 2007 by Stenlake Publishing Limited.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021

FAMILY TIES #1 : THE GALWAY CLADDAGH & JARROW DON

Galway fish market 1905

In 2007 I was over in Ireland researching my family tree when I picked up a book ‘Old Irish Country Life’ by Hugh Oram. It was packed with photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century of people working on the land, some I have included here along with text by Oram.

From fishwives to seaweed harvesting, weaving and cutting turf, the wonderful black & white pictures illustrated a harsh life – and these were similar scenes to what my ancestors lived through.

The Claddagh, Galway City.

A branch of my family came from Galway so I was drawn to a picture that featured The Claddagh. The houses in the photo remind me of old black and white image’s I’ve seen of homes near St Paul’s Church and along the river Don in Jarrow.

Old pit cottages, Jarrow, 1897.

My grandfather lived in those white walled cottages, and before he died in 1986 wrote down his memories of Jarrow life growing up in an Irish family.

To begin with a word about the type of house I lived in and the surrounding area. I suppose when they were built they would be a hamlet outside of Jarrow. There were three communities like this at the time; the Old Church at Jarrow Slake, pronounced ‘Slacks’, where we lived, Quay Corner at the riverside, and East Jarrow over the Don Bridge. The Don was the river that ran past our house.

The house itself was old it was one of the original pit cottages built when there was a pit in Jarrow. The pit itself was at the top of Queens Road and when I was young we had a fair there every year.

But back to the houses, they were white cottages, the walls would be about 8 feet high with a shallow sloping roof. They were two roomed, but the attic was turned into a bedroom for the children and there was room in it for two beds. To make it more comfortable we pasted layers of newspaper over the rafters.

More Irish family ties and images from ‘Old Irish Country Life’ on the next post.

Hugh Oram book published in 2007 by Stenlake Publishing Limited.

Gary Alikivi   May 2021.

ROMAN SHIELDS with Durham author, David Kidd

Now living near Crook, West Durham, David Kidd is a retired mathematics teacher born and brought up in South Shields. During the 1980’s he studied for a part time degree in the History of Modern Art, Design and Film at Newcastle Polytechnic, where he met fellow student and author Jean Alicia Stokes who shared a common interest in local history.

They have produced a new book The People’s Roman Remains Park about the Roman Fort in South Shields.

Roman remains park, the Lawe, South Shields.

Living nearby, I know the impact the fort has on the surrounding area of the Lawe, and its position on the headland looking over to where the River Tyne meets the North Sea. I asked David what inspired you to write the book ?

The Roman Fort is part of my family history. Our first house was in Beacon Street on the Lawe Top although we moved out when I was a toddler. The house was demolished and we were banished to Biddick Hall on the outskirts of town. The fact that we once lived on the site of a Roman Fort became part of our family mythology.

My friend Jean Alicia Stokes was writing a book about Harton Village when she came across a fantastic local history scrapbook by Robert Blair, who had his family home in the village. We both thought the scrapbook deserved a wider audience. Robert Blair was secretary of the Excavation Committee and the driving force behind the creation of the People’s Roman Remains Park. We thought it would be a good idea to write a book about the 1875 excavations and I agreed to help her.

Excavations in 1875.

Did you come across any unusual stories when researching ?

Too many to mention. What stands out is the way researching the book brought to life the people involved. Robert Blair is at the centre of the story but there were many other memorable characters who joined the campaign and contributed to its success, they helped save Roman remains from being destroyed by housing development.

The Reverend Robert Hooppell was the founding headmaster of the South Shields Marine School and Blair’s key ally in the publicity campaign to get public support for the excavations. Hooppell was an outspoken opponent of the contagious diseases act and a controversial but respected figure in the town who later went on to excavate the Roman Fort at Binchester near Bishop Auckland, and ‘discovered’ the Saxon Church at Escomb.

Reverend John Collingwood Bruce the charismatic Newcastle schoolmaster who tutored Robert Stephenson and wrote the first guide to the Roman Wall, was another key supporter of the campaign. Then of course there was the mysterious figure of Regina whose monument was discovered by some workmen digging foundations for an outbuilding to a house in Bath Street in 1878. She was the freedwoman and wife of Barates from distant Palmyra.

Regina who was a member of a British tribe from Southern England is depicted on the monument as a Syrian woman surrounded by the symbols of her status and part of the inscription is in Aramaic, the language of Palmyra. She is a potent icon of the multi-racial, multi-cultural Roman Empire and could also be a symbol for the modern cosmopolitan town of South Shields.

Regina reconstruction.

What did you use for research ?

The research began with Robert Blair’s scrapbook which is held by The Word at South Shields and expanded into an exploration of the artefacts from the 1875 excavation in the collections of Arbeia South Shields Roman Fort and the Great North Museum, Newcastle.

We are very grateful for the support of Tyne and Wear Museums, especially Alex Croom the keeper of archaeology at Arbeia without whose help the book could not have been completed. The excavations were headline news locally and nationally and we were lucky to be able to follow the progress of the campaign and the excavations in local newspapers.

They played a vital role in mobilising public support for the preservation of the Fort, and we hope allowed us to bring the story to life – an archaeological sensation comparable in its impact to the discovery of the ship at Sutton Hoo celebrated in the recent film released on Netflix, The Dig.

In many ways the excavations at South Shields were similar – both were led by an amateur, Robert Blair was a solicitor and in both the quality of the finds shook the archaeological establishment.

Gladiator knife handle.

What are you doing now & have you any projects planned for the future ?

When it is possible, we are planning to have a formal launch for the book and hopefully talks/events/ signings at places associated with the story. The book was intended to raise money for Arbeia with all profits going to the fort and while sales have been good in the circumstances, they are below what we expected due to the pandemic.

Jean is writing a full history of Harton Township, her previous book was a snapshot of the village based topically on the 1901 Census returns. I am in the early stages of planning a historical novel telling the story of a Shields shipping family in the style of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Loving Spirit based on some research I did for Jean’s new book.

Where is the book available ?

At the moment the book is only available from the publishers Harton Village Press (us) at £15 including post and packing and can be ordered by emailing Jean at jastokes@virginmedia.com. 

Now things are opening up it should soon also be available from the Word, Arbeia and South Shields Museum.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2021.

VILLAGE NEWS with Jean Stokes, author of a new book on Harton Village, South Shields, North East England.

What inspired you to write the book ?

I am a retired Art teacher and still live in Harton, where I was born and brought up. My father was born in Ferry Street in South Shields near the River Tyne, he took a great interest in the history of the town. I followed in his footsteps and joined South Shields Local History Group, where I’m currently vice chair.

Harton Village 1900 was written for two reasons, firstly with the aim of raising money for St Peter’s Church in Harton and secondly to prove that Harton had been a village. Locally we hear quite a lot of other villages such as Westoe Village and Cleadon Village, but little is made of Harton Village.

My mam and dad always called the shops in Harton ‘the Village’ and someone new to the area thought that this phase was just an affectation, so I decided to prove it wasn’t. I thought I would collect all the lovely, old, rural photos of Harton that I knew existed in the amazing archives at the South Tyneside Libraries and put them into one book.

They show just what Harton Village had been like at the beginning of the twentieth century when my parents were young and were brought on Sunday afternoon walks through the fields from South Shields town centre to enjoy the delights of the bow fronted sweet shop and the little aviary that then existed. I believed lots of other people would be interested in discovering what the village had looked like and hoped therefore the book would make a profit which I could donate to the church.

I had a copy of the Godfrey Map of Harton from 1895, bought at the museum in Ocean Road, and knew there was a census in 1891, and another in 1901, and since the earliest photographs of the village were from the turn of the century, I decided upon 1900 as a good date to explore just who lived in the village and what happened there.  

I’m interested in maps and buildings but also people and their lives. However, unless you lived in a grand house or a pub, the 1891 census does not provide information about where this or that family lived. 


A photograph from about 1945, from the South Tyneside Libraries site showing an awning on the left which belonged to the Ship Inn off sales. The pedestrian is walking west along Marsden Road, nearly at the junction with Sunderland Road, by the smithy and the cottage where Jemima had lived, the one with the open door. The smithy and cottages were pulled down in 1964 to provide a car park.

Did you come across any unusual stories when researching?

Amazingly I found a hand drawn map of Harton Village dated 1896 among church documents, naming each family and where they lived. A truly amazing piece of luck. With this, the census returns and the Godfrey Map I tried to bring the village to life with names and a little information about some of the individuals.  

A small example is that of widowed lady, Jemima Brown who in 1900, lived in one of the cottages next to the smithy, to the east of the Ship Inn. She was at that time the oldest inhabitant in the village.  

In 1902, when she was 89 the country celebrated the coronation of Edward VII and on Saturday 28th June Harton Village Council organised, as part of their coronation festivities, a drive for the old people of the parish in a horse drawn omnibus where she was given pride of place. The bus was provided courtesy of the manager of the South Shields Tramways Company, Mr John Wilson, and drove from Harton to Marsden, along the coast to Whitburn, returning through the fields to Cleadon and back to Harton.  

One of the omnibuses that travelled to Harton from King Street in 1900. Photograph from South Tyneside Libraries. Most probably this was one of the two buses that took Mrs Brown and the other elderly village residents on their delightful trip.

What did you use for research ?

Along with the Godfrey Map of 1895, the church warden’s handwritten plan with notes and the census returns, I also had access to some scrapbooks of the period held in the church which contain cuttings from the Shields Gazette and other printed information. On top of this I was also fortunate to be able to contact the descendants of some of the families I was writing about and obtain family photographs.  

The South Tyneside Library history site also provided some superb photographs.

What are you doing now & have you any projects planned for the future ?

I am busy working on a second book in what is to become a series on Harton, this will be called Harton Township 1921. The idea for this came about during my earlier research as I began to appreciate that Harton was far more than just the village and in fact was a significant area that stretched to the east along the coast from Trow Rocks to Marsden and westward as far as Simonside.  

The area in the west, which included Harton Colliery, was taken into South Shields in 1901 but it was not until 1921 that Harton was completely subsumed into The County Borough of South Shields. This second book will aim to tell the story of Harton Township from medieval times to 1921.  

I hope to have the new book ready for November 2021 to fully mark the anniversary of the end of rural Harton and the housing boom that covered the fields of the township.

Link to South Tyneside images: https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

Interview by Gary Alikivi  April 2021.

GUARDIAN RECORDING STUDIO #7 – Battleaxe – Burn this Town

Guardian Sound Studios were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings.

Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog – they were home to a recording studio.

From 1978 some bands who recorded in Guardian were – Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7”, 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax.

From ‘82 to ‘85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior made singles or albums. On this blog there is a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian including stories of a ghost of a young girl who was knocked down outside the studio.

Dave King (vocals, Battleaxe): Yeah still remember the story of the Guardian ghost sitting at the piano. Terry would say can’t you see it lads ? No was our answer (laughs). He told us to be quiet and still and then go and sit on the wall outside while the ghost was sat at the piano in the live room playing a silent tune. He would then disappear for half an hour to his other house next door. He was recently married at the time so was a young virile bloke like all of us back then (laughs).

His stories were great, he told us he had been given a guitar from Paul McCartney, and an old flying jacket of John Lennon given to him from the Beatles. Terry liked nowt like taking the piss (laughs).

I found him a really nice guy, very helpful with young and naive bands. But for recording he could never get the drum sound we were asking from him and that was with all the fantastic gear he had in there – although we did have a crap kit at the time. We never stayed overnight as some bands did cos we only lived a few miles away.

We recorded our single Burn This Town and Battleaxe in one long day and Terry took half a day to mix it. Think it cost us around £200, we all chipped in £50 quid each and Terry pressed 500 x 7 inch singles. It was an amazing feeling to have the band’s music published and out on vinyl.

Roger Lewis, a great Heavy Metal DJ pioneer at Radio Tees, was first to let rip Burn this Town over the airwaves. For some unknown reason Alan Robson from Radio Metro never took a shine to us at all, in fact blatantly slagged us off live on his Hot and Heavy Radio show.

However that single and the Burn This Town album got us a BBC Radio One session with Tommy Vance and interest from a host of other radio stations.

Read more Guardian stories here:

Guardian Recording Studio stories #4 Metal on Tyne with Mythra, Saracen & Hollow Ground | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

If anyone has any information about Guardian or recorded in the studios get in touch.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  May 2021.

CHOPPER ATTACK – with Dave King, vocalist from Durham band Battleaxe 

On 28 May 1983 two car loads of hairy teenage metallers left South Shields and travelled down the M1 to see an all-day gig at Leeds. I remember we arrived in the city and the first thing I saw was massive blue posters for the gig. For me Anvil stole the day, and a month later confirmed their metal credentials when the Canadian band supported Motorhead at Newcastle City Hall. Still got my ticket from Leeds.

Also on the bill were Twisted Sister, Girlschool, Anvil & Spider.

One of the bands playing that day were Battleaxe from the North East. Vocalist Dave King remembers the time….

We supported Saxon as special guests on their Crusader tour in 1983/4, and again at the Leeds Queens Hall Festival with Saxon, Twisted Sister, Girlschool, Anvil and more. Good old Noddy Holder from Slade was presenting the show. 

I remember after the show Dee Snyder and Mark Mendoza from Twisted Sister came on board the Battleaxe bus to have a look around and thought it was fantastic. They saw a large cooking pan in the compartment under the stairs and asked what it was for. Brian the bass player told them it was for making vegetable broths in the kitchen on the bus cos we don’t wanna get scurvy on tour – that’s the god damned truth. We really did stop off near farmer’s fields to dig out potatoes, cabbages and carrots to make food on the tour bus – it saved us a fortune (laughs).

In 1981 the King family from Sunderland were restoring an old empty pub they owned called The Albert Inn, in Shotton Colliery, Durham. A local band called Warrior, not to be confused with the NWOBHM band from Newcastle, used to rehearse in the ground floor room of the pub. A young Dave King was roadie and driver for the band. When Warrior broke up there was a vacancy for a singer, and Dave hoys his hat in the ring – after an audition, he gets the job.

The band changed the name and Battleaxe was born. With help from Dave’s father Derek and promotion manager Rob Stuart, within a year Battleaxe had signed a deal with Roadrunner Records and Music for Nations, plus Tommy Vance invited the band to record a session on Radio One’s Friday Night Rock show.

Dave takes up the story…..

BATTLE BUS

The first gig Battleaxe performed was Heighington Village Hall in Bishop Auckland in 1981, then we played venues like Thirsk Town Hall, Spennymoor Recreation, Country club in Saltburn and Leeds polytechnic. Sunderland Mayfair is probably the best gig we played back then and the only time we ever got paid to cover the costs of the massive show we carried with us.

Back then we used a double decker bus to travel about in. A week before the Radio One session with Tommy Vance we had bought the bus and I remember parking up in BBC Maida Vale studio car park with ten of us on board – and all the p.a. plus backline equipment loaded on because at the time we were doing a UK tour with Madame X (American hard rock band).

The bus had accommodation upstairs with the stage gear down stairs. We carried an 8k rig with loads of lights, pyros, smoke machine, the lot. Plus a four stack Marshall wall and a two stack Trace Elliot bass rig for Hardies and Brian’s backline, with full double drum kit and riser for Ian.

Unbeknown to us the bus was actually a classic from the Ribble coach company on a Leyland chassis. One of the first double decker bus models to have the front cabin built over the engine creating a flat front like all double decker buses are now. We sold it to Leeds Bus Preservation Society and I’ve been told it’s now in a museum somewhere.

‘Burn This Town’ album cover.

BURN THIS TOWN

Our first recording was in Guardian Studios in a village called Pity Me, County Durham. Terry Gavaghan was the producer and owner of the studio. We recorded two tracks – Burn This Town and Battleaxe. We self-released them on a single on the Guardian record label.

500 units were pressed which are now very rare and quite valuable in record collectors guides. The quality of the tracks were very basic but they got us a deal with Roadrunner Records and we recorded an album for them called, Burn This Town.

I remember we were sent the contract to sign at our base in Kensington Hall in Sunderland. The original member’s were me, Brian Smith (bass) Steve Hardy (guitar) and Ian Thompson drums. A year after recording Burn This Town in Guardian studio, Ian was attacked by a thug and obtained a serious injury. He couldn’t carry on so Ian McCormack came in who recorded the next album with us.

SO BAD IT’S GOOD

Cees Wessels, the record company boss, asked us what we wanted for the art work on the album cover. We had a friend and local artist called Arthur Ball who come up with a basic idea of a biker on his motorbike wielding an axe with a town in the back ground burning down – it looked like Sunderland (laughs). We sent that off in the mail to head office at Roadrunner in Holland.

You’ve got to remember there was no internet or social media at that time and things took a bit longer to arrange. We waited weeks and really needed to know from Cees Wessels what his thoughts were on the idea that Arthur had come up with.

Two months later the album was released worldwide, we couldn’t believe they had gone and used the draft cover idea as the finished art work. Since then there has been constant comments in media articles as it being one of the worst Heavy Metal album covers – ever.

Yet even today after 39 years, metal fans and journalists are still talking about it. Personally, it’s worked out as a marketing marvel. Over the years the Burn This Town cover has had a face lift four times and we are very happy with the latest upgrade drawn by Louise Limb. 

AUTUMN ATTACK

Now we are really looking forward to getting out on tour and the Halloween date in Newcastle, but more so the release of our fourth album Rezonator. We have a great new set of songs for the upcoming October dates including many from our back catalogue. It shouldn’t be too long now before the new material gets to be heard as tasters before the big release.

We really hope some of the metal followers and Battleaxe fans reading this can get out and see us play in October, we are looking forward to seeing some of your there.

Battleaxe are: Dave King (vocals) Brian Smith (bass) Mick Percy (guitar) & session drummer from Colombia Mauricio Chamucero (drums).

Interview by Gary Alikivi  May 2021