TYNESIDE WAR HEROES #4

THE DAY I WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS

Henry Howey Robson (1894-1964)

The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for courage in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. In this series of Tyneside VC medal recipients, was this man the youngest ? At the age of 20, Henry was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 14th December 1914. This is his story.

I was born in South Shields, North East England on 27th May 1894. We had a home in Hampden Street where my da’ Edward was a coal miner and my ma’ was called Mary Morris, they first came from Sunderland. It was a big family. I had six brothers and a sister. I went to Mortimer Road School in the town and after I left I joined da’ in the mines.

When war started I joined the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots and went to France. I was awarded the VC after being on the battlefield in Belgium. What happened was we attacked a German position and I saw one of our men wounded so went out and brought him back. Guns were going off all around. It was really heavy fire. I done the same for another soldier but got shot. I didn’t give up and went out again but got hit again. I was in a bad way so they took me back to camp and I was evacuated to England.

I went back home to South Shields where I had a good time. I met the Mayor at a civic reception in the Town Hall. I got the Freedom of the town and was presented with £73 raised through a Shilling Fund. Then I visited my old school and was presented with a gold watch by the kids. I returned to war but was wounded in France and never returned to the front.

After the war I worked a couple of jobs. I was in the shipyards and as a steward on oil tankers running between Britain and South America. I wanted to go to Canada so I sold my medal to a doctor for £80. This paid my way and I arrived in 1923, a new life started.

I started work as a streetcar conductor with Toronto Transportation. Then in 1924 got married to Alice Maude and we had a son and four daughters. Then I became a civil servant working in the Parliament Buildings in Ontario, then done six years as a Sergeant at Arms of the Ontario Legislature. Before retirement in 1954 I was an information clerk, showing visitors around Parliament.

Civic reception with the Mayor at South Shields Town Hall for Henry.

In the ‘50s Henry returned to England a couple of times for the VC celebrations. His VC had been bought by a solicitor from Dunfermline, who lent him the medal to wear at the 1956 VC Centenary in Hyde Park, London. It’s reported that the medal was never returned to the solicitor.

On 4th March 1964 Henry died at Sunnybrook Hospital, Toronto. He was buried in the Veteran’s Section of York Memorial Cemetery, Toronto.

In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His medals were presented to the Royal Scots Museum in Edinburgh Castle by his daughter, Mrs Patricia Gaskin of Toronto.

In 2008 a commemorative plaque was unveiled at South Shields Town Hall and in 2014 a commemorative stone to mark Private Henry Robson’s bravery, was unveiled in Robson Way, South Shields.

Sources: Ancestry, Durham at War, Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria Cross.

Gary Alikivi  August 2020.

TYNESIDE WAR HEROES #3

THE DAY I WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS

Richard Wallace Annand VC (1914-2004)

I’m writing this on the day BBC TV are showing a service remembering the victory over Japan that brought an end to the Second World War. During the war, massive acts of heroism were shown by young men who were rightly awarded for their courage and bravery. Some hailed from the North East and in this post we focus on one young man from South Shields. This is his story.

I was born in South Shields, North East England on 5th November 1914. My father was Lieutenant-Commander Wallace Annand of the Royal Naval Division, he was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. My mother was called Dora and I was their only child. After leaving school and working in a bank, I joined the Tyne Division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. They promoted me to Sub-Lieutenant and I completed both, navigation and gunnery course.

When the war came I was a Second Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion DLI and we headed off to battle. On May 12th 1940, the company set up headquarters south of Paris. Three companies moved down into the valley with A on the right, B in the centre and D defending a road bridge on the left. C Company was sent to watch for any movement. There was a rumour that the Germans were hiding in the woods, so C Company withdrew and blew the bridge. This halted any German advance long enough to withdraw across the river.

The next morning, with the enemy on the opposite bank, the assault began with heavy mortar fire hitting D Company’s position beside the ruined bridge. I led two counter-attacks – I was wounded on the second.

The Germans crossed the river over-running a platoon of B Company. After desperate fighting we were unable to push the enemy back across the river and our position was raked with fire. A further attack was inevitable and, shortly after dark under cover of intense fire, the enemy again struck D Company’s position. Armed with grenades, I again went forward, inflicting significant casualties.

We were holding on, but elsewhere the Germans broke through, so a withdrawal was ordered. I realized Private Joseph Hunter was missing so I went back and found him wounded. I was bringing him back in a wheelbarrow and making good progress until my path was blocked by a fallen tree. I was feeling very weak because I’d lost a lot of blood, so didn’t have the strength to lift Hunter over the tree. I decided to leave him and set off for help. That was a hard decision. Soon after I collapsed but fortunately taken to safety and evacuated.

For his rescue attempt and courageous actions, Annand was presented with the Victoria Cross on 3rd September 1940. The VC is the highest and most prestigious award for courage in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was also made of Freeman of his hometown, South Shields.

Annand served in Britain for the rest of the conflict and much of his service involved training young soldiers, members of the Home Guard and commandos. Plus a spell at the War Office. As a result of permanent damage to his hearing, he was invalided out in 1948 with the rank of captain.

Annand worked at a training centre for disabled people, near Durham, and for the next 30 years devoted his life to helping disabled people. He maintained close links with his regiment, and was president of the Durham Branch of the Light Infantry Association until 1998.

Richard Annand passed away on Christmas Eve 2004, and was cremated at Durham City Crematorium. In 2007 a bronze statue of Richard was unveiled in South Shields Town Hall and in 2018 relatives from around the UK, Canada and Cyprus came together to see the memorial to their ancestor, which stands on the grand staircase of the Town Hall.

His medals including the VC, 1939-45 Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45,  and Army Emergency Reserve Decoration and Bar.

They were originally held on loan by the Durham Light Infantry, before in 2010 they were purchased privately by Michael Ashcroft and are now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London.

Gary Alikivi   August 2020

Sources: Ancestry, Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria Cross

 

POPTASTIC BUBBLEGUM – Back Where He Started From with singer & songwriter Vinny Edwards

‘Sky High’ by Jigsaw or Kim Carnes ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ are classic pop songs built on great hooks or a chorus – poptastic bubblegum made for radio. In the same bracket is the ‘70s hit ‘Back Where We Started From’ reaching number 8 in the UK charts and number 2 in the USA, an international song co-written by a lad from South Shields – not bad for a Sand Dancer.

A quick rundown of the career of singer/songwriter J. Vincent Edwards tells us he was born in 1947 and went on to make a number of records including the hit novelty song ‘Pump Up the Bitter’ in 1988.

I came across Vinny when I was reading the excellent blog ‘Ready Steady Gone’, authored by Roger Smith. He wrote that Vinny was born only 5 minutes away from the beach – a real Sand Dancer – if you’re not familiar with the term it refers to a native of South Shields.

Thanks to Roger I received an email from Vinny, and with correspondence over the next few days plus checking his songs on You Tube, a colourful picture of his music career emerged…Although I don’t live in the UK now I was born in Shortridge Street just off Ocean Road near the beach – I used to play there and the Marine Park – they were bloody cold!

I remember when I was 10 year old I got into music after hearing the American singer Sam Cooke – I was in! If God ever wanted to become a recording artist he would use the voice of Sam Cooke.

My first band was The Tyneside Skiffle Group featuring Vic Malcolm who was also in The Stormers and later started Geordie who had chart success. Then I was in The Invictors and then The Answers. I remember my audition for the Invictors at Tyne Dock Youth Club, I sang Stay by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs – blew them away !

In my early years we played all the North East working mens clubs. If you check out a group I was in during the ‘80s called Star Turn on 45 Pints – that was all based on playing the clubs especially Brigham & Cowans in South Shields. In fact we filmed some of the video there for our hit Pump Up the Bitter.

Did you have a manager or agent ? In the late ‘60s we were represented by Richard Harris and his company Limbridge Music. This was the time we moved to London and France with a band called The Answers who were signed to American label Colombia.

‘Right Back Where We Started From’ by British soul singer Maxine Nightingale was a hit in 1976, how did it come about ? I wrote that in Austria in 1972 while my darling wife Ursulla Skalla was in front of the mirror drying her hair! Thing was I didn’t have a title until one day I met an old mate and songwriter Pierre Tubbs and he came out with the title which fitted perfectly. We finished writing the song the next day when we were in his car driving over to Hammersmith Hospital to meet his wife who was having a baby!

Where did you take the song next ? Well Pierre worked at United Artists record company and Maxine Nightingale was around at this time, I knew her from our work in the musical Hair. We thought about a duet first but I had just signed to Privit Stock Records so I produced it myself and added backing vocals. I insisted that Maxine got royalties from the song and not just a session fee.

But I loved the recording studio, all the musicians we got in were wonderful. We appeared on TV all over the world, then with different songs from Hair, a song called Thanks plus a few others – there was a lot and I loved it all!

I was always asked to sign for various record companies they must have thought I was somebody else (laughs).

Check out Vinny’s impressive release of singles and albums throughout his career on CBS, United Artists, Hans, Pye, Polydor and many other record labels at discogs.

What does music mean to you ? Everything, fun, humanity, love and peace – just everything really.

What are you doing now ?  I’m caring for my wife’s parents, drinking good German beer and waiting for the Labour Party to get back in!

I’ll leave you with this song I wrote Keep on Trying from 1974, my band at the time The Usual Suspects played on we also had on bass the AC/DC and Def Leppard producer Mutt Lange – who hasn’t he produced, and he produced our single – happy days! Why not check it out on You Tube.

Link to Roger Smith’s blog Ready Steady Gone: http://www.readysteadygone.co.uk/

Interview by Gary Alikivi  July 2020.

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (10)

TYNESIDE VOLUNTEERS IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR.

The International Brigade Memorial Trust keeps the spirit alive of men and women from around the world, who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain from 1936 to 1939.

But who were the volunteers ? Over 20 years, Archivist Jim Carmody and historian Richard Baxell worked on putting together a list of their names.

A list of over 2,000 volunteers are available from the International Brigades on the link at the bottom of the article.

For some young men it was more than a shock to the system to see the brutality of war. On arrival in Spain 19 year old American Frank Neary was shot in the head on the first day and died in a Madrid hospital. German Artist Stephen Pollock, born 1914, was badly wounded at Brunete. From New Zealand came Doctor Douglas Jolly who was in charge of a mobile surgical team.

Angus MacLean travelled from Scotland but was ordered home after one month as ‘Since leaving Britain he spent most nights in brothels’.

There was a miner from Wales, Tim Harrington, who was withdrawn from battle as ‘he suffered with old lung injury after being gassed in WW1’.

Irishman Thomas Delaney volunteered in December 1936 but by February ’37 was ‘sent home, too young’.

Volunteers from the North East of England included Francesca Wilson born in Newcastle 1881. She was a Teacher who left England in 1939 and worked with refugees in Murcia where she founded a children’s hospital.

From Sunderland was NUWM officer Frank Graham, in Spain he served as a scout and intelligence officer, also Broadcaster on Radio Barcelona.

Included here is a detailed list of volunteers from Tyneside:

Name: Thomas Atherton. Place of birth: Jarrow 1903

Political organisation: None. Occupation: Seaman

Date of arrival: 27 September 1937. Brigade ID: 1312

Date of departure: October 1938

Comments: Captured in Aragon. POW San Pedro de Cardea. Accused of being Russian for having a bushy beard and almost shot.

Name: John Corby. Place of birth: North Shields 1902

Political organisation: None. Occupation: Painter

Date of arrival: 16 January 1938. Brigade ID: 1576

Date of departure: December 1938

Comments: Assessment: ‘Disrupter and deserter’.

First name: William Z Morrison. Birth: Wallsend on Tyne 1908

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Radio Expert

Date of arrival: 5 November 1937. Brigade ID: 1421

Date of departure: April 1938

Comments: In transmissions unit of the XV IB at Teruel. In Hospital in Barcelona with suspected appendicitis from 25 March 1938. ‘Deserted? Former Comintern radio operator in house in Wimbledon?’ 

Name: William Tattam. Place of birth: Whitburn 1907

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Miner

Date of arrival: 21 December 1936. Brigade ID: 339

Date of death: 17 July 1937. Where killed: Brunete

Comments: Believed to have died when the lorry he was riding in overturned on the way to Brunete.

‘When the British Battalion was moving up to the front at Brunete, William Tattam was sitting at the back of one of the trucks. The truck hit an obstacle in the road and William was thrown out of the truck and fell under the wheels of the following truck, he died instantly. His body was probably buried near the roadside where he was killed’.

Name: Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Place of birth: South Shields 1905

Date of arrival: 17 February 1937. Date of departure: June 1937

Comments: Worked in Independent Labour Party Office in Barcelona.

Name: Stephen Codling. Place of birth: South Shields 1907

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Lorry Driver

Date of arrival: 13 May 1937. Brigade ID: 1028

Date of death: 31 March 1938. Where killed: Calaceite

Comments: Acting commander of the British Battalion’s Communications Company. Captured at Calaceite on 31 March 1938. ‘Rumoured to have been seen in Barcelona in civilian clothes’.

 Name: Frank Antrim. Place of birth: South Shields 1904

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Auto-electrician

Date of arrival: 2 October 1937. Brigade ID: 1351

Date of departure: December 1938

Comments: Worked in Auto-Park. Believed to have trained Lewis Clive’s company in shooting and was asked to be a political commissar (information from conversation with his son).

Name: Arthur C P Teasdale. Place of birth: South Shields 1913

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Bricklayer

Date of arrival: 24 February 1937. Brigade ID: 872

Date of departure: 23 July 1938

Comments: Hands damaged by shrapnel. Deserted from 20th Battalion of mixed Brigade citing family difficulties. ‘Been in and out of jail in Spain. He was last arrested in Barcelona in May 1938. While in jail managed to get a bomb and set it off in the cell. He has become an enemy of the working class. He should be kept in mind as he was once a secretary of a branch in Communist Party Great Britain’. Repatriated.

Name: Samuel Thompson. Place of birth: South Shields 1916

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Miner

Date of arrival: 13 May 1937. Brigade ID: 1052

Date of departure: October 1938

Comments: A good report. ‘He was a good steady comrade, though not a brilliant brain.’ Originally believed killed, but actually taken prisoner. POW at San Pedro de Cardea

Name: John Palzeard. Place of birth: South Shields 1916

Date of arrival: 14 December 1936. Brigade ID: 625

Date of death: February 1937. Where killed: Jarama

Comments: Company runner at Las Rozas in No 1 Company.

This information was collated by IBMT archivist Jim Carmody and historian Richard Baxell between 1996 and 2016. The list drew upon a wide range of sources held in Britain, Spain and Russia, though principally those held in the International Brigade Archive in the Marx Memorial Library in London and the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History in Moscow.

http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/.

Gary Alikivi  May 2020.

 

EARTH WORKS for Teeside artist Andrew McKeown.

A current photography job I’m working on is documenting the regeneration project near the seafront in the North Marine Park, South Shields – really handy because I only live 2 minutes away. Within the building and restoration work pieces of public art are planned so I got in touch with the artist commissioned for the work…..I am currently working on designs for a large contemporary steel Beacon in North Marine Park, South Shields. The Beacon takes inspiration from the Lawe Top Beacons built in 1832. The words on the Beacon preserve maritime trade names and celebrate the character of the people of South Shields. The words and trade names have been suggested by the local community.

Do you always involve the community in a project ? Involving local communities is an essential part of my working practice. I have over 25 years of experience and knowledge in this area. For previous projects I have devised a wide range of community consultation programs involving local people and schoolchildren, from presentations through to hands on practical sculpture workshops and longer artist in residence programs. This work helps me refine ideas and sometimes new ideas are formed which develop into final sculptures.

It’s also equally important that local people have an opportunity to work together and create something positive for their community, to gain a sense of pride and ownership in the process and the final artwork. The processes involved in the engagement work is as important as the resulting artwork.

An interesting example of this approach can be seen in the sculpture ‘Breaking the Mould’ which takes the form of a giant seed which has emerged from an old industrial mould. The mould is broken and no longer useful but the last cast to be made is a new natural life form. The symbolism creates a striking resonance with the former and future uses of many of the 21 regeneration sites across England and Wales called Changing Places.

(The £60 million Changing Places program transformed 1,000 hectares of post-industrial derelict land into parks and open spaces).

Where did the idea come from ? During dialogue with East Manchester Ladies knitting group I distinctly remember writing some of the things they were saying to me, like ‘turning over a new leaf’, and ‘Breaking the Mould’ as we discussed their desire to move on and leave behind the scarred industrial landscape, changing it into a urban park and community facility through the Changing Places project.

What got you interested in art, was there a ‘wow’ moment when you saw something ? Not really, my upbringing was probably the biggest influence on that. It was a very creative upbringing.

McKeown grew up in a working class area of Middlesbrough, Teesside, UK, as the youngest in a family of four children…. We had a large garden where my father, a lifelong steelworker grew an abundance of fruit and veg. My mother was a primary school teacher and we were always building, making, cooking and exploring.

The family lived only a couple of miles away from the shipyards, coke ovens, blast furnaces and rolling mills of British Steel and the chemical plants of ICI… If we were feeling energetic, we would walk or cycle to Redcar beach or Eston Hills where iron ore was mined to fuel the industrial revolution.

At school, art was always my favourite subject and this inspired me to attend art college and then a Fine Art degree in sculpture at Coventry Polytechnic.

Following education, Andrew worked as a community artist delivering school and community based workshops and small art projects…These were low budget projects such as one-off workshop days and artist in residence projects. Gradually larger projects became available and I was able to create my own artwork with the involvement of local communities, rather than solely community generated art.

What inspires you ? The industrial processes of casting and mould making influence my work in both a practical and conceptual way. I often create multiple cast sculptures in iron, steel, bronze, aluminium and stone – these are very durable materials for external artworks.

McKeown uses recurring themes within his work of growth, change and renewal…. I like to work within the environment and this often means I have to build identity and add character to a space that has very little. Often I am working in empty fields or urban parks that only have a few shrubs and paths or working off landscape plans while looking at building sites and piles or earth.

Rather than creating one giant sculpture I often use the available budget to create a family of related sculptures that link to each other and draw your eye to the environment they are in. Other times I create entrance features that hope to draw people into a space. I prefer that people can engage with my sculptures becoming almost part of them for a brief moment.

On average how long do you work on a project for a client ? This is very hard to answer but the larger projects can be spread out over years to plan and develop. Then when it comes to manufacturing this can take as little as 2 months or if I am making patterns and moulds for casting this might take six to eight months.

Is there a satisfying moment during the art process ? I think the most satisfying time is when I have the right idea for a project. One that I know that I like and know the client and the community are going to like and buy into. This can often be the most draining and difficult process and it can take a lot of research and community work similar to the Breaking the Mould idea which came after maybe 8 months of research and community engagement.

What else are you working on ? I am currently finalizing designs for a Teeside Retail Park called ‘Rolled into One’. For this project I am engaging the local community to provide colloquial job or occupation names from the local iron and steel industry. Up to one hundred of these names will be applied to the outsides of the steel box section arms of the sculpture. There are many unique and interesting names such as Welder, Plater, Catcher, Striker, Roller, Breaker, Burner that will be used and many more. I am currently consulting the local community including my family and friends.

I’m also working on a few other projects, one called ‘Crossing Points’ for Groundwork North East River Tees Rediscovered project, another project is for Middlesbrough Council within its Creative Factory artistic interventions project – my pieces are called ‘Endless Convenience’.

Andrew lives and works in the North East of England and is available for public and private commissions throughout the U.K. and internationally.

For more information and images for previous artwork visit:

www.andrewmckeown.com

https://www.facebook.com/andrewmckeownsculptor/

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2020.

TALL STORIES

Painting with L.S.Lowry (1887- 1976)

Hanging on my wall is a fairly large (27 x 22inch) painting printed on wood – Industrial Landscape, Ashton under Lyme 1952 by L. S. Lowry. The original is in Bradford Art Gallery and Museum. I bought it in a charity shop a couple of years ago, the colours are faded as the previous owner must have placed it in direct sunlight, but still a bargain at £7.

When I first saw it I recognised the style as a Lowry – I like how he stretches everything – chimneys, buildings and people, the flat look with no shadows and how the factories fade in the background – capturing the heart and scale of industry.

Industrial Landscape by L.S. Lowry (1952).

During the ‘60s Lowry visited Sunderland and surrounding areas where he produced a number of oil paintings and sketches. In South Shields he produced The Ferry in 1967. After his visit the painting went on display in the art gallery in Sunderland.

Bill Clark, owner of the Clark Art gallery in Cheshire, bought the painting in 2010. He said: ‘Lowry was entranced by the North East and particularly by South Shields. ’The Ferry’ is one of the stand-out pieces he produced of the area in the 1960s’.

The Ferry by L.S. Lowry (1967).

Lowry used to spend short breaks at the Seaburn Hotel near Sunderland, painting and sketching scenes of the beach and nearby ports. The river Wear would be the closest to his hotel but in one sketch Tanker Entering the Tyne is a ship sailing around what could be the view from Comical Corner on the riverside near the boat builders yards on Wapping Street, South Shields. If Lowry was in Shields, is there a record of his visit ?

Born on 1st November 1887 Lawrence Stephen Lowry is on the 1911 census living at 119a Station Road, Pendlebury, Lancashire with his parents Robert, an estate agents clerk, and Elizabeth.

Lucy England, and a few year later 23 year old Alice Powell were employed by the family as domestic servants to help around the house as his mother Elizabeth had become bed ridden and dependent on her son. His father Robert died in 1932.

Lawrence worked through the day as a rent collector, then when he got home cared for his mother, only leaving time to paint through the night.

Lowry painted everyday scenes that he saw around him in England’s industrial North. ‘I never worked in a mill, it wasn’t a job I would of liked. Starting at 6 in the morning and finishing half past 5 at night. But I wanted to put the industrial scene on the map’ he said in a BBC interview in 1975.

He spent about 10 years in Art schools in Salford learning classical techniques, and though he focused on industrial scenes he produced a number of seascapes and portraits using simple materials and colours.

He had small exhibitions and his work was being noticed, but it wasn’t until aged 52 that his work was acclaimed. His mother never saw his success as she died in 1939, it deeply affected him and his work. The scenes he painted where full of people haunted with anger and pain.

Due to class snobbery his work wasn’t recognised by the self-appointed art elite in the south. The Tate Gallery held some of his work in their basement for decades, but it wasn’t until 2013 when they eventually held a Lowry exhibition.

Lowry turned down honours, O.B.E, C.B.E and a knighthood – ‘meaningless in the absence of mother’. He retired from being a rent collector at 65 and during this time visited the North East still making sketches of what he could see around him.

On 23rd February 1976 Lowry died of pneumonia at the age of 88. He had produced over 1,000 paintings and drawings and today there is an art gallery in Salford named after him housing the largest collection of his work. The world record sale for one of his paintings was for over £5 million paid for The Football Match.

Sources: Ancestry family search.

BBC News 2012 & 2013.

L.S.Lowry BBC film The Industrial Artist 1975.

 Gary Alikivi  May 2020.

 

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (3)

Unfortunately due to the Coronavirus pandemic the Local History library is closed so confirming details about the South Shields resident featured in this post has proven a bit more difficult. If a relative is out there please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We are looking at a Captain C.W. Dick who was in command of a ship that ran a blockade during the Spanish Civil War.

 

The Hansard revealed questions were asked in the House of Commons about the Civil War and the role of British Merchant ships. First Lord Admiralty, Sir Samuel Hoare said. ’The instructions to His Majesty’s ships have, since the beginning of the civil war in Spain, been to the effect that if it comes to the knowledge of a British man-of-war that a British merchant ship is being interfered with on the high seas by a Spanish warship, the British ship is to be afforded protection’.

I came across a newspaper report in The Shields Gazette, April 28th 1937 that featured Capt. C.W. Dick and the Olavus, a ship built in South Shields in 1920 at the Chas Rennoldson & Co. yard.

EXPECTED BATTLE ANY MINUTE (Headline)

Shields Man Who Ran Blockade

The Hull steamer Olavus under the command of Capt. C.W.Dick of South Shields which recently ran the blockade of Bilbao is expected to make a further effort next week.

It is understood she will sail from Liverpool for Barcelona or Valencia with a cargo of foodstuffs. The crew however, have intimated to owners, the Ohlson Steam Shipping Company from Hull, that they will not sail again for Spain under any circumstances.

The crew consists of British engineers and Dutch seamen who were signed on at Rotterdam after the original Shields crew had refused to sign on again for Spain.

For the past day or two Capt. Dick, whose home is in Ravenbourne Terrace, has been in Rotterdam awaiting instructions from the owners. At one time it was thought the Olavus would sail again from Holland, but the crew intimated that they did not wish to sail on any conditions.

Captain Dick’s last voyage to Bilbao was an exciting one. In letters to his wife he describes how the Olavus and the Thorpehall, were at one time surrounded by six battleships representing the insurgents.

‘Thank goodness it is all over and we are out of danger. It has been a great responsibility with all these men’s lives’. He explained that the reported mutiny on board the Olavus was pure fiction. ‘There was no trouble with the crew when she left Nantes. The only trouble we had was at the French port, where the crew of Dutchmen, learning they were to sail for Bilbao, asked to be paid off’.

Captain Dick pointed out that he could not do this and the crew approached their consul, who told them that nothing could be done, and that they would have to sail.

Thirty hours out from Nantes, they were inspected by a rebel cruiser, but no action was taken until two hours later when a shot was fired over the Olavus. He carried on at full speed for about five minutes, then the guns of the harbour fortress began to speak.

Capt. Dick was almost blinded by the second shot, which fell 40 feet astern the Olavus and thinking that the fortress had mistaken him for a rebel gunboat or did not want him to enter until daylight, he put about.

HMS Hood.

In running for the open sea again, the Olavus went through the supposed minefields. The crew by this time were terrified stated Capt. Dick. Describing the holding up of the Thorpehall, Capt. Dick said that Spanish, German and British ships had cleared their decks for action.

‘I expected a battle to start any minute’ he stated in a letter. ‘I was waiting for the rebel cruiser to start, but he slunk away followed by one of our fellows’.

After leaving Bilbao, the Olavus was stopped by a rebel cruiser and the German battleship Von Spree. The German ordered Capt. Dick to alter course and head for land. Unable to offer resistance and confident that the Olavus was about to be interned, the captain did so.

A few minutes later however HMS Hood arrived on the scene and the rebel and German gunboats steamed away. The Hood signalled to the Olavus ‘Good night and good voyage’.

A search reveals that the Thorpehall was attacked and eventually sunk near Valencia on 25th May 1938. HMS Hood was sunk during the Battle of the Denmark Strait in the Second World War, May 1941.

But what happened after 1937 for Captain C.W.Dick ? There is a record of a British Prisoner of War held in Japan on 15th Feb 1942. Is that him ? Hopefully more information can be found to confirm the story.

More research will be done when the Local History libraries open but for now in Postcards from Spain, the search goes on for North East stories from the Spanish Civil War. If you have any information please get in touch at garyalikivi@yahoo.com

Gary Alikivi  April  2020.

Sources: Ancestry, Hansard and The Shields Gazette.

HELLO TOMORROW: Changing Face of South Shields in photographs (4)

For the past 10 years I’ve set myself a documentary project capturing the changing face of South Shields. Included are a small selection of the photographs.

This is the seafront harbour where the river Tyne meets the North Sea. The new Littlehaven Promenade replacing an old path and car park. Previous posts feature other area’s of the town.

In 2013 South Tyneside Council proposed a very bold £100 million regeneration project for the town, and public consultations were held. Progress on different phases of the regeneration is ongoing as more developments are planned.

So far the council have delivered – Hello Tomorrow is not just a slogan on the posters.

Gary Alikivi  April 2020.

HELLO TOMORROW: Changing Face of South Shields in photographs (3)

For the past 10 years I’ve set myself a documentary project capturing the changing face of South Shields. Included are a small selection of the photographs.

This is Harton Quay next to the river Tyne, the ferry landing, the BT building and The Customs House theatre & arts venue. It’s also next to The Word and the Market, two area’s that have benefited from the 365 Town Centre Vision regeneration. Following posts will feature other area’s of the town.

In 2013 South Tyneside Council proposed a very bold £100 million regeneration project for the town, and public consultations were held. Progress on different phases of the regeneration is ongoing as more developments are planned.

So far the council have delivered – Hello Tomorrow is not just a slogan on the posters.

Gary Alikivi  April 2020.

HELLO TOMORROW: Changing Face of South Shields in photographs (2)

For the past 10 years I’ve set myself a documentary project capturing the changing face of South Shields. Included are a small selection of the photographs. This is the 250 year old market at the top of King Street and next to The Word featured on the last post. Following posts will include other area’s of the town.

In 2013 South Tyneside Council proposed a very bold £100 million regeneration project for the town, and public consultations were held. Progress on different phases of the regeneration is ongoing as more developments are planned.

So far the council have delivered – Hello Tomorrow is not just a slogan on the posters.

Gary Alikivi  April 2020.