The vital role that South Shields played in the Second World War - and here's why it was such a key town

A historian has taken a detailed look at the key role South Shields played in the Second World War.

Sunday, 6th September 2020, 7:00 am
The aftermath of an air raid at Barrington Street.
The aftermath of an air raid at Barrington Street.

Dr Craig Armstrong has researched the town’s role in the 1939 to 1945 conflict and produced a 112-page book on his findings.

They show that the area ‘made a significant and very loyal contribution to the war effort'.

And even though the area was hit hard in the 1930s – with political strife and crime both big problems – it fought back.

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The damage caused by an air raid on the Market Place in South Shields.

The town was important for the Merchant Navy and ‘probably had a greater percentage per head of population in this service than any other town or city’, said Dr Armstrong.

Shields also had important industries and Tyne Dock was ‘key to the supply of coal for London while the shipyards of the area performed sterling work’, said Dr Armstrong in his book.

“South Shields and its near neighbours such as Jarrow were key communities in the national war effort, despite their relatively small size. Located on the East Coast, South Shields was situated at the key entry to the strategically important River Tyne and was well defended against enemy attack.

"The seaside town saw a large military build-up with several different army and naval units rotating through the area to man defences and to train whilst the local Home Guard unit defended vital installations such as shipyards and docks.

A South Shields mother waits on the platform with her three children.

“Huge numbers of South Shields men and women volunteered for wartime service, while many others worked in vital wartime industries. The town had a particularly high number of men serving in the Merchant Navy and the South Shields mariners suffered very heavy casualties,” said Dr Armstrong in his new book 'South Shields At War 1939-45’.

South Shields’ multi-cultural population also helped hugely and it played a considerable and loyal role in the war effort.

The shipyards were a huge player as they made a significant contribution to the war effort, with vast amounts of coal transported from the docks of South Shields, especially Tyne Dock.

The book also looks at the contribution made by the men and women who volunteered for the ARP and Civil Defence Services.

The towns of Tyneside, including South Shields, were heavily attacked by the Luftwaffe and the blitzes of 1941 hit the town particularly hard.

‘No member of the community was left untouched by the war, whether they were evacuees, workers, servicemen or just civilians struggling to maintain a home in wartime Britain’, said the book.

"South Shields and its neighbouring communities made a considerable contribution to the war effort, one which deserves to be remembered.”

Northumberland-born Dr Armstong is an expert in 19th and 20th Century history, with a particular focus on social and military history.

He is a a freelance author and researcher and works with heritage groups as well as teaching part-time at Newcastle University.

The book is available for £14.99 from Pen and Sword Military in paperback.

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