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A family’s story of surviving a German air raid in South Tyneside

Air raid damage.
Air raid damage.

James Thompson has been in touch to say his late sister, Dorothy, was, at one time, a regular contributor to the Gazette.

He wrote: “We’ve now dealt with her estate so I feel the time is right to give you her last contribution.”

And what a fascinating account it is, not only recalling how the family survived a hit by a German bomb – but also telling how former TV’s Tomorrow’s World presenter Judith Hann used to visit their next door neighbours on South Tyneside.

“The following isn’t Tomorrows World,” says James, “but more like All Our Yesterdays.”

“During the Second World War we lived in Rose Crescent in Whitburn,” recalled Dorothy, in her recollections.

“In 1943 our next door neighbours were called Tommy and Agnes Wilks, they had a son called Ken.

“My father was a seaman and Tommy Wilks was a miner at Whitburn Colliery.

“Judith Hann, her mother,Connie, father, Ralph, and her brother would come and stay with our next door neighbours, the Wilks.

“Agnes Wilks was Ralph’s sister and although the Wilks were our next door neighbours, they actually lived in Fern Avenue, Whitburn.

“Ralph had a brother called Jim Hann, whose wife was called Lilias, and they also lived in Fern Avenue.”

One night, when the Hanns were staying at the Wilks, the Luftwaffe launched an aerial strike against South Tyneside.

“The air raid sirens sounded,” continued Dorothy, “and the Wilks and the Hanns, all, bar one, Ralph, trooped off to the Anderson air raid shelter.”

“Our shelter was filled with water and was useless, but as the Wilks had company, Judith Hanns’ family, we could not share their shelter.

“So my mother, Nancy Thompson, myself, and dog Peggy, had to stay beneath the stairs in a large cupboard.

“The dog slept in our washing basket while we had a small candle to be able to see.

“We heard a German aeroplane overhead, then the whole house shook and then there was the loudest bang I had ever heard.

“We were all okay and the next thing we heard was the all-clear siren.

“We made an effort to leave the cupboard beneath the stairs and were met by Tommy Wilks in our sitting room. My mother asked him how he had got into our house as she had locked the front door.

“Tommy replied that our front door was half-way up the stairs; it had been blown off its hinges and there was soot everywhere.

“We had to crawl over the furniture to get to the front door, to see that all our windows were blown in or broken.

“We then went upstairs to bed until daybreak when we could see what a mess we had in our home.

“My mother was horrified to see that we had two foot of soot around the fireplace.

“We then saw all of our neighbours coming out to see the damage.”

As mentioned earlier Ralph Hann had refused to go to the air raid shelter ... “he’d decided to stay in bed and pull the covers over his head. This was just as well, as the bed was covered with broken glass as was the floor.

“Ralph said ‘he wasn’t going to get up for Hitler as Hitler wouldn’t get up for him’ – and so had slept through it all!

“My grandmother came the next morning, she’d been told that our council houses had been bombed.

“She expected that we would all be dead.

“The best part of this raid was that the bomb crater in the field next to our homes filled with water and all the kids on the estate used to catch newts there ... so thanks Mr Hitler for that!”

As a post script, James adds: “Every time Judith Hann appeared on the TV my mother would say to me that she used to stay with the neighbours next door and that she would ask to walk me about in my pram.

“I heard that story, and the one about the night the door was blown off, countless times when I was a lad. I was born well after the war ended.

“I am sure that if you pass this onto Judith Hann she will well remember this event.”

What marvellous memories, please share yours with us.

Drop me a line if you will.