Bombs were raining on Shields like Smarties

A Heinkel bomber.
A Heinkel bomber.

Today more readers share their memories of the day a German bomber was shot down and crashed in South Shields. Four Britons and five Germans died and many more were injured in the incident, which happened on February 16, 1941, when the Heinkel He 111P came down in the town’s Bents Park.

Labourer William Graham was seriously ill in Ingham Infirmary when the pilot of the crashed Heinkel was brought in – and placed in the bed next to him.

His son, John, said his dad had been working at Redhead’s shipyard when he fell into the hold of a ship.

“He fell about 30ft and broke both his legs, an arm and his ribs,” explains 72-year-old Mr Graham, who lives in South Shields.

“As a result, he was in hospital a long time.”

While he was being treated for his injuries, the German raid took place, and Mr Graham later told his family about the young lad who was brought in and placed in the next bed.

“The German flyer, who landed on the trolley wires, was in the next bed to my father.

“My father said he was only 19 years old. He was in a really bad way, and sadly passed away.”

Mr Graham senior, who continued to work at Redhead’s, before retiring as a crane driver at the age of 60, said the young German was later buried in Southwick Church yard, in Sunderland.

Mr Graham said as a result of the works accident, his dad walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

l On the night of the crash, merchant seaman William Sharp Smith was also being treated in hospital when the German pilot was brought in.

His daughter, 84-year-old Marjorie Robson, said her father, who served on the oil tankers which, during the war, were forced to form up in convoys in a valiant attempt to evade the German U-boat “wolf packs”, had been with his ship on the Tyne when he took ill.

He was admitted to the Ingham Infirmary with ulcers.

“I don’t remember the air raid,” says Mrs Robson, who now lives just outside of Morpeth, “but I remember going to see my father in hospital.

“He told us that on the night of the air raid, he was going to the air raid shelter when he saw the pilot being brought in on a stretcher.

“He said his back was like a blood-soaked sponge. My father said ‘ poor lad’.”

Mr Smith, who went on to captain oil tankers before taking early retirement, was in hospital for a week before being released.

l Mr Kenneth Lowes, of Sycamore Avenue, South Shields, was 12 years old when the plane was shot down.

He told me that at the time there were two heavy guns positioned behind the town’s hospital (one of which was being manned by his uncle, who had been drafted in from Doncaster) while in Harton Lane, there were two large searchlights.

“That night my dad and I were walking along Harton Lane when the air raid sirens went off,” recalls 88-year-old Mr Lowes.

“The two searchlights picked out the bomber as it was heading to Newcastle.

“If they could have put a shell up the lights, they couldn’t have missed.”

As it was, the guns behind the hospital didn’t miss, and according to Mr Lowes, took the credit for bringing it down.

On another occasion, on a Saturday night, Mr Lowes, his father, mother and sister were visiting his grandmother’s house, in Simonside, when the air raid sirens sounded. The former butcher remembers his grandmother advising the family to go home to Nora Street “in case you haven’t got a house to go back to”.

But just as the family were making their way across the Simonside bridge, off Green Street, a German plane appeared.

“It came down so low that if you had had a metal pole in your hands you could have killed the pilot,” says Mr Lowes.

“My dad said ‘run’. He took up my sister and my mother, and I ran.

“You could see the bomb doors open and the incendiary bombs coming out like Smarties.”

Mr Lowes said the Germans were aiming for the covered railway sheds and the locos inside, which were a main distribution area for the Army.

He said although the family escaped unhurt, a number of houses in the town were destroyed in the raid.