Why hundreds of East End children were evacuated from London to Luftwaffe-targeted South Shields during the Second World War can be answered in a single word, says local historian Dorothy Ramser – doodlebugs.
For when the youngsters arrived here by train in the summer of 1944, the Germans were unleashing hundreds of V-1 flying bombs a day on the already badly-Blitzed capital.
By the end of the attacks, the ‘doodlebugs’, as they were known, had claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people.
The question as to why so many East Enders were to an industrial port already bombed by the Nazis was first raised by one such evacuee, John Barker.
Dorothy’s research provides the explanation.
She said the first flying bomb fell on London on June 12, 1944, while the Battle for Normandy, behind the D-Day beaches, was raging as the German armoured divisions lined up in front of the British sector.
“As the attacks increased it was decided to resume the evacuation protocol for both mothers and children in both London and south east counties,” says Dorothy.
“On July 1, the Government asked for the evacuation of those in ‘bomb alley’ and metropolitan London.
“Four days later, the first batch left London, with all trains filled to capacity.
“These evacuations lasted two months, and involved 307,600 mothers and children.”
Dorothy revealed that at its worst, more than 100 rockets per day were fired at south east England, with 2,420 falling on London.
They killed 6,184 people and seriously injured 17,981, while also damaging 1.1 million structures.
“Evacuation,” she says, “was definitely a necessity.”
Here Dorothy diaries V-1 (or P-Plane) attacks and details some of the resulting consequences of the evacuation.
June 20, 1944: Southern England, early morning workers were killed and injured.
One of the injured men said: “The flying bomb came down in the road a few yards away.
“Its engine must have been shut off some time before it fell, because nobody heard it approaching.
“I was blown across the road and two of my mates were killed.”
Eleven people are known to have been killed when a P-Plane demolished a property.
Eleven others were reported missing and rescue workers, using shovels and their bare hands, removed the debris under which it was believed the occupants were trapped.
Five Home Guard members were killed and 10 injured by a flying bomb whilst on duty at their post in a school.
Another pilotless plane hit a house and blew it to pieces leaving just the foundations.
One man, whose house collapsed, and who was buried up to his neck in debris, was rescued uninjured.
June 21: Many P-Planes shot into the sea. Dull and cloudy weather probably accounted for the slight increase in raids.
The machines could not be so easily spotted making off from their launching sites over the Channel.
One raider was heard approaching; suddenly there was a burst of cannon fire and the harsh throb of the raider’s engine stopped and people on the coast a few seconds later heard a loud explosion off the shore.
An RAF fighter pilot had made his kill.
July 6: P-Planes hit three hospitals.
At one, a maternity patient, a baby and nurse were killed and others injured by flying glass.
Four people were killed in another. Courageous nurses carried children to safety.
At one hospital, the flying bomb just missed the main buildings and crashed onto the hospital laundry.
Windows, ceilings and walls of the wards were shattered.
Forty mothers and babies were covered in shattered glass and debris.
July 15: Over 30,000 more London children and their escorts left by rail yesterday for evacuation to safe areas.
It is expected that eventually 20,000 evacuees will be housed in Tyneside towns.
July 19: Newcastle and Tyneside’s evacuee billeting problem has been solved thanks to the warm-hearted folk of the area who have opened their homes, not only to the children, but also to the mothers.
Throughout the day the evacuees were talking about the grand reception they had on arrival.
Householders were meeting the buses and hurrying off with kiddies and mothers into their homes. Tea and food were waiting.
July 24: The Tyneside Council of Social Services, in connection with evacuees from the south says: “Most local authorities in areas which have received people have opened centres for giving information and help.
“In these centres the first essential needs of evacuees are dealt with.
“Evacuees have many immediate difficulties in connection with ration books, loss of income, lost allowance books, clothing etc.
“These centres are not only able to advise but to help.
“The centres are staffed by the officers of the local authority and the Government departments concerned and by trained volunteers.”
August 4: In view of the recent influx into the town of over 2,000 evacuees, South Shields Food Control Committee, at its monthly meeting, passed a resolution that a protest be made to the divisional officer at the lack of selectivity in points goods.
Mr R Hudson, representative of the town’s grocers, suggested that an allocation of points be made to enable the individual traders to stock goods in an effort to supply the increased population.
August 23: There is a five-days-a-week service of clubs for evacuee mothers at South Shields, run by the Standing Conference of Women’s Organisations on Tyneside.
The list is as follows: Sunday, WVS rooms, Westoe Road/warden’s post, Talbot Road; Wednesday, St Michael’s House, Westoe Road; Thursday, Harton Church Hall, Sunderland Road; Friday, Trinity House, Laygate and Saturday, St Thomas’ Hall, Denmark Street. Mothers from London invited to call between 2pm-4.30pm and to bring their small children.
* Do you remember the evacuees’ time on South Tyneside? We’d love to hear your memories.