From blitzed London to bombed South Shields

Workmen dig through the rubble in Saville Street following a bombing raid on South Shields in September 1941.
Workmen dig through the rubble in Saville Street following a bombing raid on South Shields in September 1941.

It’s hardly surprising that wartime evacuee John Barker has spent much of his 79 years puzzling over why he and his brother, along with a train-load of other vulnerable EastEnders, were transported from the blitz in London to Luftwaffe-targeted South Shields.

Surely, some would suggest, it was a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire?

For years, as previously reported, John had wondered why, only to have kept drawing blanks. It was known that many young evacuees had left bomb-blasted Shields during the Second World War, but bringing evacuees here ...

Yet as we heard last week, fellow East Ender, Fred Purkess confirmed the fact, when he got in touch to say he too was evacuated to Cleadon Village.

And now another reader has come forward to reinforce the story, telling how their grandmother was one of those who took in an evacuee.

“Thanks for the story about the evacuees to South Shields,” said Eric Mason.

“During the 1970s and 80s, my nana would always tell me the stories about Shields getting evacuees.

“I used to tell the tales to my teachers when I was in school, but I often received odd looks and told that was not possible as why would children be evacuated to such a heavily industrial area?

“Sadly its been a long time since I heard the stories, but I remember her telling me that she went to Harton Infants/Junior school with her mother, who was going to take in a child.

“She never had any plans to take anyone in as she had a toddler and a baby of her own, but when she got there she was overcome with sadness, especially since there were not enough places for all of the children.

“So she took in one of the children. My memory suggests it was a young boy who loved being with two younger children.

“I don’t believe they ever kept in touch.

“My other grandparents were originally from Cumbria, they later settled in South Shields; they too had evacuees, including one from South Shields, who was evacuated over there.

“Thanks for the story and the memories.”

Coincidentally, regular contributor Andrew Grant got in touch to tell us more about his family, including his parents’ wartime experiences.

“I remember my parents, my mother, Anna Phyllis Grant and my father, Lewis Grant, telling me about the death and destruction caused in South Shields by the Germans’ bombing,” said Andrew.

“They recalled the terrible air raids during which many people were killed or injured.

“My mother, who was working in Alston (the first time she had ever been away from home) was very worried about the safety of my grandparents and my aunt, Annie, her sister, along with my cousin Dorothy.

“At that time, my mother, who was doing inspection work for the Government, received a lot of help from a lady she worked with at Alston.

“She was a Church of England clergyman’s daughter who had been educated at grammar school, and kindly showed my mother how to do logarithms, a form of maths which my mother had never done before. Thanks to her work colleague, my mother soon mastered it.”

Whilst doing war work, Andrew’s mother, who was a member of the young Women’s Christian Association (an organisation aimed at promoting better relations between different peoples and cultures throughout the world) was reassured despite the air raids on South Shields.

“Thankfully, a Mrs Reeves, one of my mother’s neighbours in Chichester Road, always made sure my grandparents were safely housed in the air raid shelter before any bombing raids took place on South Shields.”

Andrew, who is a keen local historian, said his parents told him how South Shields lost more Merchant Navy seamen during the conflict than any other town or city in Britain.

“They also told me what life was like when food was rationed.

“They were only allowed a certain amount of food for one week. A family was rationed to three ounces of butter, four ounces of bacon, one pint of milk and one loaf of bread. It must have been quite difficult.”

Watch out for more recorded memories of Andrew’s family, including a link with film star David Niven, in the coming weeks.

What are your family’s recollections of the war years? Were they ever caught up in the air raids on the town?