How Winston Churchill encouraged us to defy Hitler during South Tyneside’s dark days

Winston Churchill giving his famous 'V for Victory' sign.
Winston Churchill giving his famous 'V for Victory' sign.

As South Shields, along with the rest of Britain, faced some of its darkest times of the Second World War, a morale-boosting initiative was launched 77 years ago today.

It was aimed at sending a message of defiance to Hitler’s Nazi Germany – spreading Winston Churchill’s iconic two-fingered ‘V for Victory’ gesture near and far.

A policeman stands among the rubble left in South Shields Market Place following a German air raid in 1941.

A policeman stands among the rubble left in South Shields Market Place following a German air raid in 1941.

Throughout 1941, the Luftwaffe continued its reign of terror and destruction across the land.

Here, raids by German bombers took their toll, and as the pictures here show, badly damaged and devastated St Hilda’s Church and South Shields Market Place, along with other areas of South Tyneside.

In a bid to strike back, morally at least, Prime Minister Churchill, in a radio broadcast at the time, called on everyone to follow his lead and use the ‘V for Victory’ sign whenever and wherever possible.

As a result of the campaign, painted letter Vs began to appear on walls throughout the continent, while other brave souls could be heard tapping it out in Morse code on shop counters with knuckles, beer glasses or pencil stubs.

Barrington Street in South Shields after a German bombing raid.

Barrington Street in South Shields after a German bombing raid.

From one wartime leader to another, and a new book which I’m sure will appeal to a lot of readers – A Certain Idea of France, The Life of Charles de Gaulle.

Written by Julian Jackson and published by Allen Lane, this is a big book worthy of the big man who led France from the turmoil of the Second World War and on through the ‘Cold Years’.

It begins with the days when France is over-run by Hitler’s mechanised war machine, recalling de Gaulle’s rallying call to his fellow Frenchmen and women from exile here in Britain.

Interestingly enough, despite his defiant words, few of his fellow countrymen knew who he was at the time.

St Hilda's Church in South Shields after a 1941 bombing raid.

St Hilda's Church in South Shields after a 1941 bombing raid.

All that would change, however, as de Gaulle went on to become one of France’s giants, a role befitting a man of such huge physical stature.

But as Jackson reveals in this fascinating, easy-to-read account, for all his political foresight (he predicted that Britain would struggle to become integrated in Europe) and subsequent admirers (both Nixon and bin Laden were fans!) he comes across as a bit of a cold fish.

A bumper hardback book that is both an eye-opener and page-turner, it’s well worth its £35 price tag.