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‘Mam wasn’t religious, but prayed during the raids’ – South Shields women share stories of wartime bombings and evacuation

Digging air raid shelters in the Market before the Second World War.
Digging air raid shelters in the Market before the Second World War.

Even after all these years, memories of war still remain vivid for two South Tyneside women.

Both Margaret Lowes and Nancy Taylor recalled the times between 1939 and 1945 as part of a Life Story course they are taking at Saville Lodge sheltered accommodation, in Saville Street, South Shields.

Today, they kindly share those memories with us.

Margaret Lowes recalls: “I was five years old when war broke out.

 “We were issued with gas masks, and there was the black-out to contend with.

 “Many children were evacuated, but when nothing happened, they came back, and people began to relax – and then the bombing started.

 “It was mainly at night, it got to the stage where we just automatically went into the shelter on a night time.

 “We had a brick-built shelter in our backyard.

 “Sometimes neighbours shared a shelter and we would keep each other cheerful.

 “We made the shelters comfortable, with make-shift beds. We took flasks of tea and sandwiches in with us.

 “Mam wasn’t religious, but when we heard the drone of the planes coming overhead, she would put her arms around us and pray.

 “Dad would go into the yard and watch the action in the sky.”

 Margaret vividly recalls the night the Market Place was bombed in 1941.

 “Dad went to take a look at the damage (we lived only a short distance away).

 “Most of the surrounding buildings were flattened, including Crofton’s and Woolworths.

 “Chris B Watson’s and a couple of the pubs survived, as well as St Hilda’s.

 “Buses were still burning, it was like something from a disaster film.

 “My sister, Shirley and I were evacuated to a farm in the Midlands, and mam came with us.

 The farmer and his wife were creepy. Mam tried to get away, but it was so remote, there were no buses.

 “Eventually, when I caught measles, we were moved to a place where there were other families.

 “My husband, John, was only six years old when his dad was drafted into the army – he didn’t see him again until he was 12 years old.

 “John had to take his dad’s place, as did a lot of boys.  “John’s family lived on the Sutton Estate, and so they had an Anderson Shelter in their back garden.

 “John’s dad was at Dunkirk, which must have been awful but he never ever talked about it.

 “Three of my uncles were in the Army, mercifully they all came home safely.”

 Margaret remembers that everything was scarce.

 “We were shown how ‘to make do and mend’, making clothes out of almost anything.

 “I had never tasted a banana, and you had to queue for everything.

 “The spivs did well, they were the ones who could get anything and sell it on the black market.

 “It was the age of queues, it was jokingly said that if you saw a queue you joined it, not even knowing what it was for.

 “My school, St Bede’s, took a hit – the kids thought it was great.”

 Margaret said when Armistice was declared “everyone went mad” and just about every street celebrated with a party.

 “Our street was small, and so our celebration was like a big family party. Someone played the accordion, and we danced and sang. It was a day to remember.

 “Finally, the war was over, what a relief; no more shelters, but we did have rationing until the early 50s.”

Nancy Taylor tells how she remembers the war years: “I was seven years old when war broke out.

 “An air raid shelter was built in our backyard, and everyone was supplied with gas masks.

 “I remember going to the West Park one day, and some men were trying to get a barrage balloon in the air.

 “They were filled with gas, and helped to protect us from the enemy planes.

 “Dad stuck broad sticky tape over the windows to stop them from shattering.

 “Before an air raid, a siren would sound to let people know the enemy planes were on their way.

 “Mam would have blankets and food ready to take into the shelter in case we had to stay there all night. We would sleep on some wood which was used as a bed.

 “In the morning, my brother Alan would be out scouting for shrapnel from the enemy planes.”

 “It was awful some mornings going out and seeing shops and homes which had been bombed. There were lots of homeless people who were in shock who had to go to family or friends to stay. This meant many homes were overcrowded, but everyone helped each other. “

 Nancy said when she went to school, she and the other children had to practice putting on their gas masks and going to a shelter, which was similar to having a fire drill.

 “My family was not in the forces, George worked in the shipyards and Audrey worked in the Golden Lion Hotel, in King Street.

 “One night when Audrey came out of work, the sirens were going, then the bombs started dropping. She was very scared and ran into Woolworth’s doorways, she was trying to get to the shelter in the Market Place before going home.

 “Audrey was too young to join the forces and was sent to Chorley, where she worked as a waitress in the Highway Hostile Barracks, where servicemen went – she loved it.

 “When things became worse Alan, Doris and I were evacuated to Morpeth, and lived with aunty Annie and uncle Matt and Bill.

 “It took us a good while to settle in, but we soon started school and made friends.

 “Morpeth was still in black-out, but no sirens went off.

 “Everyone was very happy when the war ended in 1945.”

The next Life Story course starts in January.

l For more details contact Janet Wylie on (0191) 4554830, 07954413542 or email her on 54janet@live.co.uk