Seeking details of evacuee’s stay in South Shields

Buildings destroyed during the blitz.
Buildings destroyed during the blitz.

For many years, Londoner John Barker has tried to find out more about one of the most dramatic times of his 79-year-old life – being evacuated to South Shields to escape the wartime blitz on England’s capital.

But despite seeking answers, he has so far failed to come up with any details.

John Barker and his brother Bill with their mother..

John Barker and his brother Bill with their mother..

So now he is calling on Time Of Our Lives readers to try to help him paint a picture of his time on South Tyneside and reveal more details about the family he and his brother stayed with.

Mr Barker said he and his brother Bill (who is 84) were evacuated from Stratford, in the east of London, in 1943 due to the threat of further bombing raids on the city by the Luftwaffe – when John was just five years old.

Although he remember little about leaving home and the journey north, he does recall arriving in Shields on a train full of other evacuees.

“There was a train load of us,” said John. “When we stopped, the whole train disembarked at South Shields,” said John.

“After getting off, we were taken to a school and given a meal, then people came and picked the children they wanted. My brother and I were the last two left to be picked before we were taken by a lady, who I think was called Mrs Foster.

“I can’t remember too much about it because I was too busy crying.”

Once the boys were selected they were taken to a house in the town, though John has no idea whereabouts in South Shields he stayed.

“We stayed with a family who had a boy of my age. I do remember that my brother and I slept on camp beds.”

Despite being vague about much of what the two of them did whilst on South Tyneside, John does recall some things.

“I remember falling into a rock pool during a visit to the beach. I also remember getting a penny whistle and fudge.”

Eventually however, it was considered safe enough to send the two boys (and presumably the others who travelled with them) back home.

“I don’t know how long we were there for, I just remember my mam coming for us and taking us home.”

And he was happy to get back to London.

“My time away was a terrible experience, I cried most of the time.”

Even so, John remains determined to find out more about his time as an evacuee, especially the timing of their journey north.

“At one time, Stratford was the most bombed place in England. But I don’t know why we were sent away in 1943, because the blitz ended in 1942.

“I’ve tried locally in Stratford for any records concerning our evacuation but they have no record of it. But surely someone somewhere must know why we were sent to South Shields, which was a shipbuilding town!

“Hopefully someone can tell us more about our time in South Shields, maybe they have photos or something.”

John’s daughter, Rebecca Strange said: “This has played on my father’s mind for many years.”

If anyone can help John’s research they can contact him at 55 Abridge Park Homes, London Road, Abridge, Essex. RM4 1XT.

When John left school at 15, his first job involved repairing bomb damage.

And there was a lot of damage to repair in London and elsewhere as the blitz brought destruction, not to mention death, injury and terror, from the skies during the early years of the war.

To protect children and mothers from the German onslaught, the government decided to “empty the cities”.

The evacuation plan was put into action in September 1939 and resulted in about 800,000 children leaving their homes for destinations throughout the country. Although many returned home after a few weeks, others stayed where they were sent for the whole of the war.