Floral tribute to hero
Last week, as I reported, marked the 75th anniversary of the day when a German Heinkel bomber was shot down and crashed in South Shields, killing nine men and injuring many more.
Today the son of one of those men reveals more details of the crash and subsequent explosion, which could be heard as far away as Newcastle, including the fact that his father died trying to rescue the enemy crew from their burning plane.
And in a remarkable twist to the tragic tale, he reveals how he and his family – including his German daughter-in-law and grandchildren – joined together to lay a floral tribute at the crash site on the anniversary of the incident.
As I explained last Monday, the crash happened on February 16, 1941, when a Heinkel He 111P, along with 129 other enemy aircraft were engaged in a bombing mission, stretching down the North East coast, from Berwick to Hull.
During the raid, the Heinkel was hit by anti-aircraft fire, and came down in Bents Park, where it later exploded.
Four of the plane’s crew (Hptm Heinz Strya, Uffz Karl-Gunther Brutzsam, Uffz Helmut Herbert Jeckstadt and Gefr Franz Janeschit) died in the wreckage, but a fifth, believed to be the pilot, whose name was Ogefr. Wilhelm Beetz, bailed out. However, he struck live trolley bus wires and later died in hospital.
Twenty five minutes after the plane crashed, just as members of the emergency services were attending the scene, a mine on board the aircraft exploded, killing one officer of the borough police force and an auxiliary fireman. Two other members of the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) died in hospital.
Those killed were constable Leslie Lamb, leading fireman Albert G Purvis, fireman George Walter Lyall Renwick and fireman John Wharton.
Seventeen more members of the police force, fire brigade and AFS were injured, some gravely, and were admitted to the Ingham Infirmary.
Mr Renwick’s son, Mr Wallace Renwick Hobson (who was later named after the man who went on to rescue him and his mother from another air raid, which I shall detail later in the piece), got in touch to tell me more about the incident.
He said his father, who like himself was known as Big Wal, was the publican of the Wellington pub in Woodbine Street, South Shields. He was also an auxiliary fireman.
On the night of the crash, fireman Renwick was not due to have been on duty, but another fireman called round for him, saying he was needed, after word had come through of an expected big raid.
Mr Hobson reveals that at the time, his father said: “England expects every man to do his duty, I will have to go” and left for duty. Sadly he never returned home.
For he was tackling the flames that were engulfing the downed Heinkel when the mine exploded.
“It was said that the leading fireman at the front of the hose pipe went down with heat exhaustion due to the strength of the flames,” explains 76-year-old Mr Hobson.
“My father picked up the hose and went back in. The Germans were trapped inside the cockpit and were screaming for help.
“He was trying to get them out when the plane exploded, and he died.”
Mr Hobson, who lives not far from the crash site in Beach Road (“I walk past there every day”), says he is proud of the part his father played in trying to rescue the German crew.
And in a strange twist of fate, he told how his own son, and Mr Renwick’s grandson, Eric Renwick Hobson, went on to marry a German woman, Simone Blomberg.
Together with the couple’s two children, Imogen (17) and Finn (14), and their grandad, the family paid their respects to Mr Renwick by placing flowers in Bents Park on the day of the anniversary.
Going back to the war years, it was speculated, at the time, that the Heinkel was heading for the Mile End bridge, which its crew mistook for the Newcastle Bridge, when it was shot down.
Mr Hobson went on to say that a year after the plane crash, he and his mother Eva became trapped when a bomb fell on their house in Pollard Street, South Shields.
They were rescued by Archie Hobson, who went on to marry Eva and adopt her son.
“I remember the bombers coming over,” adds Mr Hobson.
“Afterwards we would go out with magnets, looking for bits of shrapnel to sell.”
l Many more of you have been in contact regarding the Heinkel incident. I will be featuring more of your accounts in the coming days.