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

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.

Thursday, 19th July 2018, 10:05 am
Updated Thursday, 19th July 2018, 12:42 pm
Winston Churchill giving his famous 'V for Victory' sign.

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.

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

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

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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.

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.

Barrington Street in South Shields after a German bombing raid.

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.

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.

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

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.