Nurse's kindness to German pilot
I am particularly grateful to the families of the brave men who lost their lives trying to save the crew of the enemy plane that crashed in Bents Park, for their assistance in shedding light on the dramatic and ultimately tragic events of that night.
Today two more readers give their personal and touching accounts of the incident which left nine men dead.
Heather V Thomas, who is a volunteer at South Shields library, says: “My late parents, Vera and John Sharp Thompson, often related to me the incident of the night of February 16, 1941, when the German bomber crashed in Bents Park.
“I have since discovered that the aircraft was a Heinkel 111P-4 medium bomber (fuselage marking 5J + GP) of 6th Squadron, 4th Bomber Group (6/KG4), based in the Netherlands, and piloted by Oberfeldwebel (Flight Sergeant) Wilhelm Beetz.
“While bailing out Beetz’s parachute was caught in trolleybus wires near the Sea Hotel.
“Although he was electrocuted, Beetz did not die immediately, but remained for some time entangled in the wires, only to die later in the Ingham Infirmary.
“The reason why this sad event became so significant for my family’s history is that my father happened to be a patient in the Ingham Infirmary at that time.
“He had been hospitalised there for many months, suffering from rheumatic fever, which he had contracted as a volunteer auxiliary fireman on night duty in Laygate.
“His condition was caused by sleeping in a bunk with a saturated mattress while awaiting call-out.
“While in the Infirmary, the dying pilot did cry out for his mother, as you reported in your column.
“But for my parents, the most significant aspect of this incident was the real humanity shown by a kindly nursing sister.
“Hearing his desperate cries, she put on her overcoat to cover her uniform, sat beside Wilhelm Beetz and pretended to be his mother, comforting him as he approached death.
“The 23-year old Luftwaffe pilot died at peace.
“He and his four comrades are buried in Hylton Cemetery.
“In February 1941, my father, a 27-year old handsome man, had been married for only six months to my mother Vera (née Young).
“He was also a victim of the Second World War, for he never fully recovered his health, enduring a heart condition and spinal curvature, which lasted the rest of his life, and eventually resulted in his premature death at the age of 58.
“This is an accurate account of the incident as told to me by my parents. My father, as a patient, was very friendly with several members of the nursing team and my mother was a regular visitor to the hospital.”
Fellow auxiliary fireman, John (who was better known as Jack) Wharton lost his life trying to rescue the German crew, trapped inside the burning plane.
His daughter Cecily Bennett said her father, who was a tram driver, was supposed to be on leave, the night the Heinkel was hit and came down.
“He was off duty that night,” said 84-year-old Mrs Bennett.
“But he said ‘I had better go in in case someone is off’.
“As it turned out, one person had flu and hadn’t turned in, so my father was at the front of the hose tackling the fire when the bomb went off. He only had a few scratches, but he died later in hospital due to his injuries. He was 36”
Mrs Bennett said her family, which included her mother Elizabeth and two sisters Betty and Grace, had been living on a farm in Sussex before the war, but moved back to Shields (and a home in May Street) when hostilities broke out.
Upon his return to the town, Mr Wharton joined the auxiliary fire service.
Following his death, Mr Wharton’s family received letters of acknowledgment from the mayor of South Shields and the government.
Also killed that night were PC Leslie Lamb, leading fireman Albert G Purvis and fireman George Walter Lyall Renwick, along with the five German crewmen.
PC Lamb’s sister-in-law Mrs Mary Lamb is now hoping a memorial can be erected in the park to mark the tragedy.
“I think the incident should be marked in some way,” says Mrs Lamb.
“There should be a memorial in the park so that people know what happened there.”
And Mrs Bennett agreed.
“It was very brave what my father did,” she said. “It would be lovely to have a memorial to those who died.”
l Do you know the name of the nurse who cared for the dying airman in the infirmary?
Please get in touch if you do.