World War Two and North East England 1939-1949

North East England and World War Two 1939 to 1949

Like the Great War of 1914-18, the Second World War caused a huge loss of life for the men of the region fighting in foreign lands and also placed a great demand on the manufacturing industries back home. Many lives were lost in the North East, where the great industrial centres of the Tyne, Tees and Wear were a constant target for the bombing raids of German aircraft. Even non-industrial cities like York were in danger and were targeted specifically because of their rich heritage in the so-called ‘Baedeker raids’ aimed at demoralising the British nation by the destruction of its history.

👈1920-1938 | Timeline1950-1969 👉

RAF Milfield memorial.
Memorial at the site of RAF Milfield in north Northumberland to those who served at the base 1941-46 . Photo © David Simpson 2018

1939 – DLI moves to Brancepeth

The Durham Light Infantry headquarters is relocated to Brancepeth after many years located outside the county at Fenham Barracks in Newcastle which they had shared with the Northumberland Fusiliers.

1939 – Priestman Library

The Priestman Library, funded by industrialist, Sir John Priestman, opens in Sunderland as part of Sunderland Technical College. It is situated in Green Terrace, opposite the college’s Galen Building.

Sept 3, 1939 – Nation at War

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announces that the nation is at war with Germany. Preparations are already well under way. On September 1st and 2nd, thousands of children were evacuated from the Newcastle area to rural parts of Northumberland, Cumberland and Yorkshire, although many will return before the end of October.

Sep-Oct 1939 – Northern troops in BEF

The 2nd battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) and likewise the 2nd battalion Northumberland Fusiliers is deployed in France and Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).

1940 – North East raids

Throughout the Second World War, the North East and particularly the industrial riverside heartlands of Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside will suffer constant raids from enemy aircraft. Shipyards, steelworks, collieries and the associated residential areas of their workforce are all targets.

Hebburn riverside pictured from Wallsend
Hebburn riverside pictured from Wallsend. Photo © David Simpson 2018.

April 1940 –  Norway and Denmark seized

German troops seize Norway and Denmark providing them with a base for air raids on the North East of England.

May 1940 – Troops in North Africa

The 1st battalion of the Durham Light Infantry is currently deployed in the North African campaigns. Also in North Africa, since the outbreak of war, stationed in Egypt, is the 1st battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers deployed to Mersa Matruh in the western desert towards Libya where it is involved in the expulsion of the Italians from Egypt.

May 10, 1940 – Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill succeeds Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. Chamberlain resigned following criticism from members of the House of Commons over his leadership and handling of the war.

May 15, 1940 – Heroic South Shields soldier

South Shields-born 2nd Lieutenant Richard Annand who serves in the Durham Light Infantry and part of the British Expeditionary Force, will receive a Victoria Cross for his heroic act on the night of May 15-16, 1940. He defended an attack from opposing forces across a river in Belgium, by solely venturing onto a broken bridge amidst heavy fire. Armed with grenades he took out a German party involved in repairing the bridge. Following a further attack he ventured again into enemy territory with grenades and was wounded. After his troops were ordered to withdraw he learned his wounded personal servant was left behind so returned to rescue him using a wheelbarrow before losing consciousness from his own wounds. He was awarded the VC in 1940 and promoted to Captain in 1948. In later life Annand was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for County Durham from 1956, he lived in retirement in Durham City until his death in 2004.

Richard Annand

May-June 1940 – Evacuation at Dunkirk

Troops of the Durham Light Infantry and Northumberland Fusiliers are amongst those involved in the retreat from Europe and evacuation of Dunkirk in late May and early June.

May 26 – June 4, 1940 – Battle of Britain

After over-running France, Belgium and Holland, the German forces gather on the coasts of Europe in preparation for an invasion of Britain. German air raids commence as they must gain air supremacy over Britain before any planned invasion can begin.

May 24-26, 1940 – Teesside Bombings

Some of the first German bombs to hit England are in the South Bank Road area of Middlesbrough on the Dorman Long Industrial plant on the night of May 24-25. There were injuries but no fatalities. Middlesbrough becomes the first industrial town in England to be targeted by a German Luftwaffe raid.  In June, a bomb hits the car of the Transporter Bridge.

Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough
Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough © David Simpson 2021

June 19, 1940 – Tees and Hartlepool raid

On the night of June 19-20, two people are killed in an air raid on West Hartlepool. One of the dead was an air raid warden. Two men were killed at ICI Billingham.

July 2, 1940 – Fourteen dead at Jarrow

In early July fourteen people are killed in an air raid upon a mostly residential area of Jarrow and on the night of July 6-7 three people were killed at Shotton Colliery in eastern Durham, during an air raid. Raiding also took place that night at Whitley Bay and Monkseaton.

July 28, 1940 – Newcastle bombed

On the night of July 28-29, three women were killed by bombs dropped across Newcastle. The fatalities were at Heaton, West Jesmond and Benwell.

Aug 9, 1940 – Sunderland raids

Four people were killed in an air raid at Sunderland on the night of 9-10 August. A fifth person was killed by a bomb at South Shields. An enemy plane involved in the Sunderland raid fell into the sea off Whitburn and its crew rescued.

Aug 13, 1940 – Airfields are targets

On August 13, German aircraft started bombing British airfields. Many of the raids on the North of England come from German bases in Stavanger, Norway, and Aalborg, Denmark. Most of the targets lie between the Tyne and the Humber and German aircraft have to fly 400 to 450 miles to reach them. An early wave of bombers was intercepted off the Farne Islands by 12 Spitfires from RAF Acklington in Northumberland. The German bombers had planned to fly across the coast south of the Tyne on their way to attack the North Yorkshire airfields, but they make a navigational error. The Spitfires are assisted by Hurricanes and the force of German bombers is broken up.

Farne Islands
The Farne Islands viewed from the dunes near Seahouses. Photo © 2015 David Simpson

Aug 15, 1940 – County Durham air raids

On August 15 raids across County Durham and Sunderland claimed several lives. Eleven people were killed at Dawdon Colliery near Seaham; twelve at Easington Colliery; two at Hawthorn; four at Sunderland and one at Thornley. They reached inland as far as Barnard Castle where there was a single fatality, with single deaths also recorded at Bishop Auckland, Witton Park and High Etherley.  Around sixty bombs were dropped in the Cassop and Quarrington Hill areas of Durham though it’s not clear what the intended target was meant to be.

Aug-Sep 1940 – Hebburn and Hartlepool 

A raid at Hebburn left two dead on the night of 24-25 August. Fatalities were also recorded at South Shields and West Hartlepool. On the night of 25-26 August there was another fatality at West Hartlepool and on Teesside a man was killed by shrapnel from a bomb while crossing Stockton’s Victoria Bridge that links the town to Thornaby. Meanwhile, much further north, a bomb fell on Holy Island near Lindisfarne Castle.

Another three people died on August 26-27 at West Hartlepool along with five fatalities at Grangetown on Teesside. West Hartlepool was hit again on the night of 29-30 when nine people were killed. Two lives were claimed in a raid at Monkseaton near Whitley Bay that same night. In early September (3rd-6th) two people were killed in raids upon the Heaton area of Newcastle and a woman was killed in the Hendon area of Sunderland after an enemy plane was shot down.

Lindisfarne Castle
Lindisfarne Castle: a bomb dropped near the castle in August 1940  © 2015 David Simpson

Oct 13, 1940 – Raids : Teesside to Teesdale

Most of the German bombing targets in the region are in the industrial areas of the east. On the night of October 13-14, twenty one people are killed in Middlesbrough, sadly many of them died in air raid shelters intended to protect them. It seems nowhere is safe. Up in Teesdale, ten bombs are dropped close to High Force waterfall on the night of October 19-20, forming craters upon impact.

High Force
High Force © David Simpson 2021

1940 – Colliery closures

Dipton Colliery near Stanley; St Hilda’s Colliery at South Shields and Swalwell Garesfield Collieries close this year.

1941 – Reconnaissance photos

The Germans have detailed plans and aerial reconnaissance photographs of industrial sites on the Tyne, Wear and Tees which they use in their targeting of sites in North East England.

1941 – RAF Stations

Goosepool RAF Station is established at Middleton St. George. It will later become Teesside Airport. This is one of many RAF stations situated throughout the region.

Feb 1941 – Seaham, Sunderland, South Bank

On the night of February 16-17 four people were killed in a raid upon Seaham Harbour and thirteen at South Bank on Teesside. On the night of 23-24 February air raids on the Tunstall area of Sunderland kill six women and a six month old baby. Another baby, only eighteen months old, whose mother was killed in the raids, is found alive in a room with the roof blown off.

Mar 13, 1941 – Bombs near football ground

Four people were killed by falling bombs at Francis Street near Roker Park football ground, home of Sunderland Football Club on the night of March 13-14 . A further four people are killed the following evening with bombs again focused on the terraced streets near the football ground (the ground itself would be hit in May 1943).

Apr 7, 1941 – North Northumberland raids

Two people were killed at Cleadon and one at nearby South Shields on the night of April 7-8. Many rural areas of north Northumberland were hit with bombs on this night. Bombs fell in such remote locations as Hedgehope Hill in the Cheviots and the College Valley both, near Wooler as well as in Coquetdale and in the area around Ford and Lowick in the north east of the county.

Apr 7, 1941 – Bombs near football ground

Bombs fell close to St James’  Park football ground, the home to Newcastle United on the night of April 7-8, 1941. Three high explosives fell in nearby Leazes Park and one on the junction of Wellington Street and Stanhope Street.

April 9, 1941 – Raids on Tyne and Wear

On the night of April 9-10, raids focused in and around the shipping and shipbuilding areas of North Shields and Wallsend and left thirty-five dead. A further twenty-four were killed across the river in the Jarrow area. Raids that evening reached as far as Castleside near Consett where 200 incendiary bombs were dropped. Two people also died at Sunderland. Further bombing came to Sunderland on the night of April 15-16 in which eighteen people were killed in raids. The Winter Gardens were hit and the nearby Victoria Hall Theatre – the scene of a tragedy in 1883 where 183 children were killed  – was destroyed. Fifteen people were killed at Whitley Bay in the Ocean View area.

Winter Gardens Sunderland
Winter Gardens, Mowbray Park, Sunderland : Photo © David Simpson

Apr 25, 1941 – Newcastle and Tyneside raids

On the night of April 25-26 raids claimed the lives of forty-seven people in the Heaton area of Newcastle. Seventeen were killed at Wallsend; seven at South Shields, with fatalities also recorded at Seghill, Blyth and Shiremoor.

May 3, 1941 – Tragic raid at North Shields

There were two fatalities in air raids at West Hartlepool on the night of April 30-May 1 and seventeen fatalities at Sunderland  on the night of May 3-4 in which around eighty-five people were left homeless. That same night was exceptionally tragic for North Shields where the Wilkinson lemonade factory was hit. Here, there were 190 local residents taking shelter in its basement and 107 were killed including several families. A further six people died in the town during raids on May 5-6 1941 and four were killed at Cullercoats. Two people were killed in raids at Haverton Hill near Stockton on May 6-7.  On the night of 11-12 May, twelve people died at Hartlepool; six at Stockton and one at Middlesbrough.

Port of Tyne at Tyne Dock (centre) pictured from North Shields
Port of Tyne at Tyne Dock (centre and right) pictured from North Shields © David Simpson 2018

May 1941 – DLI losses at Halfaya Pass

The first battalion of the Durham light Infantry who are operating in the desert campaigns of North Africa suffer heavy losses during the attack of the Halfaya Pass.  In June the battalion is moved to Syria. Soldiers are deployed to Syria but will return to assist with the siege of Tobruk (which also involves the Northumberland Fusiliers) before deployment to Cyprus.

June 2, 1941 –  Berwick bombed

Eleven were killed at Spittal, Berwick upon Tweed on the night of June 2-3. Bombers were back at  Berwick upon Tweed again on the night of Aug 3-4 when six people were killed.

The Royal Tweed Bridge, Berwick
The Royal Tweed Bridge, Berwick. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Aug 13, 1941 – Bombings: Tees, Wear Tyne

On the night of August 13 two people were killed by a bomb at Horden Colliery in east Durham and four killed at Fulwell, Sunderland. Three children and an old lady were killed after a bomb struck a house in Gateshead on the night of August 14-15. The following night eight were killed by a bomb at Norton on Teesside – seven people in one house, including five children. Three nights later (Aug 18-19) another six people were killed at Norton and twenty-three were killed at West Hartlepool.

Sep 1, 1941 – Newcastle bombings

Bombers targeted the Jesmond, Byker and Shieldfield areas of Newcastle leaving fifty dead on the night of September 1-2. There were also eight fatalities at Blaydon; two at Dudley; three at Willington Quay. A fatality was recorded at Newton Bewley near Billingham on Teesside. A week later two were killed in a raid at Ryhope which left two dead on the night of 8-9 September.

Oct 1, 1941 – North Shields devastated

Over two nights North Shields and South Shields suffered from devastating bombing raids. On the night of September 30/1 October, North Shields took the brunt. There were around sixty-one deaths in the North Tyneside area mostly at North Shields including the crew of the North to South Shields ferry who were moored at the landing stage on the north side of the river. Seven people were killed at Sunderland this night and eighteen at South Shields.

Oct 2, 1941 – Devastation at South Shields

On the night of October 2-3 around fifty enemy bombers killed sixty-eight people in South Shields of which about twelve fatalities occurred in the market place which was severely damaged. Many shops were destroyed and damage caused to the old town hall. The dead were thirty-four men, twenty-two women and twelve children, with around 2,000 homeless in South Shields alone. A child who had lost his family in the raid was found wandering the streets. There were a further three deaths across the river that night at North Shields and six lost their lives in a raid at West Hartlepool.

South Shields Market Place and Old Town Hall. Photo © David Simpson

Oct 21, 1941 – Hebburn and Redcar

On the night of October 21-22, thirteen are killed in a raid at Hebburn; two are killed at Newcastle in the Shields Road area; six lives are claimed on Wearside (South Hylton and Ryhope), and two die at Seaham. At Redcar, on the Cleveland coast, seventeen people are killed at the town’s council offices including the Redcar mayor.

Nov 7, 1941 – More North East raids

Raids across the North East during early November 1941 claim seven lives at Sunderland; five at Horden and five at Newbiggin (Nov 7-8); seven at Alnmouth (Nov 8-9) and ten at the Warrenby ironworks near Redcar on November 15.

Dec 8, 1941 – Boldon and Battlefield

On the night of  December 8-9 there were two fatalities during bombing raids in the Boldon area between Sunderland and South Shields and five fatalities in the Battlefield area of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Dec 29, 1941 – Benton and Seaton Burn 

Two die at Benton Newcastle and two at Seaton Burn during bombing raids on the night of December 29-30

Jan 13, 1942 – Redcar and Berwick 

At opposite ends of the region, ten people were killed at Redcar on Teesside on January 13 and three killed at a chemical factory at Berwick upon Tweed on January 20.

Feb 8  – 5, 1942  –  Battle of Singapore

British and Allied forces suffer a great defeat at the hands of the Japanese in the fall of Singapore. The British forces under Malaya Command include the 9th battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Captured allied forces are taken into Japanese Prisoner of War camps.

Feb 15, 1942 – Bombs near Druridge Bay

Three people are killed at Radcliffe near Druridge Bay on the night of February 15-16 in Northumberland, during a bombing raid.

Druridge Bay
Druridge Bay. Concrete blocks such as these found along the coast were created during the Second World War to impede a potential coastal invasion © David Simpson 2018

Feb 20, 1942 – ‘Angels’ die in explosion

Four of the Aycliffe Angels, the renowned ladies who work at the Royal Ordnance factory at Aycliffe in County Durham were killed in an explosion at the factory. They are employed in the manufacture of armaments.

April 1942 – DLI battalion in Burma

The Durham Light Infantry 2nd battalion is sent to India where it will be involved in battles against the Japanese at Arakan, Burma in early 1943 and Kohima in India, in April-June 1944.

Apr 15, 1942 – Middlesbrough bombing 

There were twenty-six fatalities in a bombing raid upon Middlesbrough on April 15 which included five babies. There were also fatalities at Shieldfield, Newcastle and West Hartlepool on this night.

Apr 28, 1942 – York Baedeker raid kills 94

York is bombarded in one of the so-called ‘Baedeker’ raids on the night of April 28-29. These are aimed at cities with outstanding architectural features. They take their name from the Baedeker guide books which are published in Germany for tourists visiting the sites of Europe. Much of the bombing in York affects the city centre area with bombs hitting the Guildhall and falling around York Minster but the northern suburbs of the city are also affected badly. Ninety-four people lose their lives in the city on this one night.

Shambles ,York
The Shambles (and Little Shambles) at York © David Simpson 2021

Apr 30 – May 1, 1942 – Beamish UXB kills

On the evening of April 30-May 1, six people were killed in a raid at Benton Park, Newcastle. A man was killed by an unexploded bomb (UXB) at Scotswood and eight people were killed by an undetected UXB that had become embedded beneath a shop at Beamish in County Durham. The evening also saw two fatalities at Fulwell in Sunderland.

May 1, 1942 – St. Cuthbert’s Mist

After the war there was a persistent myth that a mysterious mist had risen at Durham in the early hours of May 1st, 1942. It supposedly came about through the miracle intervention of St Cuthbert to protect the cathedral city of Durham from a German bombing raid. Bombs certainly fell nearby in these early hours in the Durham City area close to Finchale Priory as well as at Langley Moor and at the Grange Colliery in the Belmont area of the city. George Greenwell, Durham’s Chief Air Raid Warden later remarked that there had been a mist in those early hours though he said that the top of the cathedral tower was not covered by the mist. Greenwell also noted that unusually, extra fireman had been brought in that evening and a large hose was directed from the river to Palace Green but he also remarked that mists were not unusual and that German bombs had passed overhead on many occasions before, without the intervention of St Cuthbert. Writing in 1945, Greenwell, who regarded the mist myth as “a pretty story for the guidebook” remarked that, “if the German intention had been to bomb Durham, a vagary of weather would not have prevented it”. One thing that is striking is that the war saw little devastation for the region’s heritage features other than certain public buildings in town centres. At the time, the sparing of churches, castles and great historic houses perhaps brought little comfort or solace to those who had lost their homes or loved ones.

Durham Cathedral pictured from Frankland Lane near Newton Hall
Durham Cathedral pictured from Frankland Lane near Newton Hall © David Simpson 2005

June 26, 1942 – Murton Colliery disaster

As if the terror of death from bombing raids wasn’t enough, the age old hazard of death from colliery explosions once again paid a visit to the region. Thirteen men are killed in a mine explosion at Murton Colliery.

Murton Village, The Village Inn
Murton Village, The Village Inn Photo ©2018 David Simpson

27 June, 1942 – Adam Wakenshaw VC

Adam Wakenshaw, a Newcastle-born private who had worked at Elswick Colliery and serves in the Durham Light Infantry performed an act of bravery at Mersa Matruh near El Alamein in North Africa today that helped save the lives of his colleagues. Under heavy fire, Wakenshaw, who had just had his arm blown off was able to crawl back to his gun and immobilise and destroy a vehicle carrying a light gun that was about to be deployed against his unit. A German shell then went off that killed Wakenshaw. He will be posthumously awarded the VC for his act of bravery.

July 6, 1942 – Tyne and Tees bombings

Five are killed in a raid on the Walkergate area of Newcastle on the night of 6-7 July and eight are killed in the Billingham and Haverton Hill areas the following evening. A raid upon Middlesbrough near the end of the months (July 25-26 July) claims sixteen lives. A further raid on Middlesbrough, on August 3, kills eight.

Aug 28, 1942 – Blackhall and Ryhope

On the night of Aug 28-29 eight are killed in raids at Blackhall on the Durham coast and three at Ryhope near Sunderland.

Oct 11, 1942 – Tyne and Wear raids

On the night of October 11-12 six are killed in raids at Cullercoats; seven at Sunderland; seven at Hebburn; two at North Shields and one at Monkseaton. Four nights later, a raid at Sunderland leaves fourteen dead.

Cullercoats Bay.
Cullercoats Bay. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Dec 11, 1942 – Hartlepool UXB

On December 11-12, nine people are killed at West Hartlepool by an unexploded bomb, including a 6-week-old-baby. Seven are killed in a raid upon the colliery village of Murton.

March 11, 1943 – Tees and Wear raids

On the night of March 11-12, raids kill four at Middlesbrough; two at Sunderland; three at Thornaby and one at Stockton. The following night there are six fatalities in the Boldon area and one at Walker in Newcastle upon Tyne. More fatalities follow the next night with seventeen people killed in a raid on Sunderland.

May 15, 1943 – Sunderland, Seaham : 92 dead

On the night of May 15-16 seventy-five people are killed in a raid at Sunderland and a further thirty-four are killed in an associated raid at nearby Seaham Harbour. In the Sunderland raid many of the bombs hit residential areas north and south of the river as well as the town centre and some industrial sites. A 500kg high explosive bomb hit the North Stand of Roker Park, home to Sunderland football club near the player’s tunnel, forming a crater on the pitch. Another bomb fell on the nearby football ground car park in Grantham Road.

Seaham Harbour. Photo David Simpson © 2018

May 23, 1943 – Sunderland raid : 83 dead

Eighty-three people including twenty-three children are killed in a raid at Sunderland on the night of May 23-24 with around six-hundred incendiary bombs and sixty-seven high explosives dropped along with other bombs. Slight damage is sustained by the town’s iconic Empire Theatre during the raid. On the same night twenty-eight are killed in a raid upon South Shields.

Locations hit by German bombs in North East England during World War Two
Locations hit by German bombs in North East England during World War Two © David Simpson 2021. CLICK on the image to see a larger version.

May 23, 1943 – Major air raids cease

The raid upon Sunderland on May 23-24 1943 was the last major raid upon North East England – and one of the most devastating. Raids upon the North East throughout the war left hundreds of people dead (over 230 in Sunderland alone) with many suffering serious life-changing injuries. many hundreds of people were made homeless and had to apply for new homes or have their homes repaired or rebuilt. The dots on the maps above and below show places where bombs fell in North East England. The maps are likely far from complete but each dot represents anything between a single bomb and hundreds of bombs dropped in a single incident. Hardest hit were the industrial towns of Tyneside, Wearside, Hartlepool and Teesside, though colliery villages and even isolated farms were not safe from bombardment. Some places were lucky or perhaps deliberately avoided by the bombers. Sunderland and Middlesbrough town centres suffered heavily from bombing but Durham City and much of Newcastle’s city centre, notably the neo-classical ‘Grainger Town’ area seem to have escaped bombing – though there were a small number of bombs in Newcastle’s quayside area and at Sandyford. Neighbouring Heaton, a Newcastle suburb, however, suffered miserably.

July 10, 1943 – Invasion of Sicily

The 6th and 9th battalions of the Durham Light Infantry lead in the assault in the Allied invasion of Sicily. They help in the recapturing of the Primosole Bridge on July 12 and in crushing the enemy resistance across the island in August.

Sep 3, 1943 – Invasion of Italy

The 16th battalion of the Durham Light Infantry and the 2nd battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers are amongst the forces involved in the invasion of Italy. They will be involved in the advance across the country with the 1st battalions of both the DLI and Northumberland Fusiliers also involved in the advance from the spring of 1944.

June 6, 1944 – The D-Day landings

The carefully planned Allied invasion of Europe has begun. Originally it is planned for June 5, but is postponed due to unfavourable weather conditions. Around 4,000 ships and 11,000 planes are involved in the invasion via the Normandy beaches of northern France. Many soldiers from North East England will be involved in the liberation of Europe. On ‘Gold’ beach the invasion force included, amongst others, three battalions of the Durham Light Infantry and battalions of the Green Howards. One hundred men of the 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment (Royal Northumberland Fusiliers) likewise land in Normandy on this day. They will be followed by more landings from the regiment in the coming days at Arromanches and Sword beach on 9 June and 14. The 7th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers will land land in Normandy later in June.

Emblems of the Durham Light Infantry and Northumberland Fusiliers

June 1944 – Advance into France

Throughout June, British forces, including battalions of the Durham Light Infantry and Northumberland Fusiliers advance into France with the intention of outflanking and capturing the German-held French city of Caen. From thereon British, American and Canadian forces  will continue the advance across France and Germany completing the liberation of Europe from the Nazis.

March 3/4, 1945 – Minor raiding

There was some minor raiding in North East England on this night in what seems to have been the last record of any kind of air raid in the region. There were raids across the entire east coast of England on this night with some aircraft gun fire (causing little damage) hitting South Shields, Easington and Darlington, where the nearby Croft airfield was targeted.

1945 – Colliery closures

Thickley Colliery near Shildon in County Durham closes in July and Scremerston Colliery near Berwick closes in September. The ‘Scremerston Coal Group’ is the name given to a group of collieries that existed in the most northerly outlying coalfield of North East England.

May 2, 1945 – Aycliffe factory deaths

Eight workers, five men and three women, are killed in an explosion at the Royal Ordnance factory in Aycliffe, County Durham.

May 8, 1945  – VE Day

Victory in Europe is declared today. Throughout the region the end of the war is declared by the local mayors and special church services are held. Spontaneous dancing breaks out in many town streets and flags are flying almost everywhere, notably from the winding gear of local pits. A fanfare of trumpets hails the end of the war in Sunderland and the mayor of Jarrow raises the flags of all the Allies on the Town Hall. Bonfires are lit in Newcastle after the mayor reads a proclamation in St Nicholas Square. In Darlington a football match is held in Tubwell Row using beacons from a pedestrian crossing. A warship in Sunderland harbour accidentally fires shells into the town during the celebrations, but fortunately nobody is hurt. Many street parties are held on May 9, the day after VE Day.

Durham Light Infantry statue, Durham
Durham Light Infantry memorial statue outside Durham Town Hall © David Simpson 2020

1945 – Remembering World War Two

During the war there were 298 air raids on the North. Hundreds of civilians were killed as a result of the raids, but thousands more North Easterners lose their lives fighting in Europe.

War memorial at Chollerton
War memorial to the fallen of two World Wars at Chollerton village, Northumberland © David Simpson 2021

1945 – Shipbuilding

At the beginning of the war more than 67,000 skilled shipyard workers were unemployed in the North East. During the war years there has been a great increase in shipbuilding activity for the war effort and 545 ships have been built in North East yards.

1945 – Colliery closures

Hedleyhope Colliery in the Deerness Valley near Durham and Howle Colliery near Woodland west of Bishop Auckland close.

Jul 5, 1945 – Labour win election

The Labour party under the leadership of Clement Attlee win the general election defeating the Conservatives under Winston Churchill. With three exceptions all the North East constituencies elect Labour MPs. Newcastle North elects a Conservative as does the vast Northumberland constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Another large Northumberland constituency, Hexham, elects Douglas Clifton Brown (a Conservative) who will be officially non-party aligned as the Speaker of the House of Commons.

1946 – North continues to celebrate

Official war victory celebrations are still being held throughout the region. In Durham events in the city on June 8 include hymns in the market place, boating and boat races, children’s sports, a grand cricket match, dancing in the Town Hall, and a prize for the best decorated house. The cathedral and castle are floodlit form dusk to 2am. In August a victory parade in Newcastle is watched by around 100,00 people.

1946 – ICI starts Wilton Works

ICI start building Wilton Works near Middlesbrough on the south side of the Tees. The works will complement their extensive works at Billingham on the north side of the river where around 11,000 workers are now employed.

1946 – It’s a Wonderful Life

The 1946 post-war feel-good Christmas-themed movie, It’s a Wonderful Life features North East actor Henry Travers in the role of Clarence the Angel. Travers was born in Prudhoe and raised at Tweedmouth near Berwick upon Tweed.

Henry Travers

1946 – Colliery closure

Auckland Park Colliery near Bishop Auckland closes.

1947 – New towns

The New Towns of Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee are being established. Peterlee is named after a County Durham miners’ leader.

Aug 22, 1947 – Louisa Colliery disaster

Twenty-two lives are lost in a mine explosion at the Louisa Pit, Stanley, County Durham.

1947 – Colliery closures

Dunston Colliery near Gateshead and West Clifton Colliery near Morpeth close this year.

1947 – Mines nationalised

The coal mines of Great Britain are ‘nationalised’ and will now come under the control of the Government-controlled National Coal Board (NCB). Mines were previously controlled by private companies.

North East colliery locations in 1947.
North East colliery locations in 1947. Not including outlying collieries in North Tynedale, South Tynedale and north Northumberland © David Simpson and Tangled Worm 2021

1948 – Newcastle United promoted

Newcastle United are promoted to Division One, returning to the top tier of the Football League from which they were relegated in 1934. The league was of course suspended during the war.

1948 – More colliery closures

Tanfield Moor Colliery near Tantobie; Grange Colliery at Belmont near Durham; Copeland House Colliery near West Auckland and Callerton Colliery north of Newcastle all close this year.

1948 – DHSS at Longbenton

The Department of Health and Social Services has established its huge records centre at Longbenton near Newcastle. The service sector will increasingly become a major employer in the north in the later part of the twentieth century.

1948 – The NEEB

The North Eastern Electricity Board (NEEB) is established as a public sector utility responsible for both supply and distribution of electricity across the North East region.

July 1949 – Colliery closures

Aykley Heads Colliery near Durham; Ladysmith Colliery at Brusselton near West Auckland and Burnhope Colliery close this year.

Nov 22, 1949 – ‘Nazi-friendly’ marquess dies

Charles Vane Tempest Stewart, the 7th Marquess of Londonderry, has died at his stately Northern Ireland home, following a series of strokes. The Marquess was the great grandson of the coal-owning 3rd marquess, the founder of Seaham Harbour, whose statue stands in Durham market place. At the time of his death the late 7th Marquess was Lord Lieutenant of both County Durham and County Down and Chancellor of Durham University. A cousin of Winston Churchill, in the pre-war years he was noted for his connections and apparent friendship with members of the German Nazi regime, once having a two-hour audience with Hitler whom he found ‘agreeable’. In November 1936, influential Nazi, Joachim von Ribbentrop had been entertained at Wynyard Hall in County Durham, one of the family homes of the Marquess. Ribbentrop was also taken to a service at Durham Cathedral where he rose to his feet to make the Nazi salute as the cathedral organist kindly played the German National anthem for the guest. The Marquess gently lowered Ribbentrop’s arm.

Wynyard Hall
Wynyard Hall. Photo © David Simpson 2018

👈1920-19381950-1969 👉

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For more detailed information on North East raids on a day by day basis, including streets affected and names of fatalities, Roy Ripley and Brian Pears’ North East Diary 1939-45 is recommended.

 

North East England History and Culture