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 among the men of the region who were fighting abroad, and it 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 victim of 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.

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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.

Sept 3 1939 – Nation at War

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announces that the nation is at war with Germany.

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).

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

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.

April 1940 – Germans seize Norway and Denmark

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

May 1940 – North East troops in North Africa

The 1st battalion of the Durham Light Infantry are 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 who are deployed to Mersa Matruh in the western desert towards Libya where it was involved in the expulsion of the Italians from Egypt.

May 7 1940 – Winston Churchill PM

Winston Churchill succeeds Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. Chamberlain resigned following criticism from members of the House of Commons.

Richard Annand

May 15  1940 – Heroic act from 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.

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.

Transporter Bridge Middlesbrough
The car of the Transporter Bridge at Middlesbrough was hit by a German bomb. Photo © David Simpson

May 26 – June 4 1940 – Battle of Britain begins

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. 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. In June a bomb hits the car of the Transporter Bridge.

June 19  1940 – Tees and Hartlepool raid kills four

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.

Inner Farne
German bombers were intercepted off the Farne Islands by Spitfires as air raids on the North East began. Photo © David Simpson 2015

Aug 9  1940 – Sunderland and Durham 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.

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.

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.

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

Aug 24 – Sep 6 1940 – Hebburn and Hartlepool raids

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.

High Force waterfall, Teesdale
Ten bombs dropped near High Force waterfall, Teesdale. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Oct 13 1940 – Bombings: 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 were killed in Middlesbrough, sadly many of them died in air raid shelters intended to protect them. It seems that nowhere is safe, up in Teesdale, ten bombs were dropped close to the High Force waterfall on the night of October 19-20, forming craters upon impact.

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 – Raids : 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 fall near football ground

Four people were killed at Francis Street near the Roker Park football ground, the home of Sunderland Football Club on the night of March 13-14 . A further four people are killed the following evening with the bombs again focused on the terraced streets close to the football ground.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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 and Tyneside 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.

Sep 30 – Oct 1  1941 – Devastation for North Shields

Over two nights North Shields and South Shields suffered from the devastating results of bombing raids. On the night of September 30th – October 1st, it was North Shields that 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 also killed at Sunderland this night and eighteen died at South Shields.

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

Oct 2 1941 – Devastation for 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, with many shops destroyed  and damage was 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.

Oct 21  1941 – Fatalities at 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 bombings

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 bombings

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.

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

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.

Feb 20 1942 – Aycliffe Angels killed 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.

Old postcard showing Low Petergate
Old postcard showing Low Petergate, York

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.

Apr 30 – May 1  1942 – UXBs claim lives

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 Beamish in County Durham. There were two fatalities at Fulwell in Sunderland on this evening.

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

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.

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 – Bombings at 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.

Cullercoats Bay.
Cullercoats Bay. Photo © David Simpson 2018

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.

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.

Seaham Harbour. Photo David Simpson © 2018

May 15  1943 – Sunderland and 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.

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. 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.

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 – D-Day

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.

Durham Light Infantry and Northumberland Fusiliers

June 1944 – Advance into France and Germany

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.

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 mayor 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.

1945 – Remembering World War Two

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

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.

1946 – North continues to celebrate

Official 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.

Henry Travers

1946 – It’s a Wonderful Life

The 1946 the 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 in Tweedmouth, Berwick upon Tweed.

1947 – New towns

The New Towns of Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee are 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 – 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.

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 20th Century.

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For much greater details of all North East raids on a day by day basis, including streets affected and the names of some fatalities, Roy Ripley and Brian Pears’ North East Diary 1939-45 is recommended. This is an external site and is not connected with the England’s North East site but for details of events relating to World War Two in North East England during the Second World War it cannot be beaten.

North East England History and Culture