107 killed in North Shields air raid disaster…
May 3/4 1941. North Shields. A single bomb from a lone enemy aircraft destroys the public air raid shelter in the basement of W.A. Wilkinson Ltd. Of the 192 people inside, 107 men, women and children are killed. It was one of the worst single bomb death tolls during the provincial blitz of WW2. This website tells the story of that night..and pays tribute to those lost.
The Air Raid
Midnight – Saturday May 3rd/4th 1941.
A nuisance enemy raider over North Shields drops 4 bombs.
Seconds later over a hundred people would be killed and entire families lost.

air-raid

Wilkinson's Air Raid Shelter
The public air raid shelter serving this part of the east end of North Shields was situated in the basement/cellars of W.A. Wilkinson’s Ltd on the corner of King Street and George Street. Designated as a public air raid shelter in 1940 with a capacity of 188 – the shelter divided opinion amongst the residents of the local streets surrounding the factory.

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May 3/4 1941
Shortly before midnight on Saturday 3 May 1941 a lone German nuisance raider dropped 4 bombs on the Tyneside town of North Shields.  Tragically,  the fourth bomb scored a direct hit on Wilkinson’s lemonade factory. The Public Air Raid Shelter in the building’s basement was completely destroyed. Of the 192 people present,  107 people were killed. Entire families were wiped out.  It was the scene of the heaviest casualties in North East England during the entire War.

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Air Raid Photos
109 killed. 107 in the air raid shelter and 2 killed in destruction of house around the corner in George Street.

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The Aftermath
With war time censorship, Wilkinson’s was never named in contemporary press reporting of enemy raids and civilian casualties. To our knowledge, Wilkinsons has not featured in the standard histories of the provincial Blitz, Home Front or Civil Defence prior to this website being published in 2000.

The disaster is covered in Dr Craig Armstrong’s “Tyneside in the Second World War” (Phillimore: 2007) and is mentioned in Joshua Levine’s “The Secret History of the Blitz” (Simon and Schuster: 2015)

The disaster was never forgotten in the town itself – many, many families were touched by the events of that evening. Following a memorial service at St Augustine’s Church, the community was left to get on with it. And this they did, seeing out the War with no repeat of the bombing disaster of 1941.

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Heroes
Locals risked their own lives to rescue those trapped in the basement.

heroes

Mrs Ellen Lee
Mrs Lee

At the time of the bombing, Mrs Lee lived at 2 Hamilton Terrace in North Shields, just around the corner from the Wilkinson’s factory. She stood 6ft tall and weighed close to 18 stone. She was indeed as everyone recalled, a large lady with a big heart – she would do anything for anyone.

Mrs Lee was the ARP warden in charge of Wilkinson’s Shelter. It was her job to open the shelter when the sirens sounded, keep it tidy and count people coming in and out.

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George Newstead, GM
George Newstead cut a hole through to a cellar bay full of injured and dead. The casualties were gingerly taken out except for one man who was pinned down by a steel girder. He was in agony so a doctor was called to give him an anaesthetic and reluctantly, it was decided that the only way to save him was to amputate his foot. While the doctor crawled out to get his instruments George decided to have one more go at freeing the survivor. In spite of the risk of bringing down tons of debris he got a small jack under the girder and raised it slightly. It was just enough. By cutting the man’s boot off they were able to ease his leg out and drag him clear.

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Clarence Burdis, GM
Clarence Burdis cut a second hole through a thick wall to reach another smashed room in the basement. Here the casualties were lying amidst the splintered remains of their bunk beds. For four gruelling hours he slowly moved casualties from their shattered tomb.

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Norman Darling Black, BEM
Mr Black, serving with a First Aid unit, struggled through a narrow opening, risking his life to find living people buried under the debris. For four hours he worked at great hazard to extricate a child imprisoned by many tons of masonry. He was advised to rest after this dangerous feat but returned to rescue an imprisoned man.

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The Victims
107 people were killed. Over 20 were injured, several seriously. Very few escaped unscathed.
victims
Victims A-Z
The following 107 (including 7 who died later in hospital) people were killed as a result of enemy action at Wilkinson’s Air Raid Shelter: May 3rd 1941. The list includes all 103 people listed on the GENUKI Deaths and Fatal Injuries at North Shields on May 3rd 1941. In addition there are 4 military personnel victims listed who are not recorded on the GENUKI page (which features civilian deaths caused by enemy activity). 43 children (16 years old or younger) were killed.

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Mortuary Records
Details of each victim killed in the shelter and taken to the temporary mortuary at the old Public Bath House in North Shields were recorded on official Mortuary Forms. These are available to view at Tyne and Wear Archives. Forms do not exist for those who died later in hospital from their injuries. Many of the victims are buried in Preston Cemetery, North Shields.

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The Injured
A list of those admitted to Preston Emergency Hospital on May 4th 1941

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Death Toll
For many years it was accepted that 105 people were killed in the Wilkinson’s bombing disaster. As a result of research for this website that figure has been revised up to 107. Here’s how…

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Close to Home
The embedded map shows the victims’ residences in relation to the location of the air raid shelter at Wilkinsons. Residents of Upper Queen Street and Church Street had a bad time of it. Very many of the victims lived within 400m of the shelter. Their houses were largely untouched by the 2 bombs which fell on George Street that night. Had they only stayed at home….

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Preston Cemetery
The majority of those killed at Wilkinsons are buried at Preston Cemetery, North Shields. The headstones are located throughout this beautiful cemetery according to denomination. However, there is a communal plot for those victims buried at the Borough’s expense. All have similar headstones (modelled on CWG headstones). This area can be found by walking up to the top end from the main entrance. Once past the Victorian/Edwardian graves bordered by hedges, the graves appear on your left.

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Memories
Memories of Wilkinson’s and wartime North Shields are always welcomed.
Get in touch!
memories
I Remember - Wilkinsons and War Time North Shields
We welcome your Wilkinson’s Memories and thank you for taking time to contact us. Please do get in touch…every snippet of information helps us understand the wider picture. There are some fantastic stories here…

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Archives
Background and related resources from Tyne and Wear Museums and The North East War Diary.
archives
Blackout, Barrage and Rationing
From the beginning of the war, precautions were taken to ‘black-out’ all lights. This was essential as it soon became clear that most bombing raids would take place at night. It was thought that a light even from one house would be used as a target, by an enemy plane on which to drop its bombs.

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The Shields Evening News
The Shields Evening News, May 5th 1941 – the day after the bombing.

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Raids Elsewhere
A national survey of German raids from 0600 hours, Wednesday 30 April to 0600 hours Wednesday 7 May, 1941. Copies were sent to every ARP headquarters. TWM holds an almost complete series of these reports, including an extensive assessment of the Coventry Raid. North Shields (named Tynemouth in the report) wasn’t the only place bombed that night.

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After The Raid
A guidance leaflet produced by the government for civilians involved in air raids. This was distributed to every household in the country.

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Mr Barron's Damaged Dentures
ARP personnel faced considerable danger during air raids. This document presents a lighter side to the risks they took.

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Death of a Merchant Seaman
Trawlers and other ships on the east coast had a terrible time. Tyneside was an important area in the war at sea…merchant and naval shipbuiling and ship-repair, coastal convoys, especially those carrying coal. Read this to find out what happened to the S.S. Avonwood.

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Church Bells - Invasion!
Clarification of when church bells are to be rung. Issued during the late summer of 1940 – the period after Dunkirk when the Battle of Britain was at its height.

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Salute The Soldiers!
The British people were bombarded with propaganda by the Ministry of Information, in every aspect of their lives. The government met part of the enormous expense of the war by borrowing from the people through savings campaigns. They combined the appeal to save with patriotism and community spirit. Salute the Soldier was one of the largest and most successful campaigns with towns encouraged to compete against one another to raise the biggest funds. Tynemouth’s target was £500,000, enough to equip an infantry brigade (2000-3000 men) for the local 50th Northumbrian Division.

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Radio, Cinema, Shops
Popular songs/Box Office hits and What It Cost in 1940 and 1941…

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Town Clerk's Report
Local authorities were responsible for ARP and reports of every raid were submitted to the Emergency Committee

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Official Air Raid Figures
This news article published when German air attacks had largely ceased, allows the reader to prepare a chronological chart for raids over Tynemouth Borough. An interesting comparison can be made between this document and the earlier newspaper report from 1941

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ARP Warden's Report
Taken from a Control Guide for air raid wardens.
These forms were intended to keep messages clear and concise, improving co-ordination of rescue efforts.

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Mortuary Form - Luftwaffe Pilot
Mortuary Form for the body of Walter Ludwig, German pilot recovered from the North Sea and brought to ARP mortuary on Church Way, North Shields.

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Home Guard
This was one of a series of messages from an exercise preparing civil defence and home guard units for a German invasion. In 1942 this was still considered a realistic possibility.

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Four Pigs Puzzle
This Puzzle was circulated in factories and offices during World War II. Its provenance is unknown, but a similar cartoon of Sadam Hussein appeared during the first Gulf War. It is an amusing example of popular propaganda.

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W.A. Wilkinson Ltd
The family, the business, the bottles…
wilkinson
W.A. Wilkinson Ltd
William Arthur Wilkinson came from Gateshead to North Shields in 1866 as a young hairdresser, opening a barber shop at 48 Clive Street in the town. In the 1875 Ward’s Directory, he is listed also as a soda water manufacturer at Elder’s Quay. Directories from 1879 have him as an Ale and Porter merchant and mineral water manufacturer operating from Coach Lane, North Shields.

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The Wilkinson Family
The Wilkinson Family Tree. Our thanks go to Terry Wilkinson, his father Leslie and to Andrew Wilkinson and Gillian Wilkinson who have very kindly spent time and shared family knowledge and photographs. Thanks also to Philip and Carol Tallent for their contributions and identifications and to Paul McDougall for corrections re Alfred Ernest “Young Ernie” and substantial dating and other family information.

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The Last Employee?
Still living nearby was one of Wilkinson’s former employees, an elderly man called Billy. In his broad Shields accent he invited us into his small terraced house to tell us his story. He took us into his front room and settled into his chair beside the gas fire, he talked about his years working for Wilkinson and showed tremendous affection for his old boss. His memory was sharp for a man in his eighties, and we struggled to write even half of it down into our notebook.

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Bottles and Breweriana
Local bottles expert Dr Jim Rickard takes us on a tour of Wilkinson’s bottles…

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The Site Today
With the passage of time there’s now some confusion as to the actual location of W.A. Wilkinson Ltd. To clarify, it was not on the site of the current King Street Club. Nor was it on the site of the East End Youth and Community Centre. Check out the link below which shows the location.

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Robert Westall
Award-winning, North Shields born author of  The Machine GunnersThe Kingdom By The Sea…and many more
The Robert Westall Connection
Robert Westall (1929-1993) was the author of 50 acclaimed works for children, including such  twentieth century classics as;  “The Machine-Gunners”, “The Kingdom by the Sea”  and “Blitzcat”. He grew up in North Shields, the setting of many of his books and when war broke out he was 10 – a good age to enjoy it. War was exciting – Tyneside was heavily bombed and young Bob had to live through the terror of the air raids. His father was a key figure in local ARP and was on duty the night of the Wilkinson’s disaster.

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Robert Westall Biography
Robert Westall may have left the North East in his early twenties, but he returned to it time and again in his writing, whose roots lay in his childhood and young adult experiences in wartime Tyneside. Indeed, it was his desire to share that experience with his 12 year old son Chris that inspired his celebrated first novel The Machine Gunners.

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Radio Documentaries
In 2007 we were approached by Neil Reynolds a local MA student in radio production who was planning a radio documentary on Westall for his final dissertation. Neil was kind enough to let us have 2 of his productions for use on the website. Enjoy!

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Share your story. Get in touch!
For questions or feedback, please write to us at info@northshields173.org
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North Shields at War
North Shields and Tynemouth came under regular bombardment.
Tynemouth Shelter

Tynemouth Bomb Photos 1940-1943

During air raids on Tynemouth borough since June 22, 1940, 225 persons lost their lives, 150 were seriously injured and 325 slightly injured. A total of 310 high explosive bombs have been dropped in the town, 19 parachute mines and approximately 18000 incendiary bombs. There have been 253 alerts and bombs have dropped on 31 occasions.
Stadtplan

Luftwaffe Stadtplan

Luftwaffe Stadtplan of North Shields showing military targets. Note that the two local hospitals are clearly marked in red on the map.  Although based on an Ordnance Survey 6″: 1 mile, it is slightly enlarged to a scale of 1:10,000. The Germans would have been able to buy OS maps without any problems in the years before 1939.
Luftwaffe Target Photo

Luftwaffe Target Photo

This photo, c1939  [note absence of barrage balloons]  has been marked by German Intelligence with target positions and anti-aircraft gun positions. There are 2 Flakstellung (anti-aircraft guns) positions identified inside Tynemouth Priory grounds at the river entrance and also inland at Ealing Drive/Beach Croft Avenue (Heavy AA Battery) and at Lambley Avenue (AA Rocket Battery).
Luftwaffe Pilot View

Luftwaffe Pilot View

This photograph, c1943, gives a pilot’s eye view of North Shields. Barrage balloons are clearly visible and the site of W.A. Wilkinson Ltd is cleared, helping to date the image.
Tynemouth Bomb Map

Tynemouth Bomb Map

Position of bombs dropped in Tynemouth Borough, 1940-43 (detail). Local authorities were in charge of ARP and demolition and repair of bomb damaged properties. The map records a total of 329 bombs. The first fell on June 26, 1940 and the last on March 25, 1943.
Air Raid Shelters in North Shields

Air Raid Shelters in North Shields

County Borough of Tynemouth – Air Raid Precautions Shelters for the Use of The Public in case of Emergency – the location/shelter type details were published in The Shields Evening News. The locations have been marked on the map here.
ARP Control HQ

ARP Control HQ

The Joan Sampson Photo Collection – showing the ARP control centre at Cleveland Villa,  tentatively dated to 1942. Mrs Sampson’s mother, Florrie Brown was an ARP telephonist and features in several of the photographs. This is a very interesting and rare collection of photos. Of course, we now need your help in identifying those people pictured!
Enemy Activity

Enemy Activity - May 3/4 1941

Enemy activity in the North East on the night of the Wilkinson’s disaster. Bombs fell at Newcastle, Tynemouth, Throckley, Catcleugh, Morpeth, Lynemouth, Gosforth, Clifton and Stannington in Northumberland, Sunderland, West Hartlepool, Gateshead, Tees Bridge Roundabout at Billingham, Lambton Park, Castletown, Ryhope and South Shields in Co Durham and York and Hull in Yorkshire.
Video
Clearance – After The Raid
Bomb Damage 1940-1943
Teardrops and Bottle Tops –  A Tribute by Jim White
Benton Park Primary – Year 6
Tynemouth Gang Show 1988
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