About this website


The aim of this website is simple. It is to tell the story of one particular night, May 3rd/4th 1941 and the catastrophic destruction of a public air raid shelter in the basement of W.A. Wilkinson’s Lemonade Factory in North Shields. One high explosive bomb from a lone enemy nuisance raider destroyed the factory and the shelter beneath it. 107 people, 43 of them children, were killed. Entire families were wiped out. Dozens were injured and hospitalised. It was the largest, single bomb loss of life outside of London during World War II. Yet, few have heard about it beyond the town.

wilkinsonsThis website began in 2000 as a Tyne and Wear Archives Service local history project funded by the National Lottery. It was originally known as Westall’s War and sought to tie in the tragic events of May 3rd 1941 with episodes from the Robert Westall books, including The Machine Gunners. Robert Westall, was an award-winning, North Shields born, children’s author. His father was a local Air Raid Warden at that time.

The site was designed and written to be of benefit to both local schools and to a wider adult audience including the survivors and families of the Air Raid disaster.

Since 2000 the site has been updated and re-worked several times including a name-change to North Shields 173 (the telephone number of the Wilkinson’s Factory). Hardly a week goes by without an enquiry, reminiscence or message from site visitors from across the World. In 2012, the site formed the basis of a lengthy piece in a BBC2 documentary “How We Won the War”.

From inception the site has been curated, designed and maintained by Peter Bolger* with the assistance of local author/historian Peter Hepplewhite**.

We welcome your visit. We hope you find it interesting.

This website is in remembrance of those lost. It salutes the bravery of the many who tried to rescue those trapped. It is the memory of a community and a town in wartime.


* Peter Bolger is an escaped librarian and has worked developing blogs in schools and classrooms for the past decade. He recently appeared on BBC 2′s “How We Won The War”  tv series as an expert on the Wilkinson’s disaster.
He is available to work as a consultant/designer for online local/history projects.

** Peter Hepplewhite is the co-author of the very first Horrible Histories book (Awesome Egyptians) and has published over 50 history books for young people. Recently retired from working with Tyne and Wear Archives Service, Peter began his career as a teacher. He continues working with schools and other organisations with a current focus on World War 1.