The Aftermath
What happened afterwards. Cover up?

Official information regarding the basement shelter at W.A. Wilkinsons Ltd is restricted mainly to the Tynemouth Emergency Committee minutes book, held at Tyne and Wear Archives in Newcastle. [It is assumed by the family of W.A. Wilkinson that the company’s records were destroyed in the bombing.]We have included the relevant Committee minutes below.

There are some very interesting issues which emerge from this Committee immediately following the bombing.

Overcrowded?

The first thing to note is that, based on the known number of people (192) in the shelter at the time of the bombing, the shelter was marginally over-crowded. The shelter was officially licensed to hold 188 people. We know too from survivor testimony that several people were turned away by a police officer en-route to the shelter after the siren had sounded.

Blackout?

Immediately after the disaster and on the very same day (4th May 1941) the Borough Surveyor is instructed by the Committee to reduce the intensity of illuminated direction signs to public air raid shelters. [Although there would be no evidence at all that illuminated signage guided the enemy bomber to the location of the shelter. There are too, no known records of any Black-Out contraventions that evening. ]Bunk Bed Hazard?

On the following day (5th May 1941) the Committee instruct that 50% of bunk beds are REMOVED from Public Air Raid Shelters.

The Borough Surveyor is also directed to find out from the Home Office the number of bunk beds deemed essential in Public Air Raid Shelters. [From this can we suppose that the Committee see the number of bunk beds in the Wilkinsons shelter as a possible contributory factor either to the number of casualties or to the hampering of the rescue effort. How may bunks were provided at Wilkinson? We know that double beds were against each wall in the 3 bays of the basement shelter]A response is had from the Home Office which prompts the Committee to resolve that Basement Shelters be restricted to a maximum occupancy of 50 people. [Wilkinson’s shelter had a maximum occupancy of 188 people.] and that the number of  bunks in such shelters be in numerical relation to such capacity. [What exactly does that mean? A bunk bed per occupant or some other ratio? ].

So, following the disaster and in a matter of days, the maximum occupancy of a Basement Shelter is reduced to 50 people.

Written out of history?

It is perhaps interesting to note that in these confidential Minutes, Wilkinson’s is never referred to by name after the disaster (it is named prior to the bombing). References to the shelter disappear completely from the Emergency Committee minutes after the 26th May 1941.

Never Forgotten.

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.

The East End community began to fragment and disperse with the slum clearances in the area during the 50s and 60s. The area has only recently been repopulated with new residential developments at Dockwray Square and by the Wooden Doll pub. Further developments are planned to revitalise the area.

With the vogue for local history and family history, beginning in the 80s, North Tyneside Libraries began to mark anniversaries of the bombing with small scale reminiscence projects. Occasionally articles and letters about the disaster would appear in the local press. The development of this website in 2000 and the local publicity it attracted, began a campaign by ex-Servicemen groups that North Tyneside Council should mark the disaster, the victims and the heroism of local people by erecting a memorial plaque in the town’s shopping mall.

 

Tynemouth Borough Emergency Committee Meeting Minutes
5th July 1939 (ARP Committee)
Minutes show that there is a survey underway of those buildings which could offer basement shelter accommodation.

 

4th January 1940 (36th Meeting)
(503) 21 premises are scheduled by the Borough Surveyor for the purpose of providing Public basement shelters. Permission has been secured in 12 cases.
The Corporation is to pay a nominal 5 shillings per annum rent, and accept responsibility for anything done in connection with the shelter which may adversally affect the building or result in damage to the adjoining property or injury or death to any person and indemnify the owners against any cost in the making or removal of the shelter.

 

3rd April 1940 (48th Meeting)
(680) Home Office approval gained for a maximum occupancy of 188 persons in the basement of Messrs Wilkinson’s premises. Conversion works to cost not more than £95.

 

15th May 1940 (55th Meeting)

(756) Permission granted by Home Office to rent Wilkinson’s basement for the purpose of providing an Air Raid Shelter at the cost of a nominal rent of 5 shillings per annum.

 

22nd October 1940

(1025) Approval gained to provide protection against blast and splinter at Wilkinsons at a cost of £9.00

 

4th May 1941 (112th Meeting)
Heaven knows the tone and emotions displayed at this meeting.
(1388) Major Knowles in attendance to offer the co-operation of the Military. The Chief Constable reported on the enemy air raid action and on the action taken during and subsequent to the raid by Civil Defence and military.
(1389) Borough Surveyor is instructed to take steps to diminish the intensity of illuminated direction signs at certain public air raid shelters.

 

5th May 1941 (113th Meeting)
Regional ARP and Civil Defence officials have visited the site and expressed their fullest confidence in the actions taken to date.
(1390) 1. Burials. That subject to the wishes of the relatives in any particular case, arrangements be made for collective funerals but that the victims of the air raid be interred in separate graves according to families.
2. Bunks. Borough Surveyor is immediately instructed to remove 50% of all bunks from Public Air Raid Shelters.
Additionally the BS is requested to find out the number of bunks deemed essential in Public Air raid Shelters.

 

26th May 1941 (116th Meeting)
(1415) Resolved that Basement Shelters have a maximum occupancy of 50 persons at any one time and that bunks in such shelters be in numerical relation to such capacity.
There are no further minutes related to Wilkinsons after this date.