Ellen Lee

Unsung Heroism of Shelter Warden

In the course of researching material for this site, many survivors and local residents mentioned the bravery of an ARP warden, Mrs Lee. None however could provide any details about her other than that she was a large lady and a local ‘character’. By complete chance the very last person we spoke to (Mrs Emma Chapman) happened to mention that Mrs Lee was in fact her aunt. With her information we managed to interview Mrs Lee’s son, Albert, himself a survivor of the bombing. The information below is essentially a tale of extraordinary personal courage. She deserves to be widely remembered. Mrs Lee died in 1951 aged 56.


Ellen Lee

Ellen Lee

Born: 24/3/1894
Ellen was one of 11 children.
Parents: Sarah Bell Parker (Dodds) and Joseph Parker
Married: Albert Lee – 13/1/1916
Albert came from Bradford and was in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. He died in 1965 at his daughter Hilda’s home in Redditch.
Children: Albert and Hilda.
Residences: 1939 at Coburg Terrace. 1941 at 2 Hamilton Terrace. 1951 at 155 Tynemouth Road.
Died: 24/4/1951 aged 56.
Ellen was cremated at West Road Crematorium in Newcastle on 27/4/1951.

We’re very grateful to Julie Simpson, the great, great niece of Ellen Lee for sharing her family tree research with us.

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.

Although she was a strict warden (she would only allow smoking in the designated area and would discourage young couples from using the shelter as a courting place), she was a good one. The shelter was popular and often packed with locals who enjoyed the singing, music and atmosphere.

The shelter could hold 210 people. It was divided into 3 rooms: Nos 1, 2 and 3. From the main King Street entrance, you went down 4 wooden steps and through the doors into No 1 Room. The walls were bare brick and 2 bed high bunks lined each main wall. No 2 Room was the central section of the shelter where the girls in particular liked a sing-along. No 3 Room was a smoking area with a rear exit onto George Street. The floors were concrete. The ceiling was not reinforced: the wooden floors of Wilkinson’s factory with its machinery were just above.

When the sirens sounded that night Mrs Lee hurried along to the shelter to open up. It was busy (192 people inside) but relatively quiet. There had been no music and people were just talking amongst themselves.
When the bomb hit, everything went dark and then the screams and shouts started. Mrs Lee who was in No 2 Room, called for everyone to keep quiet. With her torch on she shouted: “See me light, I’ll get you out”.

Moving through No 1 Room, Mrs Lee found the exit door blocked with fallen rubble and bricks. Using her strength and weight she shoulder charged the wall repeatedly until it gave way enough to make an opening onto the street. She stood at this escape route until 32 people had managed to get out.

Mrs Lee in ARP uniform

Mrs Lee in ARP uniform

Ellen Lee and husband

Ellen and Albert Lee c1916

Mrs Lee herself was badly burnt in the explosion. Nevertheless she remained at her duty. Her son Albert and daughter Hilda were both in No 1 Room. Albert was unharmed but Hilda had bad injuries: a wound the size of her head in her side, a broken arm and leg.

The injured were taken to Kettlewell School.

Albert listened to his mother’s calm instructions and hurried off home to bring the first aid kit and a new skirt – it had been burned off in the explosion! Mrs Lee then made her way to the school and helped with providing first aid to those that were there.

Her husband, himself a full time first aider rushed from his post in Albion Road to the school. When he got there he didn’t recognise his daughter Hilda her injuries were so severe.

On Wednesday June 18th, during the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Tynemouth, Ellen Lee was part of an ARP parade inspected by the royal couple. Ellen Lee, her face still marked with blue from the bomb blast, was introduced to the King and Queen who expressed her admiration and said; “You were very brave indeed”.

Mrs Lee continued as an ARP warden until the end of the war. She built a close relationship with the soldiers of the Third Regiment Maritime R.A. billeted at Kettlewell School. She washed, darned and sewed for them, advised them on personal and general problems and did everything she could to make their stay comfortable.

At the end of the war, Mrs Lee received a letter from Major S Horne enclosing a cheque in recognition of her services to the men.

Mrs Lee received no official recognition for her actions that night.

Ellen Lee