Norman Darling Black

British Empire Medal recipient

With complete disregard to their own safety…

With what remained of the factory likely to collapse at any moment, the number of those working amongst the rubble and debris was kept to a minimum. This caused disquiet amongst the local men, desperate to help but cordoned off from the site by ARP personnel.

As the hours ticked by, those working at acute risk to their own safety found reward in the rescue of several trapped men, women and children.

The bravery of several of these rescuers was later officially recognised.

Norman Darling Black

Norman Darling Black

Mr Norman Darling Black – Awarded the British Empire Medal

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. With a ‘jack’ Mr Black began to prize up the crashed roof, knowing that four high walls and about 40 tons of machinery were suspended insecurely above his head. A doctor crawled in and handed anesthetic to Brother Black who adminstered it to the imprisoned man. He then cut the victim’s boots away and pulled the man out of his boots to freedom. Mr Black was awarded the British Empire Medal.

(image: Norman Darling Black in First Aid Uniform. Mr Black was related to a more famous Northumbrian heroine, Grace Darling)

The following information was supplied by Norman Darling Black’s son George, (aged 72 at time of interview in 2000). George is a member of the Abbey Neighbourhood History Group in Lincoln where he has lived for the past 50 years.


George Black

On the day Saturday May 3rd 1941 the air raid sounded, my mother and I went to the nearest air raid shelter. My father was an ARP warden and was on duty with the rest of the team members. At the time of the raid we were living in the caretaker’s quarters of the Salvation Army in Prudhoe Street, North Shields.


During this air raid there was a bomb dropped which hit Wilkinson’s lemonade factory. The basement of this factory was used as an air raid shelter for both day and night raids. Many families, amongst them friends and relatives went to this shelter. It held over 200 people. When the bomb hit, the factory machinery and everything came down trapping everyone in the shelter.


When the ARP team arrived, also the Police and Fire Brigade they all realised what had happened and started straight away knowing the dangerous situation of all those trapped in the basement. After hours of working together with doctors getting the people out, one false move could have brought any heavy object down including machinery. The ARP team had to work on their backs, sides and fronts inch by inch jacking masonry and machinery up very slowly to make it safe so they could get people out. One story is of a man who was trapped. My father, working with a doctor, cut the man’s laces to remove his boots and only then was he able to drag the man free.


My father was trained as a first-aider and seeing the seriousness of the situation was prepared to work until everyone was out. He did this for many hours in very dangerous conditions until everyone, injured or dead was taken from the basement. For his bravery he was awarded the British Empire Medal.


Two other men were awarded the George Cross. My father’s friends and colleagues thought that he deserved further recognition for his actions, so they presented him with a gold watch.


On December 1st 1941, my father, mother and I travelled down to London. On December 2nd at Buckingham Palace, His Majesty King George VI awarded ARP Warden Norman Darling Black with the British Empire Medal. It was a proud and wonderful day for the family.


Whilst we were in London, we stayed at the Salvation Army Hostel, Hoxton Goodwill Centre and were escorted around by Captain Giles who was an Australian.




After the war, my father became a psychiatric nurse at St. Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth. Before he retired he became Deputy Chief Male Nurse.


Following the disaster numerous children were evacuated to safer locations. The day of the evacuation we all met at the school we attended which was Queen Victoria school. Our mums and dads were there to see us off with a parcel of food, big hugs, kisses and a lot of love and tears.


My placement was at Horsley Vicarage near Otterburn with the vicar, his wife and housemaid. There was another boy who stayed there with me. We went to Otternburn school. I’d like to say a big thank you to the people who looked after the boys when we were evacuated.


When my father and mother moved away from North Shields to a village called New York, about three miles away, I was allowed to go back to my parents. I lost contact with the boy who I became friends with when I was evacuated. Does anyone know him? He would be about 70 now and I’d very much like to get in contact with him.


I went to several local schools: Queen Victoria and King Edward’s in North Shields, New York Junior School and Shiremoor Secondary Modern (?). Perhaps someone remembers me?. I left North Shields and joined the RAF as a musician, I then became a psychiatric nurse, just as my father had been. I now live in Lincoln.
Whilst writing this and remembering those times, Psalm 23 has been going through my mind…”the Lord is my Shepherd…”. God bless.




Medal Citations

The medal citations for Clarence Burdiss, George Newstead and Norman Darling Black are given in The London Gazette, issue 35226, 22nd July 1941.

Awarded the George Medal:
A.R.P. Rescue Party, Tynemouth
Clarence Burdis – Leader
George Newstead – Leader

Awarded the British Empire Medal (Civil Division)
First Aid Party, Tynemouth
Norman Darling Black – Member,


A building suffered a direct hit and people were trapped in the basement. Newstead cut a hole through the wall to a room containing a number of casualties and arranged for their removal. One man was trapped by his leg under tons of debris. Medical assistance was called and an anaesthetic administered to the casualty with a view to amputating his foot, but in the meantime Newstead, at great risk to his life, succeeded in getting into position a small jack and relieved the pressure on the man’s foot. By cutting away the boot he succeeded in dragging the man to comparative safety. Newstead, who was aware that at any moment during the rescue operation the building might have collapsed, showed outstanding courage. Burdis cut through a thick wall and entered another room in the basement in which a number of casualties were lying interlaced with timber from bunks which had collapsed. In spite of the great confusion Burdis extricated these casualties one by one, passing them through the small hole to other members of the Squad. He worked unaided in a confined space for nearly four hours until he partially collapsed through exhaustion. On recovery, he insisted on returning to the basement and, by his gallant efforts, saved a number of lives. Black made sustained and strenuous efforts to free injured persons from the debris and rendered first aid. He displayed courage and devotion to duty with complete disregard of his own safety.

The George Medal

George Medal

The British Empire Medal


The Medals

The George Cross is the highest civilian award for gallantry followed by in order of merit, The George Medal. The George Cross and the George Medal are awarded for similar acts of gallantry (i.e. any act of bravery not in the face of the enemy). The difference is in the degree of bravery displayed (in a similar way to the distinction made between the Victoria Cross and the Military Cross in battle). Both can be awarded to civilians or service personnel alike. Many servicemen and women have been awarded the GM and many civilians the GC. The Royal Warrant authorising the award of the George Medal was published in January 1941. The medal is named after George VI. In the period 1940-1945, 724 civilians were awarded the George Medal. The British Empire Medal Established in 1922 to replace the Medal of the Order of the British Empire. The British Empire Medal is awarded for meritorious civil or military service worthy of recognition by the Crown

British Empire Medal image - By Robert Prummel (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (] via Wikimedia Commons

George Medal - By Ministry of Defence [OGL (] via Wikimedia Commons