Newcastle remembers 70th anniversary of Manors bombing raid
PUBLISHED: 18:03 22 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:02 20 February 2013
This month people in the Shieldfield area of Newcastle will be commemorating the 70th anniversary of a major Second World War German bombing raid which killed 50 people and made more than 1,000 homeless Words By Mark Holdstock
John Armstrong was fifteen and had recently started work at Dampneys paintworks in the East End of Newcastle. He was an eye witness to one of the worst bombing raids on the North East during the war.
The night itself was calm, it was light. Id seen the bomber and it was very close. It must have come over that close to the ground that the radar system couldnt detect it.
Amongst the targets that night was the Railway Goods Station at Manors, a site which is now the new Eastern Campus for Northumbria University. In 1941 it was at the very heart of the operation to feed the people of
The goods station went up in flames because they had the stocks of sugar and margarine. It was the centre of distribution for the
North East. says Mr Armstrong, who lived in a block of pre-war tenements on nearby Melbourne Street, a short walk from the goods station.
I was on the passage behind the block, and the blast from the goods station was so strong it blew me all along the passage.
Amongst those who lived even closer was Basil McLeod. In later life he was a Newcastle city councillor, but in 1941 he was a twelve year old schoolboy living on Rock Street in Shieldfield, a row of terraced houses, long since replaced by the tower blocks of the 1950s and 1960s.
That night the raids started round half nine or ten oclock. For some unknown reason, Ive never been able to find out, the enemy aircraft were overhead and dropping their bombs before the air-raid warning was sounded, Basil recalls.
I was climbing into bed and I heard a terrific explosion. Knowing it was a bomb I immediately dressed again. There was a lot of noise and the sky was reddish from the fire in the goods station.
Basil says the fire was particularly fierce because the goods station was used to store food, particularly sugar. We went into the surface shelter in Rock Street, because it was a bit dangerous to go down to the Victoria Tunnel.
This was because the sudden arrival of the Junkers fighter-bombers made it perilous for families to even make the short journey from their homes to the tunnel entrance, which in those days was next to Christ Church.
The Victoria Tunnel, which ran from Ouseburn to long closed collieries at Spital Toungues in Fenham, near to the present day site of the BBC, was used as an air raid shelter because of the protection the depth of the tunnel gave.
For some this short journey, or their reluctance to take it proved fatal, as John Armstrong recalls.
There was a chap, a lad called Ben. He was 15 when he was killed. They had told him to get inside the shelter, the Victoria Tunnel. The entrance was opposite the church, and he was at the church door.
It seemed that Ben was killed in the blast from an anti-aircraft gun based at Lobley Hill.
He was told to go down into the shelter, but he wanted to watch. He wanted to collect the shrapnel. I knew him because we all went to Newcastle Childrens Mission just down the road.
As Basil McLeod remembers, few of the children had much fear of the bombings.
Looking back on it, it was a bit of an adventure, none of my school-mates seemed to be scared either. We used go along after an air raid to try to collect shrapnel, as souvenirs. We collected shrapnel in the same way that youngsters collect marbles. I had quite a collection of burnt out incendiary bombs and twisted metal.
The raid on the night of September 1st 1941 was carried out by 22 Junkers 88 bombers. One of them was shot down over Northumberland by and RAF Beaufighter from RAF Acklington. The four-man crew is buried at the churchyard at Chevington in Northumberland.
Although 50 per cent the Manors Goods Station was destroyed in the raid, Basil McLeod says things could have been far worse.
It devastated the residential area, but the only direct hit the Germans had that night was on the goods station, Mr McLeod said.
There were very close misses on Hedleys soap works which was on the City Road at the time, and the other target could have been the paint works, Dampneys on Turner Street.
Had those two other factories been hit you would have had fires in close proximity and it could have developed into a fire-storm.