Honouring the dead

The Northern Echo: KILLED: Tom Hoskins KILLED: Tom Hoskins

A new book reveals the stories of heroism and tragedy that surrounded WHEN three bombs fell on Dorman Long’s steelworks at Grangetown, Teesside, on December 14, 1942, a string of coincidences cost steelworker Tom Hoskins his life.

First, the bombs were intended for West Hartlepool, across the river. Second, Tom was meant to be off work, but was fitting in an extra shift for an absent employee. Third, he was sent to the opposite end of the plant from where he usually worked.

TO compound the tragedy, Tom, one of six steelworkers killed in the raid, was due to be married that Christmas.

Amid the now fading memories of the Second World War, the poignant circumstances of his death could easily be forgotten.

Fortunately, they have been preserved for posterity by aviation historian Bill Norman, who recalls them, along with much else that tugs the heart, in the latest of an impressive series of books chronicling the war in the air over the North-East, especially Teesside and its hinterland.

Luftwaffe missions, the fate of home-based bombers that failed to return, the day-to-day operations of a particular Halifax and the full story of a crashed Dornier unearthed only a few years ago have previously come under Bill’s meticulous spotlight.

But his latest offering is arguably his most painstaking work so far – nearly a complete record of every German air raid from Hartlepool to Whitby.

Bill says: “Between July and WHEN three bombs fell on Dorman Long’s steelworks at Grangetown, Teesside, on December 14, 1942, a string of coincidences cost steelworker Tom Hoskins his life.

First, the bombs were intended for West Hartlepool, across the river. Second, Tom was meant to be off work, but was fitting in an extra shift for an absent employee. Third, he was sent to the opposite end of the plant from where he usually worked.

October 1940, air raid warnings sounded almost every day and night along the North- East coast. Sometimes they sounded several times a day and several times a night.”

If heard less thereafter, they remained a feature of daily life into 1943.

But Bill presents a tabulated record of every Teesside raid – well over 100. Separately, he describes them in a running diary, which reveals the Tom Hoskins tragedy. The biggest raids are given even fuller accounts, and there are complete lists of the dead and injured. Based on German as well as British sources, Bill’s research is helped by abundant illustrations that builds up an engrossing picture of an industrial region under attack.

As Bill acknowledges, Teesside was by no means the hardest-hit industrial area.

The 279 houses destroyed or demolished in Middlesbrough compared with 2,937 in Sheffield and 4,425 in Hull.

However, the North Riding coast notched up an amazing number of Second World War “firsts”.

On October 19, 1939, the crew of a German plane shot down by a Catterick-based Spitfire became the first prisoners captured on English soil when they came ashore at Sandsend, near Whitby. On February 3, 1940, the first German aircraft brought down on English soil crashed near Sleights, Whitby.

Two months later, the first Spitfire lost in defence of Britain was shot down, also off Whitby. On May 25, 1940, bombs dropped on Teesside’s Cargo Fleet ironworks and Grangetown marked the first bombing raid on a non-military target and produced Britain’s first civilian casualties (eight), though none died.

But on the night of June 19- 20, a raid on Hartlepool took the life of air raid warden John Punton – Britain’s first civil defence worker killed by enemy action.

A heavier toll was inflicted on the Marsh Road area of Middlesbrough on October 13, 1940. Among the 15 dead was a man whose body was shielding a 14-month-old baby, also dead. On October 21, 1941, another 15 people perished in a direct hit on the Zetland Club, Redcar. Middlesbrough’s heaviest raid, on July 26, 1942, took 17 lives.

From the carnage, Bill draws telling individual cameos. A survivor of a raid on South Bank which killed 13, told him how a soldier was soon afterwards “digging at No 11.” (Bridgeford Terrace), where five members of one family died. “He was Marie Neil’s boyfriend. He got leave and was trying to find her.”

At Loftus on November 6, 1940, first-aid worker Rose Smith was on duty when a stretcher-borne body was brought in. As Bill tells it: “When she saw the mop of blond curly hair that protruded from under the sheet, she immediately knew the identity of the victim” – her 19-year-old twin brother, Jack.

Bravery flourished. Arthur Bradshaw, a Middlesbrough shunter, earned the British Empire Medal for staying in his locomotive to shift flaming goods wagons amid exploding incendiary bombs.

Injured when a bomb hit the North Riding Infirmary, a Dr P Baxter nevertheless attended a victim in a nearby street – after being carried there on a stretcher. In West Hartlepool, ambulance worker Thomas Hanson risked his life climbing up a possibly unstable drain pipe to fight a fire on the ambulance station roof.

The defiance and determination to carry on fuelled the heroism and explains why daily life was less disrupted than might have been expected.

Bill quotes an official report of the response to that first Teesside air-raid – the one that injured eight at Cargo Fleet – which, he says, was echoed time and time again.

“All posts were fully manned, the wardens and police were out reporting damage in very quick time. Rescue and demolition were soon in action and working well”, says Bill.

Britain – or at any rate Teesside – could take it.

Bill salutes recent efforts to honour the dead. Haunted by the death of a young soldier in Whitby, to whom he had known as a schoolboy, Whitby man John Porteous provided a bronze memorial plaque, unveiled by the mayor in 1996.

In Middlesbrough, Geraldine Wheldon persuaded Railtrack to erect a plaque naming the eight victims, including her railway-guard grandfather, of a bomb that struck the town’s railway station.

Alas, two names are misspelt, a mistake that surely should be rectified.

Among Bill’s most striking stories is of a clock damaged when a bomb destroyed 1 St Peter’s Road, Stockton.

Though repaired, and several times checked and found faultless, whenever it needs rewinding it still stops at the time of the explosion – nine minutes past midnight. Bill shows a picture of the precious timepiece, its case still bearing its war scars.

Setting the context for the Teesside raids, the book’s opening chapter is an excellent summary of the Luftwaffe’s wartime operations over the whole of the North- East. Bill says he hopes the book will serve as a memorial “to those who lost their lives in those dangerous days”.

It does so triumphantly. On the page facing the story of the luckless Tom Hoskins is a picture of a wedding group from December 27, 1941 – the happy couple William “Billy”

Johnson and Lily Loynes.

Bill’s caption reveals: “Two weeks before their first anniversary, the bride and groom, together with bridesmaid Amy Johnson (extreme right) were among those killed when a bomb landed behind 73, Union Road, Hartlepool.”

But for Bill, we would be unaware of Billy, Lily and Amy – and how war was to cut short the happiness inherent in that wedding photo. But it is right that we should know.

Bill places his roll call of Teesside’s 305 dead at the head of his book. Teesside is fortunate to have its war in the air recorded with such skill, dedication and compassion.

■ Air Raid Diary: The Luftwaffe attacks on Teesside, 1940-43, by Bill Norman, costs £12.50. To order a copy, call 01287-280429.

Comments

Comments are closed on this article.

click2find

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree