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ROWLANDS GILL
AND THE NORTH-EAST
1939 - 1945

by Brian Pears

Copyright Brian Pears 1994-2008

To the most important people in my life, my wife and my mother.

CONTENTS.

 
  INTRODUCTION 
CHAPTER 1 THE CIVILIAN SERVICES 
CHAPTER 2 AIR RAID SHELTERS 
CHAPTER 3 FOOD AND RATIONING 
CHAPTER 4 THE HOME GUARD 
CHAPTER 5 INVASION 
CHAPTER 6 BLACKOUT AND THE AIR RAID WARNING SYSTEM 
CHAPTER 7 AIR DEFENCE OF THE NORTH-EAST 
CHAPTER 8 ATTACKS ON THE NORTH-EAST 
CHAPTER 9 EVACUATION, P.O.W.s AND DISPLACED PERSONS 
CHAPTER 10 VOLUNTEERS AND SERVICE CASUALTIES 
  SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 

INTRODUCTION.

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Many years ago I read a short history of Rowlands Gill which dismissed the whole subject of World War II in a single sentence; it was something like "Rowlands Gill was materially unaffected by the war". That really annoyed me; how on earth could the author, a lady who lived in the village throughout the war, have written such a statement? The fabric of the village might have been relatively untouched, apart from some moderate bomb-damage at Lockhaugh, but a village is primarily its people not its buildings, and its people certainly were affected. Her statement is about as sensible as saying that someone's house was unaffected by the long-term illness of one of its occupants - true but completely irrelevant.

Even from my point of view and that of my contemporaries -born just as the war was ending- some of the effects of the war were obvious. We all knew people with strange accents or strange surnames -people who were living here as a direct consequence of the war. We all knew someone who had lost a husband, father, brother or son in the war; their lives were hardly unaffected. We all knew illegitimate children, the results of the many brief encounters and heightened passions of those times. A close childhood friend of mine, adopted in infancy, later found out that her real father was an American serviceman stationed near Whitley Bay for a short time early in 1945 -he never knew of her existence and her mother never even knew his name! We all knew married couples who had met because of the war; my Aunt Betty (Walker) met her future husband, cockney Frank Painter, while nursing at Hexham Emergency (now Hexham General) Hospital -he was wounded during the Dunkirk Evacuation at the end of May 1940 and taken to the hospital. Indeed many of our birth-dates were determined by the exigencies of war; in my case I can link my origin to an entry in my father's "Soldiers' Service and Pay Book" which reads "1.3.45 - 10.3.45 9 days Privilege Leave" -I was born exactly 37 weeks later. Many of us spent our very early years without our fathers; mine spent much of 1946 and 1947 in Egypt -exploring the pyramids triggered his lifelong love of history. On a trivial level, the remaining wartime measures such as rationing gave us just a hint of the hardships faced in the war -when we went to the corner shop for sweets we had to take account of the points as well as the pennies.

There really was little excuse for the statement in that little booklet but anyone without first hand knowledge of this area in the war years might easily believe that, not only was Rowlands Gill unaffected, but the whole of the North-East too. The vast majority of the many books written about the Home Front make little if any reference to the area. This is an attempt to correct these impressions. It is not an account of everyday life in the village during those terrible years -there are still many alive who could do a far better job than myself. It is simply a brief look at a number of topics which will perhaps convey just a little of the true picture of the war in the North-East in general and Rowlands Gill in particular. The truth, of course, is that in Rowlands Gill, as in every other village, town and city in Britain and in most countries of the world, the war affected everyone in a most fundamental way -it affected almost everything they did and thought for more than six years. I think most chapters will contain something surprising to the younger generations; some chapters, especially that on air attacks on the North-East, may even be somewhat of a revelation to those with first hand knowledge of those times.

Family Mementoes of the War Years

Army Grade Card Army Grade Card - Reverse
Wedding Ring Receipt Hospital Booking Slip
Welcome Home Concert Invitation

Author's Collection - Note the date on the hospital booking slip: my mother found she was pregnant on VE Day - so the flags had a double significance for her.

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[Last updated: Saturday, 13th October 2012 - 03:02 BST - Brian Pears]