The 70th anniversary of the last – and deadliest – of Hitler’s air raids on Sunderland has brought memories flooding back
DEATH rained down on Sunderland as Hitler took his “last vicious swipe” at the North East in 1943.
More than 80 Wearsiders perished as parachute mines, high explosives, fire-pot bombs and incendiaries cut a swathe of devastation across the town on May 24.
“I will never forget that raid,” said Ashbrooke pensioner Christina Wilson. “My little niece, who was just ten days old, was the youngest to die that day.
“Her dad Bill, my oldest brother, was in the army at the time, but had been given compassionate leave for her birth. Two months later he was dead as well.
“People talk about how stressful life is today, but what families went through in the war was awful - and there was no such thing as counselling back then.”
Christina, the daughter of shipyard plater John Price and his wife Sarah, was born in 1937 at Hedly Street, Millfield - the youngest of nine children.
Her two oldest brothers, Bill and Fred, signed up for the army when war broke out two years later. The rest of the family was left to fight on the home front.
“Bill had married his wife, Tina, by the time he went off to war. They had a daughter, Doris, in 1939, and a son, William, in around 1941,” said Christina.
“Their youngest daughter, Christina, was born ten days before Hitler’s last air raid on Sunderland. She was named after her mam, as was I. We were namesakes.”
Wearside was still recovering from a devastating attack on May 16, in which 70 people died, when the air raid sirens started wailing at 2.49am on May 24, 1943.
Six-year-old Christina and her parents scrambled to take cover under an iron table shelter in their front bedroom, but her brother Bill and his family were not so lucky.
“They lived in the same street as us, but didn’t have a shelter, so they started making their way towards our house instead,” said the retired clothing factory worker.
“When the bombs started dropping, they sought refuge at a neighbour’s house. If they had made it to ours, who knows what could have happened. They might have been safe.”
Tragically, just as Bill and his family ran into the house, a 500kg high explosive dropped. Several homes, including their own and the one they were sheltering in, were blown up.
Bill, Tina and their two oldest children are believed to have suffered cuts and bruises in the blast. Baby Christina, in contrast, was left without a scratch - but dead.
“There must have been eight or ten houses in the street demolished that night, and several more in the streets around. It is a night I will never forget,” said Christina.
“Mr Milburn, the local air raid warden, managed to dig the baby out of the rubble. I don’t think there was a mark on her, it was the shock of the blast which killed her.
“I still remember how she looked, with her dark hair. She was like a tiny baby doll. The raid took her life, and this is why we should never forget what happened that day.”
Bill had to return to his war duties soon after the tragedy, leaving wife Tina to look after young Doris and William. Two months later, he drowned in an accident.
“My sister-in-law had to bring up the children on her own. She always put on a brave face, and didn’t let things get her down, even though it must have been so hard,” said Christina.
“She lost her home, husband and baby in just two months and, after all her struggles, she lost another home in a fire some eight years later due to an electrical fault.
“Luckily, when the lights first fused, she decided to take the children to visit a relative for the night. Goodness knows what would have happened if she had stayed home.”
The raid of May 24, 1943, left 23 children dead, including baby Christina and a teenager from Hedley Street. Twenty-seven men and 33 women also perished during the deadly raid.
Many of the casualties occurred when a bomb landed in St George’s Square, where 18 people died and several buildings, including Argyle House School, were demolished.
Three public shelters were also hit. Three people died in the Bromarsh shelter, five at the Bonners Field and 17 at Lodge Terrace in Hendon - including two teenage brothers.
“My little niece was the youngest victim of this air raid, and I believe it is important to keep remembering her - and everyone else killed during the war,” said Christina.
n Do you have a war story to share? Email Sarah Stoner at: firstname.lastname@example.org