Wearside Echoes: Buried alive in wartime bombing

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A WEARSIDE woman who was buried alive during a wartime bombing raid today recalls her miraculous escape.

THE sound of the air raid siren signalling another attack on Sunderland by Hitler’s Luftwaffe was just part of growing up for young Dorothy Thompson.

“Every time there was a raid, mam would wrap me in a blanket and carry me to the nearest shelter,” she recalls. “It was all very normal for me.

“The shelter was underneath a place where, I believe, disabled children went during the day. It had lots of toys, which I loved.”

Dorothy, who was just four when war broke out, spent the early years of the conflict living with her family in a flat above a church in Murton Street.

“My mam, who was also called Dorothy, was the caretaker of the church. I knew it as Plemper’s Church, as a Mr Plemper ran it,” said Dorothy.

“Mam used to clean and tidy the building, and would also put out the old-fashioned black fold-up chairs for services. I think I probably helped her.”

Dorothy, a pupil at Hudson Road School, enjoyed a “happy childhood” in Murton Street – despite the many wartime trials and tribulations.

“My dad, Jack, was an ARP warden, who also worked in the shipyards as a driller. I had two older sisters, Ann and Gladys, who lived with us,” she said.

“Air raids were just part of life for me. I can’t remember ever being worried or scared about them. They were just a normal part of childhood.”

However, the night of April 16, 1941, was to prove anything but normal for the Thompson family.

Eighteen Wearsiders were killed and dozens injured when parachute mines dropped on Sunderland. Several buildings, including the Victoria Hall and Winter Gardens, were demolished.

“I can remember that night as if it were yesterday,” said Dorothy, of Lakeside Village. “When the siren went off, mam carried me out of the flat as usual.

“I remember playing happily with a doll’s pram and doll’s house as we waited to go down into the shelter, and this left us at the back of the queue to get in.

“We were just in the narrow passageway leading down to the shelter when the bomb went off. I remember all the rubble coming down, burying us in debris.”

Dorothy, who had turned six just a few weeks before, managed to keep a tight grip on her mother’s hand as the pair fought for survival beneath the wreckage.

“Although I was covered in debris, I don’t remember being scared. I’m sure the dust must have got in my throat and eyes – but I can’t remember it,” she said.

“What I do remember is that mam was there with me the whole time, holding my hand, until we were pulled from the rubble by ARP wardens.”

News of the bomb blast was relayed to Dorothy’s father within minutes.

“He was helping out in Suffolk Street following the raid, digging out another family from bomb wreckage. Someone told him we might be dead,” said Dorothy.

“We were very lucky, though. When we were eventually pulled free, dad took us back to our flat. But we had no home left. We had lost everything.

“My toys, my clothes – everything had gone. I remember how the stairs to the flat were missing. The damage was so bad that the church had to be pulled down.”

She added: “Luckily, we were all OK. My sisters had been out dancing when the air raid started, so they were both safe as well.”

The Thompson family ended up seeking refuge with Dorothy’s grandmother in Tatham Street, before finding a room to rent in a house at Northcote Avenue.

“My sisters stayed with my grandmother, and I shared that one room with my parents for a while,” said Dorothy.

“But my mam managed to find another job, as a waitress at the Palatine, and we eventually moved to a flat in Winifred Terrace. I lived there for 32 years.

“Mam used what she earned at the Palatine to buy bits and pieces each week from Charlie Jude, the local auctioneer, slowly building our home back up.

“Although we were bombed out, and although we lost everything, my parents always made sure that I had a happy childhood.” l Do you have a war story to tell? Write to: Sarah Stoner, Sunderland Echo, Pennywell, Sunderland SR4 9ER.