THE drone of enemy aircraft could be heard in the skies above Sunderland several minutes before the sirens finally sounded at 9.01pm on March 3, 1941.
As Wearsiders scrambled to seek shelter, incendiary and high-explosive bombs dropped across the Hendon area. Houses, the docks, a timber merchant and a steamship were all damaged in the raid.
“Three police officers saw a huge glow in the sky, in the direction of South Dock,” said Kevin Brady, an Echo photographer and author of The People’s History: Sunderland’s Blitz.
“On investigation, they found a raging fire at Joseph Thompson’s dock office – under the sheer legs – and incendiary bombs burning at G. Horsley’s timber yard. All fires were quickly extinguished.”
Two women were pulled from a bombed-out house in Wall Street by teen firewatcher Francis Carr, while the nearby home of Mr and Mrs Swainston was also damaged in the attack.
“One of the incendiary bombs fell through the roof of their home, drilled a hole in a frying pan, smashed the top of the cooker and set fire to some sand bags kept for fire-fighting,” said Kevin.
“Mrs Swainston, pictured right, was pictured in the Sunderland Echo the following day.”
Incendiary bombs also caused problems at Wear Street, setting fire to the home of Ed Watson. One man who tried to fight the flames, John Wilson, was reported to have injured his left hand.
Worse, however, was to come. Just minutes after the first wave of incendiaries, six high-explosive bombs fell in a direct line between Rectory Park School, Paley Street and Farringdon Row.
“Potentially the most serious of these bombs fell on the rear of the Bill Quay air raid shelter, damaging the roof and causing some of the walls to collapse,” said Kevin.
“Craters were also found in Back Hopper Street, on ground that had been cleared under the slum clearance scheme, and a bomb also fell in the yard at Rectory Park School – causing little damage.”
Wearsiders were given a little more warning when the next air raid took place later that month – 25 minutes elapsed between the sounding of the siren and the first bombs dropping on March 14, 1941.
“The worst incident was in Francis Street, Roker, where a large bomb demolished several houses and damaged many more. Debris was also thrown up on to Redby School,” said Kevin.
“Members of the fire service arrived at Number 44 within three minutes of the bomb dropping and, after commencing a search, they heard a faint cry coming from under their feet.
“Four firemen began clearing the rubble with their hands and, after about 10 minutes, 72-year-old Lewis Viner was uncovered – followed, sooner after, by Mrs Viner and of their daughters.
“Both women were unconscious, but breathing. There was no sign of life from Mr Viner.”
There was tragedy, too, at Number 46. Sarah Ann Pennell, 50, was found buried in the rubble with her 18-year-old daughter, Marie. The women were clasped in each other’s arms. Both were dead.
People were also left trapped in Duke Street North, although they were rescued alive, and several houses in Roxburgh Street were seriously damaged in the raid as well.
Four members of the Atkinson family were pulled alive from the rubble of Number 46, including 71-year-old retired tobacconist George. Tragically, 55-year-old Mary Elizabeth Atkinson perished.
Other streets to suffer that night included Sandringham Road, Roker, where several people close to where the bomb fell were slightly injured – including warden Austin Trewhitt.
“As the bombs exploded, Trewhitt was hit by debris and found himself under a gable end wall, which was close to collapsing. He later needed hospital treatment,” said Kevin.
“This gable end Trewhitt found himself near was the bedroom of 70-year-old James Newton. James slept through the incident, and bemoaned the fact it made him late for his job as an engine fitter!”
- Look out for another wartime story in Wearside Echoes next week.