Explore the World War Two secrets of Sunderland’s coast

FULWELL WAR: The damage left by Hitler's Luftwaffe after a bombing raid in May 1941.
FULWELL WAR: The damage left by Hitler's Luftwaffe after a bombing raid in May 1941.
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WEARSIDERS are being offered the chance to step back in time to the days of bombing raids, food rationing and wartime blackouts.

A guided walk along the coast of Seaburn and Roker this Saturday will explore the history of anti-invasion defences from both the First and Second World Wars.

“During the Second World War, and to an extent the First, this area was a bombing target because of its industrial importance,” said Charlie Goulty, of Groundwork.

“As a result, an elaborate series of defences and diversions were constructed along the coastal plain, including pillboxes, tank traps and gun batteries.

“We will be exploring these relics during the walk, as well as looking at the stories and history behind them. Roker and Seaburn were basically military zones.”

Saturday’s wartime ramble, organised by Limestone Landscapes Partnership and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, will start from Roker Clifftop at 10am.

“The first stop will be Roker Gun Battery,” said tour leader Charlie. “A battery stood on this spot from the late 1800s, but didn’t see any action until the First World War.

“Its four antiquated muzzle-loaded guns had been removed by the time war broke out in 1914. It was 1916 by the time they were replaced by two 4.7 inch naval guns.”

The guns – positioned in simple earth emplacements – saw only brief action. Once peace returned, they were removed – but reinstalled in 1940 as air raids hit Wearside.

“Attacks came from naval bombardment and air raids,” said Charlie. “The first sightings of enemy planes over Sunderland were off the Cat and Dog steps.”

Defences were stepped up following the first major bombing raids. Additional guns were placed at Roker and anti-aircraft gun Big Bertha was installed at Grangetown.

“The remains of torpedo guns, which were used to protect the harbour from high speed U-boats, can still be seen in front of the lighthouse,” said Charlie.

“There were three torpedo tubes, manned by the Royal Navy. Wires from the torpedo housing, as well as the concrete roof of the torpedo house, can still be seen today.

“Sunderland’s harbour was of strategic importance due to the shipbuilding industry. It was targeted in both wars, and a German U-boat even sank close to the pier in 1917.”

Other highlights of Saturday’s tour will include stories about the South Pier Wave Basin Battery, built to protect the inner harbour, as well as details on bombing raids.

“The Wave Basin guns were never actually used, but the clifftop batteries and anti-aircraft guns around Sunderland were in regular use during raids,” said Charlie.

“Between 1940 and 1943, there were a number of attacks. In the first raids, the port and chemical works at the docks were badly hit – as were several streets in Fulwell.

“And on November 7, 1941, a high explosive bomb hit the LNER sidings at South Docks. An engine approaching the area was lifted off the rails in the blast.”

A former pillbox site, Fulwell Sound Mirror and several bomb sites close to where Roker Park football ground once stood will also be included in the wartime ramble.

“One night houses were demolished on Westburn Terrace, Sandringham Road, Duke North Street, Sandringham Terrace, Fulwell Road and Francis Street,” said Charlie.

“The wounded would have been taken to Redby School for emergency treatment. As well as being Reserve Regional Control Centre, the school was also first aid station.

“Roker, Fulwell and Seaburn really were military zones. Soldiers patrolled with guns, the beach was covered with barbed wire and all around there were land mines.”

l Walkers should meet at Roker Clifftop, next to Roker Park, at 10am. The walk is free and expected to last two hours.