Bombing raids and German prisoners: Memories of Boldon Camp during Second World War
A former South Tyneside resident has spoken about her life growing up in a Second World War Army camp in East Boldon, as a campaign continues to turn the site into a military heritage centre.
Boldon Camp Heritage Group launched earlier this year with ambitions to turn the disused former depot, on the outskirts of the village, into a heritage site for the community.
The news of their campaign prompted former resident Rita Ewart, whose father William Henry Carney, was the most senior civilian (Foreman I/C) of Boldon Camp from 1939 to 1960, to reach out.
Rita, now 88 and living in York, has told what life was like for the family during Second World War as the site was used as a German Prisoner of War Camp.
As a six-year-old she moved with her family, dad William, mum Emma and siblings James, 12, Jean, nine, and Pam, 13 months, to No 74 Anti-Aircraft Ordnance Depot in 1939, just a few months before the outbreak of hostilities with Germany.
They left behind their loved ones in York when her father was offered the post and moved into a bungalow, which was constructed especially for them on the site.
Being Roman Catholic, Rita and her sister had to travel three miles by train every day to attend St Peter and Paul‘s RC school in Tyne Dock.
“Dad accepted the post even though he knew war with Germany was imminent, which I realised many years later was a very ambitious thing to do,” said Rita.
“On September 3, 1939 everyone was gathered around the radio to hear Neville Chamberlain give the news to the nation that Britain was now at war with Germany.
“From then on Boldon Camp became a hive of activity, day and night. Dad was always busy sending guns and ammunition to the various local Ack-Ack gun sites. Convoys of Army trucks and utility vans were a constant stream, going up and down the road.”
Boldon Camp played a key role in the defence and support of the South Tyneside area during the war, supplying ammunition and storing and repairing anti-aircraft guns, barrage balloons, medical supplies and vehicles.
“Eventually, the air-raids started and there weren't very many nights that we didn‘t end up in the air-raid shelter, sometimes all night,” continued Rita.
“It would appear that the Germans knew about the existence of Boldon Camp and took every opportunity to bomb it. There were many near misses but never a direct hit. In the field only about 30 yards from our bungalow was a searchlight and an anti-aircraft gun, so when we had a raid, the noise was very loud, but we got used to it.
“One night, an aircraft crashed behind the camp in adjacent fields, but I don‘t know whether it was a German bomber or a damaged RAF aircraft.”
During the Second World War, several aircrafts crashed near the site, due to the close proximity of RAF Usworth, near Sunderland. One crash that could have been mistaken for a German bomber was that of a Handley Page Hampden of 83 Squadron.
On returning from a raid on Berlin on Sunday 25/Monday 26, August 1940, it ran out of fuel and crashed at Down Hill Road, West Boldon and was badly damaged.
Rita continued: “One night we came out to go into the air-raid shelter and were surrounded by incendiary bombs. That same night, a land mine exploded just a few hundred feet from the magazines. The only damage caused was to “blow out” all the bungalow windows which were repaired very quickly as dad had many tradesmen at his disposal.”
But there were plenty of fond memories from the period too, and Rita recalls happy times sitting on a bench in the cook-house, where the cook would treat the youngsters to a bowl of custard and prunes or rice pudding.
When peace was declared in 1945, the depot was still bustling with activity. It became a German Prisoner of War Camp and Rita remembers the prisoners in their overalls, which had a brown diamond shape sewn into the back of them to denote their German Prisoner Of War status.
She even believes that two of them were named Heinz Poulter and Tony Rupp.
Rita married in 1953 and in 1954 her daughter Moira was born in the bungalow at Boldon Camp. For the next two years, Rita worked in the canteen and offices at the depot, before the family were given a council house in West Boldon.
Her sister Pam, then moved into the bungalow with her new husband, where their first baby was born by the same midwife in 1958.
William Carney went on to work at an Ordnance Depot in Longtown, Cumbria and from there was posted to a depot in Hollywood, County Down, Northern Ireland.
After William retired, he and his wife returned to York and Rita and her family followed in 1969.
“We made a few sentimental journeys back to East Boldon, but, it was very sad to see the dilapidation of the site,” she added.
“It would be really lovely to see the East Boldon Depot returned to its former glory, especially as a heritage museum, and I wish Boldon Camp Heritage Group the very best of luck.”
East Boldon Anti-Aircraft Supply Depot (HER1829), is the last of its type in the North East of England. If successful the group hope to turn the site into a heritage centre and community hub to raise awareness of its historical importance during the war.
Philip Moore, of Boldon Camp Heritage Group, who met with Rita in York recently, said: “We would like to thank Rita for giving a unique glimpse into her life as a school girl during wartime and as a young woman from just after the end of the war to the 1960’s.
“The group would also like to thank Adam Bell from South Shields Museum and Rita’s niece Lesley Chambers for providing a vital link between Rita and the Group.”
Find out more and donate to Boldon Camp Heritage Group at www.boldoncamp.co.uk