How Sunderland faced up to rationing - and still raised £1.2million for the war effort!

The Sunderland Salute The Soldier advert which encouraged Wearside people to raise money for the DLI battalions in 1944.
The Sunderland Salute The Soldier advert which encouraged Wearside people to raise money for the DLI battalions in 1944.
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Hundreds of North East men fought in one of the most historic battles in history 75 years ago this week.

But while the brave soldiers of the DLI were fighting valiantly at Normandy in 1944, another war was being waged back on Wearside.

Some of the 1,400 people who went to a fundraising dance at the New Rink.

Some of the 1,400 people who went to a fundraising dance at the New Rink.

Chris Cordner looks back at how the people of Wearside raised money for the war effort.

The people of Sunderland were in the middle of a massive fundraising campaign 75 years ago this week.

Imagine it. They were being asked to make donations at a time when rationing was really gripping hard.

And this was no small-scale task. They were being asked to raise £1.25million.

Sacrifies made on D-Day and during invasion week by the men of the Army ought to be an incentive to those at home to make equally great sacrifices to ensure that the men will not be in need of anything that money can provide

Sunderland Echo reporter, 1944

But the Sunderland Salute The Soldier scheme was vital.

If it succeeded, it meant ten battalions of the DLI could be equipped and mantained in its fight against Hitler’s Germany.

The Sunderland Echo kept its readers up to date with the news from the front. They knew the Nazis had 1,750 fighter plans to pit against the Allies.

They knew the German High Command was likely to transfer huge numbers of military equipment to The Front at any time.

The Echo's report on  Salute The Soldier.

The Echo's report on Salute The Soldier.

And they also knew Salute The Soldier was vital to give the men of Wearside a fighting chance against the enemy.

A stirring Echo report told the people how important it was for the fundraising campaign to succeed.

“Sacrifices made on D-Day and during invasion week by the men of the Army ought to be an incentive to those at home to make equally great sacrifices to ensure that the men will not be in need of anything that money can provide.”

The people of Wearside were certainly up for the fight.

And to hammer home the importance of Salute The Soldier, a huge launching parade was planned.

On Saturday, June 10 – just four days after D-Day – the DLI band was going to perform for the public.

There would be a grand parade and soldiers would march through the streets of Sunderland with bayonets fixed.

In Mowbray Park, there would be an exhibition of guns and a mobile field bakery was on the way at West Park.

There would be cinema shows in the National Savings Van and there were plans for ‘selling centres’ where people could make donations.

It didn’t matter where you were on Wearside. Everyone was up for it.

An Echo report at the time said: “Enthusiasm in schools, streets, industrial, social and licensed houses has led to fixing target figures for the campaign and all are optimistic of exceeding the target.”

One event had already raised thousands.

A huge dance was held at the New Rink and 1,400 people came along to it.

Two bands performed on the night including George Hedley’s and The Firecrackers.

The campaign came with its own advert. It told how Sunderland had eight days to raise the money from June 10 to June 17.

But this wasn’t the only news in an astonishing period in history for Wearside.

Here’s a few other snippets:

l There was a campaign to find more guide dogs - because so many Alsatians had been signed up for war purposes.

So many people had been blinded by the war that more guide dogs were needed.

To replace Alsatians, Border Collies were being used and an Echo report from June 1944 said: “They have been found to be quite as dependable but as they are smaller animals, they are not quite as suitable, especially for tall people.

l In an effort to show the enemy that Sunderland was unbowed, there was a packed programme of entertainment at the picture houses and theatre halls.

Johnny Weismuller and Nancy Kelly were the stars in Tarzan’s Desert Mystery at the Havelock (with 2.45pm, 5.35pm and 8.30pm screenings).

Nelson Eddy and Claude Rains were pulling in the viewers at the Palace where Phantom of the Opera was showing continuously from 12.15pm.

Mickey Rooney was in The Human Comedy at the Roker and Villiers, and there was George Formby in Get Cracking at the Regent.

We will have more on life in Sunderland in June 1944 in tomorrow’s Wearside Echoes.

In the meantime, to share any of your own nostalgia, email chris.cordner@jpimedia.co.uk