The Bombing of Stockton 1940-43

When war with Germany was declared on 3 September 1939 the nation readied itself for invasion.

Road blocks and barricades sprang-up in towns and cities, with military personnel guarding strategic sites. Barrage Balloons began to appear in the skies and the sound of air-raid sirens being tested became a familiar, if alarming, part of daily life. Communal air-raid shelters started to appear, households were issued with the materials to build their own ‘Anderson’ shelters and plans were made for the evacuation of thousands of schoolchildren from the cities to the countryside as the nation prepared for the worst. With its shipyards, coal fields and factories all engaged in the war-effort, the industrial north east became an obvious target for the Luftwaffe.

The first recorded raid on the townships of of what is now Stockton occurred on the night of 6 June 1940 when a German raider dropped his bombs onto Thornaby Aerodrome. Two aircraft were destroyed on the ground, along with two fuel bowsers, and the runway itself suffered some damage. A number of service personnel were injured one of whom later died from his injuries.

Two nights later, on 8th June 1940, another raider dropped a stick of bombs which hit the airfield perimeter causing little damage.

On the night of 19 June 1940, just after 11pm, the air raid sirens sounded to herald the first major raid on the area which was to last more than 3 hours and involved more than 100 enemy aircraft. At Billingham, ICI factories were bombed with two soldiers being killed at ICI South Works and water and gas pipes in the surrounding areas being badly damaged causing major disruption.. A High Explosive (HE) bomb was dropped in Cowpen Bewley Road, causing some slight damage to Haverton School, with shrapnel later found embedded in a classroom wall.

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Another HE bomb landed at Billingham Bottoms blasting out a huge crater 20 feet across and damaging one of Norton’s oldest buildings, Norton Mill. Again ICI was the target.

The Malleable Works in Stockton took direct hits on the ‘tank shop’ in Dugdale Street and on the gas tanks at the east end of the site with another two HE bombs hitting the stock yard, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage and disrupting steel production. This was to be the start of almost three years of intermittent bombing raids. Casualties and damage were comparative light on this occasion, subsequent raids would cause many more casualties and more damage. In the three month period following this attack, the air raid sirens would be heard several times a day on most days and nights.

The next major raid was at midnight on the night of 26/27th June 1940 with properties in Bilsdale Crescent and Cleveland Avenue, Haverton Hill and Lincoln Crescent and Cowpen Lane being damaged.

In the same raid, ICI was again hit by HE and Incendiary bombs causing a number of fires which were dealt with by ICI’s own firefighters. One HE bomb damaged the 33 inch water main in Belasis Lane causing major disruption. Anderston’s Foundry at Port Clarence was hit by an HE bomb which interrupted production and at the same time the Transporter Bridge was hit, with one bomb going through the roof of the cable car and power cables. The support towers on the south side of the Transporter bridge are still out of line as a result of this raid.

The shipyards made an easy target as the German pilots were able to follow the line of the river. On the night of 7/8th July 1940 the Furness Shipyard was hit with four HE bombs which did considerable damage to the yard but none of the ships under construction suffered anything more than shrapnel damage. On the following night a raid on Billingham resulted in the death of some livestock in the vicinity of Saltholme Farm.

Although the alerts continued, the next big raid on Stockton wasn’t until the night of 24/25th August 1940 when ICI Billingham was again hit with fires breaking out and damage to the water supply. The bombing continued the next night with a much larger raid causing the first civilian death in the area when Harold Elwes of 55 Laurel Road, Stockton was hit while crossing the Victoria Bridge on his way to work. HE bombs landed on both sides of the river close to the bridge causing a great deal of blast damage to properties on the East side of Stockton High Street as well as injuring Mr Elwes who died on his way to hospital. One bomb blew a huge crater at the junction of Thornaby Road and Mandale Road and Cleveland Flour Mill and a number of surrounding properties were also damaged. Blast damage was caused as far away as the Five Lamps at Thornaby. During the course of this raid sixty five shops and more than one hundred houses were damaged and gas pipes were ruptured. The shrapnel damage to the Victoria Bridge can still be seen on the cast iron balustrades to this day. (An unexploded bomb from this raid was discovered five years later in the mud on the Thornaby side – it was successfully defused by men of the No.1 Bomb Disposal Company from Port Clarence).

In the early hours of 27 August 1940 a huge crater was caused by an HE bomb in the fields behind Samphire Street in Port Clarence. Five people were injured, a number of houses were damaged and the residents were evacuated while their homes were repaired. Again the water supplies were damaged.

Things were relatively quiet for about a week and then, on 3/4th September 1940, Haverton Hill was bombed. Two HE bombs hit St Vincent Street, one near Drake Street the other in the vicinity of Hawke Street. The Drake Street area was the worst affected with the water mains and sewerage systems disrupted for a number of days. Nos. 31 and 32 St Vincent Street were totally destroyed and nos. 25 and 28 had to be pulled down, as did a number of houses in Drake Street (including nos. 27,29 and 53 to 63).

On the same night in Bishopton Village a stick of sixteen small bombs was dropped in a line from just east of Downlands Farm to Callender’s butcher shop which suffered a direct hit. One bomb went through the loft into the slaughter house damaging that and the garage and destroying an Austin car that was in there. The Callender family and two evacuees, who were all taking refuge in the cellar, escaped unhurt. Another bomb landed on the other side of the road, behind the village shop, destroying some greenhouses. At this time the military were expressing concern at the large number of unexploded bombs they were having to deal with. While the people of Stockton had their share of the bombing raids at this time, they had not suffered the same levels of casualties as Middlesbrough, with 68 killed, and Hartlepool,with 88 killed. Many believe this was due to the high quality of the RAF Fighter Squadrons in the vicinity and the Anti-Aircraft batteries dotted around the area preventing the German bombers getting through.

After the raid of 4 September 1940, with the exception of one HE bomb dropped on the perimeter of Thornaby airfield producing a crater 30 feet deep, there was very little bombing activity until February 1941. Just before 6am on the morning of 11 February 1941, houses and shops in Newby Terrace and Port Clarence Road had their windows blown out and one HE bomb landed in Hope Street causing flooding in Clarence Street and the surrounding area. A number of houses in Cowpen Bewley Road were hit by smaller bombs which resulted in nos. 6, 8 and 22 being so badly damaged that they were later demolished.

HW Bomb damage in mineshop 1941On the night of 15/16 April 1941 a raiding party of up to 300 German aircraft crossed over the area, most were destined for Manchester and Liverpool but a number of parachute mines were dropped as they passed over Thornaby at around 5:30am. One of these hit Crosthwaites Union Foundry injuring five people, one of whom later died from shock. Another parachute mine landed near Head Wrightson’s Teesdale Works causing serious damage to the mine shop, perhaps ironically this is where bomb casings were produced. Fortunately most of the workforce were still on holiday because of the Easter break.

On 6/7th May 1941 considerable damage was caused to the Davy and United Roll Foundry at Haverton Hill when it was hit by one HE bomb. The Compressor House and plant were completely destroyed seriously affecting the work of the melting, moulding and dressing shops. Remarkably, production was back to normal within six days. A second HE bomb landed on Sweethills, leaving a huge crater and damaging Pearl Street, most of Victoria Street and part of King Edward Street. Most of the houses were so badly damaged that the residents had to be rehoused and eventually ten of the houses in Pearl Street (nos 1 to 19) had to be demolished.

At midnight on the night of 11/12 May 1941 at least 6 HE bombs landed on the Yarm Road area of the town.  Three landed in the vicinity of St Paul’s Church, Grangefield Road and Oxbridge Lane Cemetery and another blew a huge crater in the area of Bromley Road and Hartburn Avenue although this caused little damage to property.

This night saw the first civilian deaths in Stockton itself when a bomb demolished two houses in Gray’s Road (Nos  5 and 7) just missing the ARP Wardens Post.  Mr William Chapman, himself a firewatcher who lived at no. 7, was killed minutes after stepping outside the family shelter.  His wife and family escaped injury.   Two other bombs hit the Wrensfield area that night creating huge craters but causing little damage.

By far the worst damage and casualties were caused near St Peter’s Church when three houses in Northcote Street (Nos 85, 87 and 89), three in Dennison Street (Nos 19, 21 and 23) and another four in St Peter’s Road  (Nos 1 to 4) were all destroyed.  This was the incident that killed Stockton’s youngest victim of the bombing when Edward Geoffrey Brown, who was only three weeks old, died with his parents Elsie (aged 32) and Maynard (aged 40) at their house at No 2.  The family had only moved into the street the week before in the belief that they would be safer here than in their previous home near Thornaby Aerodrome.  Other casualties that night were Mr Arthur Blayden (69), Ada Lamb (49) and four year old Florence Cooper, all from St Peter’s Road and Isabel Ferri (44) who all died in hospital shortly after the raid.  There was a great deal of bomb blast damage to many properties in the vicinity including the Stockton and Thornaby Hospital in Bowesfield Lane.

The bomb that hit Northcote Street ruptured the 33 inch water main which interrupted the water supply to most of Teesside for several days with a serious impact on local industry.  Drinking water had to be boiled before use and the water supplies for firefighting were seriously affected.

Two factories in Billingham were bombed the same night and four HE bombs landed near the Corporation Depot in Sun Street, Thornaby although these caused little damage as one landed in a field and the other three landed in the mud of the riverbank.

The next raid happened on 12 June 1941 when an Arab seamen was killed in the area of Billingham Reach.  He is buried in South Shields cemetery.

On 15 August 1941 the only air raid of any consequence reported throughout the whole of the country that night hit Norton just after dark.  Seven houses in Norton Avenue (Nos 152 to 164) were seriously damaged when No 160 took the full force of a HE bomb.   Tragically, all seven occupants of the house were killed.  Margaret Boundy aged 45 and children Alan (14), Martin(12), Elwin (14), William(7) and George (6)who were in bed and Ada Jane Allen (73) all died – some bodies were never recovered.  Widow Emma Porter (64) who lived at 116 Norton Avenue was also killed and three houses in Darlington Back Lane (Nos 23, 24 and 25) and four houses in Ancaster and Alveson Roads were destroyed.  Two bungalows were badly damaged near Fussick Bridge, one of which had to be demolished.

Four more HE bombs were dropped that night by the same lone raider.  The first causing a huge crater close to the Boundy house.  The other three fell in fields in a line heading towards the Anti-Aircraft battery at Kiora Hall, which may have been the intended target.  The bombs landed about 300 yards apart, in the areas now covered by Rochester Road, Radcliffe and Redditch Avenues and Riveaulx Close.

On the night of 18/19th August the cottage at 16, The Green, Cowpen Bewley was severely damaged by a HE bomb that fell nearby, and a barn and farm buildings opposite collapsed when a second bomb landed close by, no-one was injured.  On the same night, a parachute mine landed between Pine Street and Benson Street in Norton causing considerable damage.  Twelve properties in Benson Street were destroyed (Nos 25 to 41 and 32 to 36) and in Pine Street Norton Board School was damaged.  Mary Ann Hayton (83), her daughter Edith Fisher (53) and her son Earnest (21) were killed at 33 Benson Street, Harry Parks (49) and his wife Catherine (45) and Edward Lowes (37), an air-raid warden, were killed at number 35.  A further 21 people were seriously injured in the attack.   One of these, Edith Whipp from Junction Road who was on duty at 27 Benson Road at the time of the raid, died in hospital a few days later.  A stick of four HE bombs fell in a line towards the ICI Cassel works oil tanks, but apart from some windows being blown out a Billingham North School there was little damage.

The night of 5th October saw some bomb damage to four houses in Tees Street and nine in Cowpen Bewley Road which were rendered uninhabitable for a time but they were repaired and their occupants returned.  Later that month, on the night of 21/22 October, a HE bomb hit the Malleable works off Portrack Lane causing little damage.  The factory at this time was making heavy bomb casings and anti-torpedo equipment.

For the next few months the immediate vicinity of Stockton wasn’t targeted although the rest of the region and the country generally continued to suffer.  It was during this time that Hitler instigated the ‘Baedeker Raids’.  This was in retaliation for the damage inflicted on the lightly defended town of Lubeck on the Baltic coast.  The town had little military or industrial worth, although there were submarine factories close by.  About 62% of the buildings were damaged to some extent – many of them of cultural significance,  with hundreds of civilians killed and thousands made homeless by the raid.  The name comes from the Baedeker Tourist Guide books, it is reported that Hitler asked Goering to bomb all English cities with a three star rating (for their cultural importance) in the guide.

The raids returned with a vengeance 0n the nights of 6/7 and 7/8 of July 1942 with attacks on the ICI works.  On the first night the raid lasted 52 minutes and caused 17 fires, the raid on the second night lasted 46 minutes caused 12 fires.  Flares, then incendiary and HE bombs were dropped on both nights.  The first serious damage was caused when an oil tank was hit by one HE bomb and the blast and flying shrapnel caused damage to other tanks nearby.  The highly inflammable spirit caught fire creating havoc for the firemen of the NFS and those of the works fire brigade as they fought to contain the fires.  John Down, a 61 year old firemen who lived at 64, Earmont Road, Norton lost his life on the night of 7th July – he was the only fatality.  More than one million gallons of petrol were lost as a result of these raids.

The damage to the surrounding area was enormous.  Dozens of houses on the Belasis estate were damaged or destroyed by HE bombs with the Synthonia Club theatre taking a direct hit.  Four houses in Chiltern Avenue (Nos 9 to 12) and two in Rawlinson Avenue (nos 18 and 20) were destroyed by another HE bomb which also damaged properties in Tibbersley, Windermere and the Green.

On the same night enemy bombers flew through the Barrage Balloons at Billingham hitting a cable, the resulting blast injured a number of W.A.A.F. Balloon Operators on the ground.  A number of properties in the area took direct hits with one HE bomb landing near the Corner House causing severe damage to an ICI Butane plant.  Billingham Reach Wharf was targeted in the same raid and Haverton Hill and Port Clarence were hit by many incendiary bombs. St John’s church suffered blast damage as did nearby schools and the UDC office.   A number of  farm buildings in the area were destroyed and the Fire Station in Belasis Avenue was damaged.

One HE bomb landed near Holly Terrace causing so much damage to the  roof and windows of High Clarence School that pupils were moved to Port Clarence School and Billingham Primary School to continue their schooling and 32 houses in Holly, Poplar and Palm Terraces were evacuated.  Another HE bomb destroyed much of the Circle, totally demolishing the Circle Bakery.  Mr Stewartson, the baker, was requested by the Food Executive Officer to carry on his business and planning regulations were waived to allow him to erect temporary premises in Belasis Avenue to be used as a bakery.

A further four HE bombs landed in the area that night causing serious damage to housing.  Six houses in Belasis Avenue (Nos. 42 to 48 and 92 to 96), seven in Bilsdale Avenue (Nos. 42 to 48 and 92 to 98). four in Durham  Avenue (Nos 4 to 10), five in Cleveland Avenue (Nos. 25 to 33), four in Howard Avenue (Nos.36 to 42), five in Holy Terrace (No. 3 and nos. 5 to 8), four in Poplar Terrace (Nos. 5 to 8), and four in Harrow Road (Nos. 6 to 8)  were all destroyed, as well as no. 19, Leven Street, no. 12, Farndale Road and a house in Roscoe Road.  In total forty nine houses were totally demolished and one hundred and forty five were seriously damaged that night.  Many people were made homeless and were assisted at local Rest Centres, with 150 people being accommodated at Billingham North School.

The casualties were light on the first night of the raids, with several people being treated at Aid Posts and four people ending up in hospital after being pulled from the debris of damaged buildings, but on the night of 7/8 July seven people lost their lives.  Mrs. Mary Cockburn (51) from 6, Collingwood Road, was killed at 46, Belasis Avenue. Mrs Florence King (28) died at 44, Belasis Avenue.  Mrs Amy Tennant (31), her two sons Frank (3) and Derek (2), along with her sister,  Margaret Shepherd, were all killed at 27, Cleveland Avenue.  Margaret’s  16 year old niece, also called Margaret Shepherd, who was seriously injured at 25 Cleveland Avenue, died of her injuries in hospital on 16 July 1942.

On the night of 25/26 July a raid on the ICI complex resulted in the Fertiliser Plant conveyor building being destroyed and the Nitric Acid Plant Pump House, Coal Offloading plant and Pipe Bridge being damaged.

On Bank Holiday Monday, 3 August 1942, people in Appleton Road and Durham Road witnessed an enemy dive-bomber passing overhead with its guns firing as it made its way to Middlesbrough.

The next raid to affect the Borough was on 6/7 September when Mr Harry Woolley (53) from 40, Cowpen Bewley Road was killed at Haverton Hill, four others were injured in the action during which a bomb landed in the garden of Haverton School but failed to explode, causing the school to remain closed for a week.

The raids continued throughout the autumn and winter but damage was slight and no casualties were reported until 11 March 1943 when, after 5 weeks without a raid, the sirens once again announced the coming of the Luftwaffe.  This time Thornaby was the  target when a Dornier 217 dropped two parachute mines.  The first one exploded in Darlington Street at 23.31 hours.  The second bomb scored a direct hit on the power station near the Five Lamps. This affected production at Head Wrightson Teesdale works for 24 hours and water, gas and telephone services were disrupted.  Production was also affected at Kinnell’s Foundry, Allan’s Bonlea Foundry, the Saturn Oxygen Company and John  Harpers.  W & M Pumphreys’ sugar factory was badly damaged although this did not prevent them from despatching twenty tons of sugar products from the factory by the following afternoon, despite the disruption caused to road and rail traffic in the area which lasted for several days.

The damage to housing in the area was enormous with five houses in Thornaby Road and the Brittania Hotel being totally obliterated in an instant.  In total 541 houses in the area of George Street, Princess Street and Mandale Road were seriously damaged, of which 81 had to be demolished.  George Street C of E school was also seriously damaged and would not reopen until April 1944.

Three people were killed during this raid and a further 72 people were injured.  Air Raid Warded Mrs Miriam Pugh (41) was killed on duty outside of the Britannia Hotel when it took a direct hit.  The licensee of the hotel, Mr Devine, and his family of five all escaped unharmed although they had to be rescued from the rubble.  Mr Robert Hornsby (76) was buried in the ruins of his home at 23, Thornaby Road and Mr James Lambert (69) of 6, St Peters Road was killed on fire-watch duty at the power station when it was destroyed.  This was to be Thornaby’s worst raid of the war with a total of 550 people being made homeless.

Stockton was to suffer during the same raid when parachute mines fell on Yarm Lane.  Corporation watchman , John Millar was fortunate indeed when his hut at the end Lawrence Street was destroyed two minutes after he had vacated it.  He escaped with nothing more than slight shock.  A North Shields man, Mr William Stephenson (49) was not so lucky when he was killed after stepping outside his lodgings in Lawrence Street to see what was happening.

Many houses in the Yarm Lane and and Lawrence Street were damaged by blast and Dinsdale’s garage was almost demolished but casualties were slight due to most of the residents being in the shelters at the time.

On the same night, the Wreford family at Newham Grange Farm, off Darlington Back Lane, saw two objects caught in the glare of the searchlights being parachuted towards them.   Realising that these were para-mines and not enemy airmen, they flung themselves to the ground and waited for the explosion.  The first mine seriously damaged their farmhouse. The air movement caused by the blast sucked out the windows, pulled the door knobs from the doors and sucked pictures from their frames as well as other peculiar happenings.   The second mine exploded at the Corporation Abbatoir tip resulting in Piperknowle Lane becoming impassable.  Luckily there were no casualties.

At this stage in the war the Anti-Aircraft batteries were gaining the upper hand and although the sirens continued to sound the raiders rarely penetrated the local defences – although the rest of the North East continued to suffer.  The last recorded raid was on 22 May 1943 when ten houses in the vicinity of Sunnybrow  Avenue were damaged by a HE bomb.  Two of these were later demolished. – both houses being empty at the time of the raid.

Following the D-Day landings in June 1944, the Germans started to use the V1 Flying Bomb or ‘doodlebug’ – an unpiloted guided flying bomb that had its own distinctive sound.  The silence following the engine cutting out was an indication that the bomb was about to come down.  The nearest the Borough got to one of these weapons was on Christmas Eve 1944 when one was observed (heard) passing over Billingham on its way to Tudhoe.

A total of 41 of the Borough’s civilians were recorded as being killed as a result of the bombings,  (Stockton 21, Billingham 15 and Thornaby 5) with a further 180 being injured (Stockton 58, Billingham 49 and Thornaby 73) out of a population of 108,707.

At least 194 houses were destroyed (Stockton 41, Billingham 67, Thornaby 86) with many thousands more being damaged (Stockton 1899, Billingham, Haverton Hill and Port CLarence around 3000 and Thornaby 2602) as well as shops, offices and factories.

At least 106 HE bombs fell on the Borough over the three years of bombing raids, with countless Incendiary bombs and other devices being dropped.

We are indebted to the work of David Brown and his book ‘Bombs By the Hundred on Stockton-on-Tees’ from which a lot of the material used in this article was taken.