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15 October 2014
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Flaming Barrage Balloons, Teesideicon for Recommended story

by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Contributed by 
Frank Mee Researcher 241911
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
05 December 2003

Picture if you will an idyllic scene of children playing on a village green. The sun is shining, and all seems well with the world - but it was not so. There was a war on, and on our village green there had appeared steel pots, with chimneys, called smokescreen dispensers. They looked lethal to us boys playing cricket.

Women at work on the balloon site

The sky over Teesside was dotted with Barrage Balloons, and we had a couple of sites not far from us, they were manned mainly by women - Airwomen I should call them.

The site consisted of a winch truck, which had a metal cage over the controls, where the women operated the raising and lowering of the big gas bag that had chains, cables, and other things hanging off it - to snag enemy planes. They were there to give ICI, the steel mills and the shipyards some defence against low-flying attacks.

Thunder clouds

This sunny afternoon, with us Norton Green boys fighting another needle match with the boys from down the village, we had noticed dark clouds forming over Tees Bay. From the green you could always see the weather fronts almost out to Redcar, as the cold North Sea breezes met the warm land winds.

Well into the game, there was a rumble of thunder, and we - with the spectators sitting on the seats around the green - stopped to watch the distant lightning.

Flash of flame

Suddenly there was a distant flash of flame, and we saw a barrage balloon start to fall earthwards, streaming fire. This was followed by another, and we could see the local balloons descending rapidly from a clear blue sky, whilst the ones out of Middlesbrough caught fire and came down burning. I believe it was 18 in total, and us kids were jumping up and down and laughing with excitement at the spectacle.

Sober response

A man standing near said, 'Shut up - there are probably people dying over there', as the heavy cables crashed down to earth. We had not thought of that, and it sobered us all up as we watched the last of them come down.

The girl on the winch would have the steel cage as cover, but mainly the others on site only had slit trenches. When it was all over, we boys got on with the game, as the sun was still shining on us. This often happens with our North Sea regulated weather - one half in sunshine, the other getting it in the neck.


We never found out if anyone was hurt, as the papers did not give out news like that, and I often wondered what had happened under those dropping steel cables. It would not have been fun for those girls on the site, I am sure.

If my memory is true, we did win the game as usual that sunny afternoon, because we had two cricketers who played as boys in the local cricket club on our side - well, we were the nob hill end of the village!

Frank Mee

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