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Memories Of The 'Pit Bank' On Tyneside

by jim mckenna

Contributed by 
jim mckenna
People in story: 
Jim Mckenna
Location of story: 
Newcastle upon Tyne
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
08 December 2003

A Short Memory

The year was 1943 the place Newcastle upon Tyne.

I was six rears old, with twin brothers two years younger, we lived in the industrial area of Tyneside close to the River Tyne.

My father was a Deputy miner working constant night shift, my mother was not in good health after having the twins,( for reasons i was to young to understand).

One day i found out that we were moving house to be closer to my grandparents ( on mothers side) this was to help my mother, with three boys to look after, especially during air raids.

We moved to a small colliery village at Scotswood further west, up the Tyne but still very close to it, an area known as the "Pit Bank" which is now the site of a large store, we lived in the pit yard and i remember watching the miners going past the window to start their shift looking bright and clean, and then the others coming back from work looking tired with very black faces and knee pads tied around their trousers, smoking and laughing as they wound their way home.

The war was progressing, (of which i realised much later) and the air raids were getting less frequent but still came often enough for me to remember as a six year old boy. we lived next door to the local Air Raid Warden, Mr Hunter,a retired miner who was well thought of in the small community.

The Memory.

Once in the early hours of the morning we were awakened by a furious banging on the door and a cry of HILDA, QUICK GET THE BAIRNS READY JERRIES COMING OVER, (jerries being the German air force i learned much later) my mother quickly flung on our Siren Suits, a one piece garment with a zip up the front, these were made popular by Mr Churchill the then Prime Minister.

We left the house and ran like the wind up through the pit yard as fast as our little legs would let us, as the air raid siren ended its undulating wail, we flew past piles of pit props stacked ready for use underground, past little tubs some full of coal, some empty, over little narrow rail lines, and across the main Newcastle to Carlisle railway line, untill finaly we came to a building with a large steel door, and with the sound of the German bombers in the distance, (i can still remember them) we entered.

This was our only air raid shelter, we dashed in and down the steps, which led to an underground tunnel, this tunnel connected two pits, the high monty (where my father was working) and the low monty. ( the Montague Colliers) about two miles apart, the coal from the high monty was fed down the tunnel to the low monty which was on the river bank practicaly, and from there into barges which sailed down the Tyne and unloaded into colliers.

It was in this tunnel that i remember settling down for the night safe from any bomb, i can still see the wall lights of the tunnel going away into the darkness getting fainter, NO WAY was i going to stray up that area, it was haunted, (or so this bigger lad told me)> We were joined by other neighbours from the village, and i settled down listening to tales of what had happened down river at the Shipyards and Factories, damaged during previous raids.

The tales were funny, or so i thought, because people laughed at some of them, it was years later as a man working in heavy engineering that i heard these or similar tales, from older men who recalled them sometimes with much laughter.

One tale springs to mind, about the German air force using the river as a guide to dropping their bombs trying to hit shipyards etc, they were quite used to the positions of the anti aircraft guns on the river, but got an awful shock one night, when unknown to them an anti aircraft cruiser HMS Nigeria was in the river for a boiler refit, the story goes that when she opened fire with her many guns,half the peop;e living in the surrouding area fell out of bed with fright, but these are stories, no doubt with a lot of truth in them.

But back to my air raid, we spent all night down there,and my father having heard there was a raid on had walked down the haunted tunnel from the high monty down to where we were sitting, i thought he was brave coming down from there, but then dads are, are they not ?, as time passed we were eventualy told by Mr Hunter the Air Raid Warden that the raid was over and the siren was sounding the all clear.

My dad lifted me on his back, piggy back, and with help got me and my brothers and my mum up the stairs to the surface, i remember the fresh air and the feeling that everything looked new, the sky,the trees, i did not notice that Ademzes brick works chimney was damaged ( this was a local firm that made everything from bricks to toilet pans etc) or that there was smoke coming from the River Tyne area, down near the shipyards,all i knew was that my dad was here and i felt as safe as houses.

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This story has been placed in the following categories.

Air Raids and Other Bombing Category
Childhood and Evacuation Category
Tyneside and Northumberland Category
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