The Auxiliary units
Local historian John Sadler meets Jules to reveal the story of the Home Guard's Auxiliary units. The units were highly trained in a radical defence strategy – the idea being that they would hold up Germans on the beaches should the Nazis invade Britain.
Men were selected from those prevented to going to war because their occupations were reserved. They'd then be organised into small, cover units which it's believed, were issued with kill lists – identifying known German sympathisers. They were trained in how to sabotage and create mayhem behind enemy lines.
John explains how secreting the men deep in Britain's countryside, and if necessary killing British citizens was revolutionary – and 'dark stuff'.
The men had to keep their role secret from their families and girlfriends, and were told that their life expectancy should Germans invade would be no more than 14 days. Amongst the recruits was renowned actor Anthony Quayle.
By 1941, there were some 5,000 auxiliaries poised to tackle any German invasion – brave young men determined to help us win the war – whatever the cost.
By 1935, every city in the UK had been given a document by the government, declaring that in the event of war, every city should have air raid protection for their inhabitants.
One solution in Newcastle was particularly unusual. In 1842, a two and a half mile tunnel from the city's town moor to the quayside was opened to transport coal. Just under a hundred years later, the Victoria Tunnel was an obvious solution as an air raid shelter – and it was refitted at a cost of £37,000 to protect Newcastle's population from German attacks.
Tunnel Guide Ian Holloway takes Jules underground to explore the tunnel and its rich history. Ian describes how the tunnel doors were open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. This led to it being useful for other purposes too – if it was raining, people would use it as a route into the city centre.
The tunnel had to be adjusted before it was suitable as an air raid shelter. Planners had to ensure that if the tunnel had been penetrated, the blast wouldn't travel along the corridor, so a series of blast walls were constructed.Toilets were provided in well ventilated areas.
Basil McLeod was 12 when bombs started falling on Newcastle, and would frequently find himself sheltering in the tunnel. He remembers a community spirit – sing songs would take place occasionally, while children would explore the tunnel.
The ingenious use of the tunnel as a shelter helped save countless lives in the North East. Today it's possible to take a tour of the tunnel - click on the link for Ouseborn Trust in the panel on the right for more information.
Wilkinson Lemonade Factory
While shelters across the UK helped save lives, some would sustain direct hits. One such shelter was the Wilkinson Lemonade Factory in North Shields.
Peter Bolger, a local historian reveals to Jules the tragic story of what happened in the factory on the night of Saturday 3 May 1941.
The Wilkinson building was a Victoria three storey building with a large basement. On the floors above the basement, heavy equipment, bottling machinery and vats of chemicals were stored. It was decided in 1940 that it would make a useful air raid shelter for North Shields' citizens.
But one year later, a single German aircraft released four bombs over North Shields. One scored a direct hit on the lemonade factory, which at the time held 192 people sheltering from attack. Walls and ceilings collapsed, and Peter describes how the air was filled with shouts, screams and then silence.
Alma Chatterton, Kathleen Thomson, Millie Matthews and Robert Sutherst were four of the lucky survivors. Shown black and white footage of the rescue mission, they reveal to Jules the effects the attack had on their lives.
Ordinary people became heroes that night in North Shields. Air Raid Protection first aiders such as Norman Darling Black rescued the trapped and injured, while Ellen Lee, the shelter warden charged one of the walls repeatedly until it collapsed – despite being very badly burned herself.
Only 85 people would make it out of the shelter alive.
In 1942, the government established the Womens Timber Corps to help maintain the supply of wood for the war industry. The women became affectionately known as Lumberjills.
Forestry Commission employee Jo Spouncer became fascinated with the Lumberjills and took Jules on a trip into Chopwell Wood to explain how they worked.
More than 8000 Lumberjills worked across the country throughout the war to fell trees and provide wood which would then be used to make pit props, packaging for bombs, and even parts for fighter planes.
Often they'd have to walk as far as five miles to the forest where they were working – come rain, sunshine or snow. Then the hard work of felling the trees would begin. With each pair of women using just a saw, it's estimated two women would cut down about 30 trees per day.
- Jules Hudson
- Jules Hudson
- Executive Producer
- Simon Barnes
- Executive Producer
- Simon Barnes