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North-East Diary

Roy Ripley &
Brian Pears
© Copyright Brian Pears 1994-2011


3rd September 1939 to
10th December 1939

Sunday, 3rd September 1939  D1

The morning was bright and sunny, at 10.00 the BBC told its listeners to standby for an announcement of national importance. Every fifteen minutes thereafter listeners were told that the Prime Minister would make announcement at 11.15. Music and a talk on "How to make the most of tinned foods" was broadcast in between, then came the Prime minister's announcement: "I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by eleven o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Germany. Now may God bless you all. May He defend the right. It is the evil things that we shall be fighting against, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution and against them I am certain that the right will prevail".

Just after Neville Chamberlain's radio broadcast of the declaration of war, the following air raid scares took place. At 11.30 an unidentified aircraft passed over No 1 Observer Group at Maidstone, at 5,000' and was moving NE into Kent. Areas 1, 2 and 3 were put on Red Alert (it should have been Yellow), subsequently the plane was found to be French and hadn't filed a flight plan. The All Clear sounded at 11.50.

One unnamed person was reported to have died of heart failure when the sirens sounded, the first Londoner to die after war was declared.

A raid was also reported, via Stanmore, in the Northern Region at app. 11.35 when more than one plane was reported off Berwick going SW. At 11.39 the raid was reported off, but at 11.40 the Alert was sounded for Districts 1 and 5 which covers part of Scotland, also for Fife, the All Clear sounded shortly afterwards. According to local sources, it is generally believed that the Alert sounded at 11.30 and the All Clear sounded at 11.35.

The Government has ordered that gas masks must be carried at all times and that cinemas, theatres and public places are to be closed. The drivers of horse drawn vehicles (milkmen, coalmen etc.) were ordered to tether their horses to the nearest lamp post or tree and all traffic was to stop when an alert was sounded. The BBC closes all radio stations except the Home Service.

National Service (Armed Forces) Act passed. All men between 18 and 41 liable for conscription except those in reserved occupations.

Over the last two days, 44,000 Newcastle children have been evacuated to places in Northumberland, Cumberland and Yorkshire - by October 21st 1939, 11,000 had returned to the city. Some, if not all of the pupils from Cowgate School went to the Hexham area - Canning Street went to the Carlisle area - Richardson Dees School at Wallsend went to the Ponteland area - Rutherford College went to the Carlisle area.

In Newcastle it was announced that "arrangements had been made for substantial shelter to be available for many thousands of people who may be in the streets when an air raid occurs. Business firms, offices and other interests have co-operated with the City Engineers Department to make this practicable".

"Two principal shelters in the official list are as follows: (1) Victoria Tunnel - This shelter has accommodation for 1,000 people with entrances in Claremont Road, Spital Tongues and Ouse Street, off City Road. (2) The Ouseburn Culvert - will give first-class shelter to some 500 people.

At the Tyne Breweries, the workers have organised themselves into all sorts of service groups and a machine-gun has been mounted on top of the water tank.

Day 1. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.14, begins: 19.56
Public Alert: 11.28, All-Clear: 11.43

Monday, 4th September 1939  D2

The evacuation of those people entitled to go (children, pregnant mothers, mothers with tiny children, the blind, the sick and injured etc.) and were citizens of Hull was carried out today. The evacuation at Leeds did not come up to expectations due to lack of response by the priority classes.

Day 2. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.16, begins: 19.54

Wednesday, 6th September 1939  D4

The first of the East Coast convoys from the Thames to ports up to the Firth of Forth began today. By the end of the war, coastal convoys round the United Kingdom amounted to 7,700, comprising of 173,000 merchant ships all told.

'SS Rio Claro' (4,086t) cargo ship, Sunderland to the River Plate, was torpedoed and sunk by U 47, NW of Cape Finisterre.

Day 4. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.20, begins: 19.48

Sunday, 10th September 1939  D8

One of the first victims of the mines laid by the U Boats U 13 and U 15 was 'SS Goodwood' (2,796t) which hit a mine and sank with the loss of one of her crew off Flamborough Head. She was carrying coal from the Tyne to Bayonne.

'SS Magdapur' (8,641t) cargo ship, South Shields to Southampton hit a mine and sank off Aldeburgh with the loss of six crew members.

Day 8. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.27, begins: 19.38

Monday, 11th September 1939  D9

Dover mine barrage started sealing the Channel. A secret channel was left, off the Goodwins for British ships.

'SS Firby' (4,869t) steamer, Tyne to Fort Churchill was sunk by torpedo and gunfire from U 48, about 400 miles NW of Scotland.

Day 9. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.29, begins: 19.36

Thursday, 14th September 1939  D12

'SS British Influence' (8,431t) tanker, Hull to Abadan was sunk by torpedo and gunfire by U 29, in the SW Approaches.

Day 12. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.34, begins: 19.28

Friday, 15th September 1939  D13

'SS Truro' (974t) cargo ship, Hull to Norway was sunk by torpedo and gunfire by U 36 off Fraserburgh.

Day 13. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.36, begins: 19.26

Saturday, 16th September 1939  D14

'SS Arkelside' (1,567t) steamer, Tyne to Gibraltar with a cargo of coal was sunk by gunfire from U 33, W of Ushant.

'SS Bramden' (1,594t) cargo ship, Dunkirk to Blyth, hit a mine off Dunkirk. Two of her crew died.

Day 14. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.38, begins: 19.23

Friday, 22nd September 1939  D20

'SS Akenside' (2,694t) steamer, Blyth to Bergen with a cargo of coal was torpedoed by U 7. She sank SW of Bergen.

Petrol rationing starts.

Day 20. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.49, begins: 19.08

Saturday, 23rd September 1939  D21

Hitler ordered all U Boats and surface craft to open fire on all merchant ships that used their wireless on being stopped.

Day 21. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.51, begins: 19.05

Tuesday, 26th September 1939  D24

The first German aircraft to be destroyed by British Forces was a Dornier Do 18D, Forced down by Skua aircraft from 'HMS Ark Royal', in a sortie in the North Sea. It was also the first Luftwaffe loss in operations against Great Britain.

The above Dornier Do 18D Flying Boat was forced down by Lieutenant B.S. McEwen and his air-gunner Petty Officer Airman B.M. Seymour in their Skua of No 803 Squadron from 'HMS Ark Royal', north of the Great Fisher Bank. After taking the four man crew prisoner, the destroyer 'HMS Somali' sank the plane by gunfire.

The above encounter took place when nine Heinkel He 111s and four Junkers Ju 88s - following a reconnaissance flight by three Dornier 18D flying boats - attacked elements of the Home Fleet in the North Sea. It was during this action that Unteroffizier Karl Francke was mistakenly credited, by the Germans, with sinking 'HMS Ark Royal' in what was to be the Ju 88's first ever offensive action. The October 11th edition of the Volkischer Beobachter enlarged upon the supposed sinking and the cry 'Where is the 'Ark Royal' was repeated on German radio broadcasts. Francke was decorated with the Eisen Kreuz first and second class and promoted to Leutnant, although his fellow officers were not deceived by the charade. It was later claimed that Francke became the laughing stock of the Luftwaffe, and because of the ridicule, committed suicide.

The 'Ark Royal' was eventually torpedoed by U 81 on Thursday November 13th 1941 off Gibraltar and sank in tow the following day.

Day 24. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.57, begins: 18.58

Wednesday, 27th September 1939  D25

In an Emergency Budget, Sir John Simon raised the standard rate of income tax from 5s 6d to 7s 6d, he raised the price of beer by 1d per pint, whisky by 1s 3d per bottle, tobacco by 2s per lb. and sugar by 1d per lb.

Day 25. All times BST. Blackout ends: 06.58, begins: 18.55

Friday, 29th September 1939  D27

National census taken for registration, rationing and mobilisation.

Day 27. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.02, begins: 18.50

Sunday, 1st October 1939  D29

British men between 20-22 years of age now liable for conscription.

Day 29. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.06, begins: 18.45

Sunday, 8th October 1939  D36

A recent aerial survey, reporting on the effectiveness of the blackout, stated that in the Northern Region reports were not very encouraging. At 02.00 on September 4th the RAF reported that all towns in the Tyne and Tees areas had odd lights visible and that Newcastle was clearly visible as a town area, between 21.45 and 22.00 on September 14th a lot of blue mercury lights on railway sidings were spotted. Things improved with police warnings to offenders and on September 24th, when Squadron Leader Smith of 607 Squadron overflew the area at 6000' from 21.45 to 22.15, the report stated that the blackout was very effective and the only lights seen were four welding flashes.

Continuous vigilance was essential however, and a report following a flight on the evening of October 2nd stated that a few isolated lights were again visible in Newcastle, the Pelton Coke Ovens were clearly visible and the shape of a large building at Birtley could be clearly discerned because of dim lights visible through the roof. On the following evening the report stated that (1) Several railway yards were distinctly visible, (2) Several moving points of light (cars) were seen, (3) At the coke ovens Axwell Park there was a "red glow against clouds of steam". Although attempts were made to minimise the problems presented by coke ovens and, even more so, by steel works such as those at Consett, there was little that could be done short of closing them down.

Day 36. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.20, begins: 18.27

Tuesday, 10th October 1939  D38

Recruitment to Women's Land Army suspended after 25,000 have enrolled.

Day 38. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.23, begins: 18.22

Wednesday, 11th October 1939  D39

An aircraft belonging to the RAF, operating from Acklington airfield and piloted by a Sergeant Pilot crashed at Cheviot Hill near Goldscleugh, Kirknewton, Wooler.

Day 39. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.25, begins: 18.20

Tuesday, 17th October 1939  D45

German Naval Staff gave orders for U Boats to attack all enemy ships, except liners, without warning - this restriction on liners was lifted on 17th November.

Much enemy air activity off the East coast today.

A Dornier Do 18 was shot down by three Gladiators of B flight, 607 Squadron, some 30 miles off Blyth and it ditched in the sea alongside the Destroyer HMS Juno. The crew were taken prisoner and the aircraft sunk by gunfire. The Gladiators returned to Acklington at 14:10. After the war a Jumo 205 engine was recovered from the sea NE of the Tyne and it is believed that it originated from the above aircraft. The engine is now in the North East Aircraft Museum.

A second Do 18 was shot down off Berwick and the crew killed.

A Heinkel He 111H shot down by Spitfires, crashed into the sea, 20 miles off Whitby at 16.00. Two of the crew (one of them injured) came ashore in a rubber dinghy at Whitby the following day at dawn, one was missing and the body of the remaining crewman was washed ashore near Whitby on Monday October 30th.

Day 45. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.37, begins: 18.05
Public Alert: 13.55, All-Clear: 15.09

Tuesday, 17th/Wednesday, 18th October 1939  N45

The German destroyers 'Galster', 'Eckholdt', 'Lüdemann', 'Roeder', 'Künne' and 'Heidkamp' assembled in Wilhelmshaven Navy Yard, took on their cargo of 60 mines each (Except 'Heidkamp' which as an escort carried none) and sailed at about midday on the 17th, racing at first, northwards from the Shillig Roads at 30 knots as a deception, then at dusk turning westwards for the target area, the mouth of the Humber.

In the early hours of the 18th the five destroyers began their task, between the Humber Estuary and the Withernsea Light - the 'Heidkamp' standing by. Nothing untoward happened and on completion, the destroyers steamed for home at high speed, undetected. This minefield of 300 mines, eventually claimed seven ships.

Night 45. All times BST. Blackout begins: 18.05, ends: 07.39

Wednesday, 18th October 1939  D46

A Whitley bomber taking off from Driffield airfield, stalled at 100 ft, then crashed. It was carrying stores and men from Catterick to Drem, and was found to be too heavily loaded. Seven men were killed and two injured.

Day 46. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.39, begins: 18.03

Friday, 20th October 1939  D48

'SS Sea Venture' (2,327t) cargo ship, Carrying coal from the Tyne to Tromso in Norway was sunk by torpedo and gunfire from U 34. E of the Shetlands.

Day 48. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.43, begins: 17.58

Saturday, 21st October 1939  D49

Four of the nine Heinkel He 115s attacking a convoy off the Humber Estuary, were lost after combat with Hurricanes of 46 Squadron. Two of them crashed into the sea off Norfolk, one in Denmark and one crashed into the sea 5 miles E of Spurn Head at 13.00. The bodies of three crew members of the last mentioned plane were washed ashore and were buried at Happisburgh, on 2nd November 1939.

'SS Orsa' (1,478t) struck a mine and sank about 20 miles off Flamborough Head, with the loss of sixteen of her crew. She was on a voyage from the Tyne to Bordeaux with a cargo of coal.

Day 49. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.45, begins: 17.56

Sunday, 22nd October 1939  D50

A Heinkel He 111, shot down by Spitfires, crashed into the sea 7 miles off St Abbs Head, Berwickshire. Three of the crew were rescued and captured and one was killed, the aircraft was lost.

'SS Whitemantle' (1,692t) cargo ship, Carrying coal from the Tyne to London was sunk by a mine near the Withernsea Light. Fourteen of her crew lost their lives.

Day 50. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.47, begins: 17.53

Monday, 23rd October 1939  D51

'SS Albania' (1,200t) a Swedish ship, sank in the North Sea, near the Tyne, after being mined. She was built in 1903.

Day 51. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.49, begins: 17.51

Thursday, 26th/Friday, 27th October 1939  N54

Bradford.. At 20.45 a runaway barrage balloon fell on some houses in Bradford. Damage was done to some roofs and telegraph wires.

Night 54. All times BST. Blackout begins: 17.44, ends: 07.57

Monday, 30th October 1939  D58

Bridlington.. At 17.20 a mine was washed ashore and exploded against the sea wall at Bridlington. There were no casualties, but windows, doors and roofs of 9 or 10 detached houses were damaged.

'SS Cairnmona' (4,666t) cargo ship, Montreal to the Tyne, was sunk by U 13, E of Stonehaven.

Day 58. All times BST. Blackout ends: 08.03, begins: 17.35

Thursday, 2nd November 1939  D61

Aldbrough.. A mine washed up at Aldbrough (10 miles N of Withernsea) exploded, causing damage to the windows of 25 bungalows.

Day 61. All times BST. Blackout ends: 08.09, begins: 17.29

Friday, 3rd November 1939  D62

Blackout reduced by 1 hour. Now from ½ hr after sunset to ½ hr before sunrise.

Day 62. All times BST. Blackout ends: 08.11, begins: 17.27

Sunday, 5th November 1939  D64

Enemy aircraft reported off the Humber.

Day 64. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.45, begins: 17.53

Wednesday, 8th November 1939  D67

Hull trawler 'Kingston Arogonite' lost.

A balloon was reported to be adrift near Hull.

Day 67. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.52, begins: 17.47

Thursday, 9th November 1939  D68

An RAF plane which crashed in Cambridge Road, Middlesbrough, at 16.55 yesterday, with total loss of personnel and machine, caused fires in three houses. One fireman is reported injured; no other civilian casualties. The aircraft mentioned by Home Security was Hudson N7290 from No 220 Squadron. The two crew were: Pilot Officer Augustus Ryan (pilot), Sergeant Rex Mitchell (second pilot), ACI Albert Wade (crew), with Pilot Officer Douglas Robertson on board as a passenger.

'SS Carmarthen Coast' (961t) on a voyage from Methil to London, was mined and sank three miles off Seaham Harbour. Two of the crew were lost.

Day 68. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.54, begins: 17.45

Friday, 10th November 1939  D69

A Dornier Do 18 was brought down into the sea, ENE of Scarborough, by two RAF Hudsons of 220 Squadron. Of the crew of the enemy aircraft, one was listed as missing and the rest were picked up by Dutch ships.

Day 69. All times BST. Blackout ends: 07.56, begins: 17.43

Thursday, 16th November 1939  D75

'SS Arlington Court' (4,915t) steamer, Rosario, Argentina to Hull with a cargo of grain was sunk by U 43 off the Irish coast, Five of her crew were lost.

Day 75. All times BST. Blackout ends: 08.08, begins: 17.33

Friday, 17th November 1939  D76

The German Naval Staff lifted restrictions on U Boat attacks on liners.

Day 76. All times BST. Blackout ends: 08.09, begins: 17.32

Saturday, 18th November 1939  D77

'SS Blackhill' (2,492t) steamer, Tees from Salta Caballo, was sunk by a mine in the Thames Estuary. One member of the crew died.

Day 77. All times BST. Blackout ends: 08.11, begins: 17.30

Sunday, 19th November 1939  D78

'SS Stanbrook' (1,383t) left Antwerp yesterday in ballast for the Tyne, 8 miles from her destination she was torpedoed by U 57. None of her crew of twenty survived.

'SS Torchbearer' (1,267t) a collier bound for London from Seaham was sunk by a mine, off Harwich, with the loss of four of her crew.

Day 78. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.13, begins: 16.28

Monday, 20th November 1939  D79

Canteen for service men and women opened on Platform 8 at Newcastle Central Station.

Day 79. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.15, begins: 16.27

Tuesday, 21st November 1939  D80

'SS Geraldus' (2,494t) steamer, Tyne to Bruges was sunk by a mine off the 'Sunk Lightvessel'.

Day 80. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.17, begins: 16.25

Tuesday, 21st/Wednesday, 22nd November 1939  N80

During the night came the first definite evidence that enemy mines were being laid from the air, when aircraft believed to be Heinkel He 115s operating from bases in the islands of Sylt and Borkum were seen to drop mines in the Humber and in the estuaries of the Stour and the Thames. Observers reported that the mines looked like sailors kit-bags suspended from a parachute. The shipping on all three rivers was held up until the secrets of the new German magnetic mine was revealed by Lieutenant Commander Ouvry and his team shortly afterwards. Degaussing gear was not long in following to counter the threat.

A slight set-back occurred on Tuesday, 21st of May 1940, when the mine destructor vessel 'Corburn' was sunk by a mine in shallow water off Le Havre. German divers were able to discover the ships secrets and altered their magnetic mines accordingly.

Night 80. All times GMT. Blackout begins: 16.25, ends: 07.19

Thursday, 23rd November 1939  D82

Last date to register for ration books.

Day 82. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.21, begins: 16.22

Friday, 24th November 1939  D83

'SS Mangalore' (8,886t) cargo ship, at anchor in the Hawke Roads, Spurn, was struck by a drifting mine and broke in two.

Day 83. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.23, begins: 16.21

Saturday, 25th November 1939  D84

'SS Uskmouth' (2,483t) steamer, Sunderland to Southern France was sunk by torpedoes and gunfire from U 43 in the Bay of Biscay. Two of her crew died.

Day 84. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.25, begins: 16.20

Sunday, 26th November 1939  D85

'SS Pilsudski' (14,294t) a Polish liner under charter to the Royal Navy struck a mine and sank off the Humber.

Day 85. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.27, begins: 16.19

Wednesday, 29th November 1939  D88

The Northumberland Police reported that at 09.35 an enemy aircraft was shot down over the North Sea, five miles E of Amble. Acting on Admiralty instructions a motor boat and patrol vessels carried out a search of the vicinity but no survivors were found. This aircraft was a Heinkel He 111 of Stab/KG26 shot down by a Hurricane of No 111 Squadron.

'SS Ionian' (3,114t) steamer, India to London and Hull was sunk by a mine off the Newarp Lightvessel in the North Sea.

A Dornier Do 18 of 2/Küstenfliegergruppe 406 was also lost over the North Sea.

Day 88. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.32, begins: 16.16

Thursday, 30th November 1939  D89

'SS Sheaf Crest' (2,730t) steamer, Tyne to London, was sunk by a mine in the Thames Estuary.

Day 89. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.33, begins: 16.15

Saturday, 2nd December 1939  D91

Conscription extended to men aged 19-41.

'SS San Calisto' (8,010t) tanker, Hull to Houston, Texas, was sunk by a mine off the Tongue Lightvessel.

Day 91. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.37, begins: 16.13

Sunday, 3rd December 1939  D92

'SS Moortoft' (875t) steamer, lost by an unknown cause in the North Sea after leaving the Humber for Calais. All thirteen of her crew died.

Day 92. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.38, begins: 16.12

Sunday, 3rd/Monday, 4th December 1939  N92

The Norwegian steamer 'Gimle', en route from West Hartlepool to Gothenburg with a cargo of coke nuts, was torpedoed and sunk by U-boat U-31 150 miles east of Aberdeen. The crew members were rescued from their lifeboat on 7th December and taken to Norway.

Night 92. All times GMT. Blackout begins: 16.12, ends: 07.40

Monday, 4th December 1939  D93

'SS Horsted' (1,670t) on a voyage from London to Sunderland, struck a mine and sank SE of Flamborough Head.

Day 93. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.40, begins: 16.12

Thursday, 7th December 1939  D96

'SS Eskdene' a ship built in 1934 (3,829t), with a cargo of timber, was reported to have been damaged by a mine or torpedo but was still afloat, seventy miles NE of the Tyne entrance. The tugs 'Hendon' and 'George V', escorted by the sloop 'HMS Stork' set off in mid afternoon of the 6th, and having to steam around minefields, eventually spotted the 'Eskdene' at 07.00 on the 7th. The damaged vessel was a sorry sight, her stern was under water, she had a list to starboard, it appeared that it was only her deck cargo that was keeping her afloat and she had been abandoned. Three of the eight crew members of the 'Hendon', using the tug's boat, managed to rig a tow up to the two tugs and the tow started at 09.30. The escort at this time was an RAF plane, 'HMS Stork' had left shortly before.

The voyage to the Tyne was hazardous to say the least, they survived rain, fog, a gale that made the tow roll so badly that the speed had to be reduced to 1½ knots, their escort leaving them through the bad weather that nearly drove the vessels ashore and finally an explosion aboard the 'Eskdene'. This happened in the morning of the 8th as they were nearing the Tyne entrance, as the stricken ship settled further down in the water, it was decided to make a dash for it, ultimately passing between the piers at 11.30 and finishing the task of beaching her at Herd Sands, South Shields at 15.30. The cargo was eventually unloaded and the 'Eskdene' refloated and repaired.

In the North Sea, the destroyers 'HMS Juno' and 'HMS Jersey' were attacked by the German destroyers 'Erich Giese' and 'Hans Lody' which had been laying mines off Cromer. 'HMS Jersey' was damaged by a torpedo and was towed into the Humber by the 'HMS Juno'.

Day 96. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.44, begins: 16.09

Friday, 8th December 1939  D97

'SS Corea' (751t) steamer, Humber from Boulogne hit a mine and sank off Cromer. Eight of her crew died.

Day 97. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.46, begins: 16.09

Sunday, 10th December 1939  D99

'SS Willowpool' (4,815t) steamer, Bona, Algeria to the Tees, hit a mine and sank E of Newarp Lightvessel.

Day 99. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.49, begins: 16.08

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