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When the blitz came to Wearside
By Look North reporter Peter Harris

Sunderland's Central Station on September 6, 1940. Copyright: Sunderland Public Libraries
A direct hit by two high explosive bombs on Sunderland's Central Station

The first German bombs fell on the north-east of England 70 years ago.

By the end of the war almost 7,000 civilians in this region were killed or maimed by bombing raids.

In Sunderland, vital ship building city that it was, 273 were killed.

The Luftwaffe knew what they were looking for.

Even before war broke out, they'd built up detailed information mapping out Sunderland's key targets.

The Wearside yards produced a quarter of Britain's merchant shipping at the time and its value to the bombers was obvious.

Major shipyards like Laing's and Austin's were listed on the German Ordnance Survey maps.

Dead, injured, destroyed

Even now, some of the statistics from the city's wartime experience seem astonishing. Ninety per cent of its houses were said to have been damaged and 1,000 were destroyed completely.

The corner of Atkinson Road and Rosedale Terrace, May 1943. Copyright: Sunderland Public Libraries
Four houses demolished, 146 damaged and ten people killed.

But the only fact that really matters is the scale of the human tragedy that followed.

When the bombers missed their industrial targets, the town centre was hit.

The county borough of Sunderland suffered the biggest loss of life in the North East: 273 civilians died, 389 more were badly injured.

Key landmarks, like the Winter Gardens, were destroyed and incendiary bombs rained down triggering terrifying blazes.

Sunderland wasn't alone. In Easington 36 died, in Seaham it was 51. In fact, 36 people died in Seaham in a single raid in 1943.

Ninety minute blitz

In all, nearly 7,000 civilians were killed or injured as a result of the bombing of the North East.

But those figures can never do justice to the suffering of so many people across this region.

Mayswood Road, May 1, 1942. Copyright: Sunderland Public Libraries
The remains of a home made air raid shelter - two people were killed

They can never tell the story of the horrors inflicted on small towns like Seaham or South Shields, where German bombers laid waste to the market place in a 90 minute blitz in 1941.

Sixty eight died, 12 of them were children.

It's now 70 years since the bombing started and, to many of us today, all this seems so remote it might never have happened.

Yet it's still within living memory and those who witnessed it remember every second as if it was yesterday.

They recall the devastation, the bereaved, the injured, the funerals.

Perhaps those of us who came later should take care to remember it too.

See pictures of the Blitz on Wearside here.

In pictures: The Wearside Blitz
21 May 10 |  People & Places
In pictures: Tyneside in the Blitz
24 May 10 |  History
'They didn't hear the direct hit'
24 May 10 |  History
'I was standing on dead bodies'
21 May 10 |  History
Old film shows air raid damage
24 May 10 |  History


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