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Ian McKay - Reminiscences

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posted on 2024-06-05, 19:09 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Ian McKay was born on the 16th of June, 1932 and so was seven years old when war was declared, he has the following memories of the war.

He was in his local church in South Shields when the vicar was approached by his housekeeper and whispered something to him, he turned to the congregation and said: "you all must go home", "and when I got home, I realised what it was, Chamberlain had just said at quarter to 12, we at war with Germany!"

His street in South Shields which was called H. S. Edward Street was bombed and about 11 houses were destroyed and several people killed. A parachute landmine was dropped nearby and Ian remembers his father: "was at the bottom of the stairs and he had his hands pressed up against the door and I can still see his hands have been reverberating, but the door stayed on its hinges with this landmine dropped probably within 300 yards. Amazingly because the windows were taped, we didn't have any broken glass in the house." The bomb site was just left as waste ground which he used to walk across to get the bus.

He was with his father a highlander from Isle of Lewis Stornoway when a neighbour called Mr Lackland a fellow highlander came to the shelter. "He walked across with the candle and when he came in, he had a bottle of whiskey with him and two wee glasses" "Unfortunately, Mr. Lackland turned the glasses upside down and poured the whiskey into the upturned glasses!" His father had to get his own whiskey after that.

A neighbour called Martin Erickson made his own Morrison "Table" Shelter. He "brought a piece of half-inch metal plate the size of a table, and this was to be his air raid shelter. He ceremoniously placed this on top of the table and up to eight of us could sit under the table with this half-inch metal plate as security against shrapnel or bombing or whatever."

The Regent Cinema in South Shields was bombed, Ian says: "I well remember the manager coming on, the film was stopped and the manager came on dressed in a tuxedo, he explained that there was an air raid warning and that it was up to those who were in the cinema to either stay or go home. I think I'd created probably a world record that night running from the Regent Cinema down Reed Street, across Frederick Street and into H. S. Edward Street!"

His father arranged for him, his sister and his mother to be unofficially evacuated to Holling Hill Farm near Rothbury. Unfortunately, the farm area was bombed by incendiaries. His father came up at the weekend and we told him the story he said "I can't see much point in you staying here". A number of police and army came to see if any bombs were left. "I happened to go into a barn and I saw what was all I can describe as a stack of gleaming silver ordnance and my mother sort of said": "just as well, we were leaving because we're not staying here."

"Memories of shopping in the immediate 1939, well first of all, I remember that every corner had a shop virtually, but every corner that had a shop, you virtually knew everybody's name who owned it. They all sold similar sorts of things, but I can remember, that corner shops were places that you were never away from, you visited, you would go three or four, if not more times in the course of a day because you were going for one single item. Might've been a candle, it might have been five Woodbines or whatever it might have been."

"Only other thing I would mention is that we also had water tanks put in the streets and I well remember a friend of mine, trying the very thin ice and falling into the water and thereafter the army came round and put a fine mesh over it."

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Ian McKay

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Shared at Ocean Road Community Centre, Tyne and Wear on 18 November 2023. The event was organised by South Shields Local History Group.

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94049 | SSH009