Posted May 19th, 2011

War had always been good for business at the West Newcastle works of Vickers-Armstrong. The Second World War was no exception, and employment shot up to 18,500 as the demand for tanks, shells and guns rose again. Women were encouraged to join the workforce in order to free up men to serve in the armed forces.

Home life was also affected by the war. Benwell and Scotswood were seen as at risk of bombing because of their proximity to the armaments factories on the riverside. Thousands of local children were evacuated, some with their mothers and some alone. Many returned after a short time either because of homesickness or because families decided that they preferred being together despite the potential dangers. For those children who remained in the area, education was badly disrupted as schools closed altogether or only opened part-time.

Air raid shelters were built in an effort to protect the resident population, and schools had their own shelters and carried out regular air raid drills. Residents in areas like Pendower where the houses had gardens were given Anderson shelters where they could go during bombing alerts. Many of these were still there, functioning as garden sheds, decades later.

Despite repeated efforts to bomb Vickers and the other shipyards and factories along the riverside, Benwell and Scotswood actually got off quite lightly. Very few of the bombs hit their targets and there was limited damage to local factories or homes. There were civilian casualties but nothing like the losses suffered in London and other cities. In fact, during the later stages of the war, evacuees from the south were being sent to the west end of Newcastle to escape the Blitz.

One of the most famous incidents to occur during the war in this area was the snapping off of the top of the spire of St James’ Church by a stray barrage balloon. Many older residents remember seeing the resulting heap of stones and slates scattered across the road, where it remained for some time.

At the end of the war, life in the west end gradually returned to pre-war normality. The children and families who had been evacuated to the countryside to escape the air-raids returned to their homes. Just as had happened during the First World War, the women who had been brought in to work at the armaments factories and in other ‘men’s jobs’ were pushed out again, and encouraged to take up roles as full-time housewives and mothers. Men and women returned from the armed forces, the Land Army, and other services, and took their place in civilian life once more.