Keys to the Past


World War II

1939-45. World War II was the most devastating war in human history. It began in 1939 as a European conflict between Germany and an alliance between England and France, but soon widened to include most of the nations of the world.

Like many areas of the Britain the north-east was heavily bombed by the German airforce, the Luftwaffe. Several different kinds of defence were created against this kind of attack. Anti-aircraft guns were positioned, such as those built around Elsdon A network of radars known as Chain Home Low (Bamburgh, Cresswell, Kirkley Hill, Ottercops, Shotton) was set up - the site of one of these radars can still be seen at Craster. A set of decoy sites - dummy airfields- were also built to lure the German bombers away from their real target. One once stood near Long Houghton and the remains of another are still visible at Great Burdon.

These defences protected both the civilian population and the military sites in the area. An unusual set of sunken pillboxes was built into the runway at the RAF airfield at Middleton St George (now Teeside airport). Many other airfields were spread across the area- they housed both British flyers and Polish and American airmen. The latter groups left behind two carved stone eagles at the entrance at Millfield airfield.

A possible invasion from Germany was also feared, and many coastal defences were built. There is a large network of pillboxes throughout the region, particularly along the flat Northumberland coast, which was thought to be a possible landing site. There were also many anti-tank traps, large lines of huge concrete blocks, placed along the coast. These can still be seen at Widdrington and close to the causeway onto Holy Island. These were all part of a system of coastal defences known as 'Ironsides Crust', after General Edmund Ironside who was in charge of these fortifications. Large systems of ditches, used to prevent enemy gliders landing, were also dug. These can be seen on aerial photographs of the Blyth area. Large gun emplacements were also built to protect the important coastal ports, such as the battery built at Seaham and Blyth.

Other remains dating to this period included the exceptional site of Low Harperley, a prisoner-of-war camp, used to hold German and Italian prisoners. The many buildings still survive as well as wall paintings created by the prisoners to remind them of home.

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