On Monday October 14, 2002, at 4:40 p.m., a 1000 pound bomb (approximately the weight of five men of average height) was discovered during excavation work behind Deerness Park Medical Center on Suffolk Street in Hendon . The bomb squad has been called in.
There would be three days of chaos before the drama ended.
The bomb was never dropped from a plane. He collapsed during a forced landing, then went undetected.
World War II was in full swing on the night of September 5, 1940 when the German Heinkel He 111P bomber was shot down, crashing into Suffolk Street at 11:18 p.m.
Rachel Stormont, 41, was killed. Her husband John was seriously injured. Their daughter Jean Stormont, 15, lost both hands, which will not prevent her from becoming a telephone operator.
Four German servicemen, all of the plane’s crew, were killed, including Hans Schröder, 27, who was found dead in a nearby garden with his parachute unopened.
Rudolf Marten, 25, and Josef Wich, 20, were still in the wreckage of the bomber. 23-year-old Franz Reitz’s parachute split open, but his horribly injured body landed on the roof of an air raid shelter at Bede Towers on Ryhope Road, where he was found dead.
All four were respectfully buried in Castletown Cemetery where their graves are still beautifully maintained. Human beings first, then enemies. They were ordinary young people.
There the incident ended. At least that’s what we assumed for the next 62 years.
No one knew that the plane had accidentally dropped a particular bomb. It was stuffed with explosives and most likely would have killed someone that fateful afternoon in 2002, if the workers hadn’t realized what they had discovered. It was also near a gas line.
One can only imagine the fright they received, especially the operator of the excavator. During a previously ordinary working day, they were dealing with something extraordinary.
Police immediately closed Suffolk Street and surrounding areas. Hundreds of residents were evacuated and army bomb disposal experts called in.
Those who grew up in movies and TV series UXB Danger, might have expected some highly trained military personnel to handle the matter with snipers, pliers and a keen eye; defuse the bomb within hours.
It wouldn’t be that easy and it took a while to conclude that detonation was the only solution.
Previously, trees and fences were removed, while metal dumpsters were filled with sand and water to reduce any impact in the event the bomb exploded.
The October 16 Echo reported: “Army chiefs revealed that an attempt to disarm the bomb last night had failed. The storage team is currently in discussions with experts and looking at options that could be used to end the situation.
“Police chiefs urged people to leave the area around Suffolk Street, fearing that if the bomb exploded it would create a 25-foot-wide crater, damaging buildings up to 650 feet.”
Quite why anyone need being urged to avoid a 1,000-pound bomb that could create a 25-foot-wide crater, damaging buildings up to 650 feet away, remains a matter of guesswork in Hendon.
Up to 2,000 residents abandoned their homes during the crisis. Many slept at Southmoor School, others with relatives. Nineteen seniors have been moved to suitable housing in Jarrow and South Shields.
Southmoor and Thornhill School were closed, as were Valley Road and Hudson Road Primary Schools. The Raich Carter Center, Winter Gardens, Silksworth Tennis Center, Hendon Library and Nookside Day Center were also closed; either for security reasons or because they provided temporary accommodation.
At first, completely false rumors circulated about terrorism. The World Trade Center had been attacked a year earlier and people were still very suspicious. Otherwise, there was something decidedly British about the reaction of those living near the huge unexploded bomb.
Police never said they were at their wit’s end, but they handled the situation extremely well, including considerable public intransigence. You can lead a horse to the watering hole …
Superintendent Paul Weir said: “If they refuse to do it (evacuate) and stay in their homes, they should stay away from their windows facing Suffolk Street. “
While around 2,000 people had left their homes, around 1,000 others largely ignored the possibility of being reduced to rubble.
Winnie Davies OBE, 75, recalled the plane crash in 1940 and seemed unfazed, saying, “I calculated the risk and decided to stay here because it’s too cold outside. Well, it was October.
Another resident, maybe a little off the basics, said: “It’s been around for 60 years, so we didn’t think one more night would make a real difference.
Trevor Foulds, bartender at the neighboring Ivy Leaf Club, said: “It doesn’t seem to have affected business.”
When it was realized that the bomb was to be detonated, it was removed from behind Deerness Park Health Center in a very delicate rope and pulley operation.
It was placed on a trailer pulled by an army truck, flanked by five police cars, two coast guard vehicles and a military jeep; then “crept along” towards Hendon Beach.
He was placed in a hole dug by soldiers at the foot of the cliffs of Salterfen Rocks at 1:25 a.m. on Thursday, October 17. BOOM! It exploded by remote control.
Then it was all over except the insurance claims. Three original stained glass windows from the Hendon Grange pub were smashed; the last victims of an ill-fated bombardment 62 years earlier.
Andy Capp creator Reg Smythe whose character was trained in Sunderland