The most difficult of all decades
Nostalgia Editor FOR those of us who weren’t around in the 1940s, it certainly comes across as one of the most difficult of eras.
The decade began with Britain engulfed in the most destructive war in history and ended with the country still mired in austerity - although a brighter future awaited on a distant mid-50s horizon.
Our photograph selection recalls the life and times of the North East during those often dark days.
The early 1940s saw the region’s three major conurbations, Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside feel the full force of Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
German bombs regularly tried to hamper the region’s industrial contribution to the war effort.
Newspaper reports of the time were usually circumspect with air raid details.
The Sunday Sun, for example, would only report that “a North East town” had been bombed. We didn’t want to give too much information to the enemy.
At home, Britons were asked to bathe in no more than five inches of water and exist on subsistence rations, while sons, fathers and husbands were away fighting in locations around the globe. It was a grim time. But with America entering the fray in 1941, the hand of the Allies was strengthened.
1943 saw the RAF’s audacious “Dambusters” squadron score a major victory and, in 1944, the tide slowly began to turn.
The momentous D-Day landings were the beginning of the Allies’ final encirclement of Hitler’s forces.
The enemy remained dangerous, however. As new V1 and V2 rockets began to pound London towards the end of the war, the North East, as least, was out of range of these new weapons.
With the Newcastle Home Guard being stood down in December 1944, it seemed VE Day celebrations and ‘Victory Tea’ in Newcastle, May 12, 1945 that danger on the home front was subsiding.
In 1945 the war was won, but the peace would also bring its own challenges, with rationing and austerity lasting well into the 1950s.
Britain would no longer be a major global power, with the opposing mighty superpowers, the USA and USSR, descending into a new ‘cold war’.
Meanwhile, at home, Clement Attlee’s new Labour government introduced the NHS and ‘welfare state’ which did much to improve the day-to-day life of many Britons.
Folk in the North East flocked to the cinema, football matches and the seaside (in summer anyway) as everyone tried to forget about the war.
As the end of the 1940s approached, absolute poverty had almost disappeared from Britain, and unemployment was very low.
Things were slowly on the mend. The 1950s would be a much brighter age.
Bombed Queen Alexandra Road, North Shields, 1943
South Shields children set for evacuation to the countryside, 1941