Peter Bolger, a friend whom I’ve known since we were both 11 years old, recently posted updates to a website he’s been adding to for a few years. The blog is NorthShields173.org, and it’s dedicated to the history of one night in the north of England during World War II. It’s a fascinating project and the site is worth visiting by anyone who’s interested in history, the second world war, and good use of the internet.
North Shields is a place on the banks of the River Tyne that was once a small fishing village. It’s about ten miles downriver from the city of Newcastle, the largest city in the northeast of England. Peter was born and raised in North Shields. I lived a few villages over, in a coal-mining area, but we went to the same high school in North Shields. I more or less moved away for good when I was 18, and I now live in the United States, while Peter still lives with his wife and son in North Shields. Peter’s deep roots in the area meshed with his professional life in library services in this project, which explores one night in 1941 when 107 people were killed by a single bomb that fell on an air-raid shelter. The shelter was located below a lemonade factory, whose telephone number was North Shields 173 (hence the name of the website). It was the single largest loss of life at one time in the north east of England during the whole war. The main purpose of the website is to explore all aspects of that night, from the names of every one of the victims, to details about the factory, local history, pictures of the gravestones that lie in local churchyards.
Peter and his co-sitemaster Peter Hepplewhite started the site with a grant from the English National Lottery back in 2000, which is a pretty big deal. They are still updating and adding to it, and as it says on the site’s “About” page, they get enquiries and leads all the time. The project was even featured in a BBC documentary a few years ago, called “How We Won the War.”
There are many things I could choose to illustrate how great a site this is, but I’m just going to pick out this one: a page of archive photos, and some contemporary film footage, showing the ruins of the factory after the air raid.