Thornley Colliery on the Day that War was Declared

In 1938 Chamberlain's piece of paper seemed to promise 'Peace in Our Time.'

'Oh aye, I remember that. We though we were going to be all right. And then on the Sunday Morning when it did break out,' September 3rd 1939, 'I was going to church. You know where the bakery is?'

In the Villas, opposite the Aged Miners' Homes (see photo, below).

'Well, there was a bloke called John Kirk, he was a rent collector and I'd just about got to there and the sirens went and he came dashing out of the house with his tin hat and everything and he says: "They've declared war!" So it was just after 11 o'clock. I must have been late for church--11 o'clock Mass. Why you could hear the wireless from the houses as you went past, that they'd declared war and that was it. It was all the talk in the pubs that morning.

'"They're just egging him on!" And all this: "They'll just let him come so far and then they'll bray him back!" And then they went through France like a dose of salts!'

In 1939 many local men would be waiting for their call-up into the services. For everyone it was a difficult choice between volunteering and having at least some limited control over their futures, or waiting and letting chance and luck take a hand.

'Oh, there was a lot of lads volunteered. Jack Kirk did that.' Jack Kirk later a teacher and local historian. 'Jack knew that if he joined up he'd get where he wanted to be. So he joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a driver. Whereas if he'd waited till he'd been called up, maybe they'd have put in the DLI or something like that.'

You didn't volunteer?

'No, I was on what you call “essential work.” I was working on the camp at Sedgefield, an army camp.' That was on the day war was declared. 'Yes, I was working there. I worked there till it was finished, it'd be early 1940 and then there was four of us got jobs at Middleton St George. The RAF World War Two bomber base, which was then being constructed, now Teeside Airport. 'We got jobs there. They wouldn't call you up while you were on those jobs.’

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Tom Tunney, Albert Street, Thornley

On the site in Albert Street, Thornley in 1935. Left to right: Spike Laverick from Wheatley Hill, Tom Tunney, Bobby Watts from South Hetton, and Dougie Ashford, from Whitley Bay, who lodged in Thornley in the fish shop by the Queen’s Head pub All were working for local builder Jack Walton at the time. Click here or on the photo to enlarge it.

Hartlepool Street in the early Fifties, which was then substantially unchanged from the war years. The Spearman’s Arms pub is about 150 yards down the road on the right hand side. The Queen’s Head pub is just down from the white building in the left middle of the picture The pointy roofed buildings in the foreground to the right are the pit workshops. Albert Street was a street adjacent to and behind Hartlepool Street on the left. At the very bottom of the street to the left was the Workingmen’s Club. And at the very end of the street, where the main road turned right over the railway bridge to Wheatley Hill and left to Ludworth, was the Welfare Hall and the Hippodrome Theatre. Most of the street was demolished in the early Seventies. Click here or on the photo to enlarge it.

The photograph to the left is of The Villas, Thornley. This is one of the very few old streets in Thornley which has not been knocked down. The Aged Miners’ Homes, which were foolishly demolished in the Seventies, are on the right. The road eventually leads down into High Street, with the pit on the right and the Colliery Inn and Market Place on the left.