Another story by Ena Gowland [nee Stephenson]

There were drift mines on the Fell opposite our farm at Low Westgarth, Butterknowle.  Some of the miners lived in Butterknowle and walked to work along our road and through the stack yard and down the bridge crossing the river Gaunless to mines on the other side of the valley.  These drift mines were serviced by a rail track that the tubs of coal travelled along when they were fully loaded and taken to Cockfield Fell station.  As children we took an interest from a distance.  We were warned that it was not safe to play anywhere near as it was dangerous.

One night, at the beginning of the war, possibly 1941, we (Marjorie, Eric and myself) were woken up by mam and dad and told to get dressed quickly – hats, coats, gloves and wellingtons.  Dad, carrying Eric, made our way by the light of a half moon, down to the bridge and up the other side to one of the drift mines.  Mother had a torch, dad plunged into the entrance and brought out an empty tub, spread an old rug inside and lifted all three of us into it.  He pushed us into the mine about 3 yards, the height was about 4 feet.  No sooner had we arrived, German planes went over.  We could hear the noise from our hide-out, mother crouched down beside the tub and pleaded with dad to come in.  He would not.  The planes were travelling east to west.

We found out shortly after that the shipyards at Barrow-in-Furness over at Cumberland [now Cumbria] had been heavily bombed.


1] Another person, John Robson formerly of Low Lands and Fell Houses, Cockfield also recounted this event and confirmed the view that the raid was targeted on Barrow.

2] Barrow was bombed 14-16 April and 3-10 May 1941 and throughout the war, the town suffered 83 people killed and 330 injured.  Eventually 600 damaged houses were demolished and about 1,400 were seriously damaged. [1]

3] However, a respected source of wartime activity in the Northeast of England does not record any activity with respect to German aircraft heading towards Barrow-in-Furness in NE skies during the period April to June 1941.[2]  However, there was a major attack on Clydeside on the night of 5/6 May 1941.  386 planes passed over the area in waves of about 30 every 7 minutes or so.  This could be the raid referred to. [3]  Was it Barrow or was it Clydeside which was hit?  Maybe it was a deliberate case of misinformation intended to confuse the Germans.  Later in the war Winston Churchill announced:

“Sometimes truth is so precious, it must be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” [4]

Who knows 80 years later?

4] When telling the tale, Ena did not know how her father knew about the raid.  Had he been fore-warned by the local ARP? Had an air raid siren been sounded?  Had a warning come over the wireless?  Was it simply the noise of the aircraft passing over?

5] There was an earlier incident on the night of 26/27 April 1941, when 200 incendiary bombs [IBs] were dropped over the Ramshaw area, 300 IBs fell between Etherley Dene Farm and Dam Head and 1 High explosive bomb was dropped near Coundon Gate, Bishop Auckland.  No damage was reported.  These incidents probably resulted from enemy bombers needing to discharge their payloads on their return journeys i.e. requiring to reduce weight in order to save fuel.  No indication of target was given.[5]  These planes would have been flying west to east and in the opposite direction to that remembered by Ena therefore this incident probably isn’t the one referred to.



[2] “NE Diary 1939-1945” Roy Ripley & Brian Pears


[4] Winston Churchill, November 1943