Clara Taws

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The last burial in St Stephen's cemetery, was of Clara Taws on April 15 1941. A mother who was killed along with her 18-year-old daughter Clara (injured and died in the Ingham Infirmary) and 2-year-old son John in a direct hit of a German bomb on their house at 22 Harper St. South Shields.
Above: The transcription of the burial records for the Taws family

The following photographs of Clara and her daughter were sent to me by Bernice Vicki Hobson, who I met on the South Shields Genealogy Facebook page. She isn't related to the Taw family but the photographs were amongst family papers. Her grandfather was friendly with a Mr. Taws family well into the 1990s. Could they be descendants of Clara. If you have any information on the Taws family please contact me.

Clara Taws

Clara Taws. Daughter

The back of these priceless photographs. They may be the only images of the family that have survived.

This poor family had already lost a daughter, Vera, to diphtheria in 1936, and a son Stan (who was in the Air Force) was killed (along with more than 4,000 others) on the R.M.S. (H.M.T) Lancastria when it was bombed by the Luftwaffe in June 1940.

Harper Street, South Shields, 10th April, 1941, following an air raid in which 50 people were rendered homeless or were evacuated. In the midst of the devastation two pictures still hang on the wall on the upper right!
Acknowledgement: Tomorrows History

At the Harper St gable end you can see the bomb site. Acknowledgement: Sanddancer Web Site


An extract from Bill Taws Story: Childhood Memories of South Shields. WW2 Peoples War

My brother Stanley, of whom my memories are very sparse, was born and raised during the depressed years of the 1920s. An era that saw the Great Wall Street Crash, the Jarrow Hunger March and the dark days of depression prior to the outbreak of World War 2. Lack of work prompted him to join the Royal Air Force. Before the outbreak of hostilities he persuaded our father, after whom he was named, to sign the enlistment papers to allow him so to do, an action from which subsequent events would transpire that my father never forgave himself.

My most prominent recollection of Stan was of him coming home for Christmas 1939, resplendent in his air force uniform. He’d brought me a toy aeroplane that wound up and ran across the floor it’s wing and taillights flashing. Though I must have received other presents and toys in my childhood, I can’t remember any of them other than this tinplate toy, I thought it was fantastic.

In March of 1940, according to the records, my brother went with his squadron, No 98, from RAF Finningley, in Yorkshire, to France via Southampton and Cherbourg to an airfield near Nantes. The units stay here was very brief and it suffered heavy losses trying to pit its obsolete Fairy Battle aircraft against the superior firepower of the German Messchersmits and Stukas. After the fall of Dunkirk, the Squadron was ordered to retreat from the advancing Nazi army. They boarded the R.M.S Lancastria.She was lying offshore from St.Nazaire. She was a converted cruise liner and the captain had been ordered to take on board as many refugees and forces personnel as possible and to ignore any international laws on passenger numbers. This was on the 17th of June 1940.Thirteen days after the beaches of Dunkirk had been cleared of all personnel. The Chief Purser was counting the passengers aboard, he gave up after the numbers exceeded 6000.

The majority of Air Force personnel, about 800,were housed in number 2 hold. It was this hold that took the first bomb from a flock of attacking German Dornier aircraft which came in just as the Lancastria was about to get under way. The second bomb was reported to have gone down the funnel blowing the engine room to smithereens and a third hit No 3 hold releasing 1400 tons of fuel oil into the sea, the fourth landed in the sea alongside the Lancastria blowing a large hole in her side. The ship started filling with water and capsized throwing 6000 plus personnel into an oil covered sea which the Luftwaffe proceeded to set ablaze with incendiary devices. It is estimated that over 5000 souls were lost and thus it became the single greatest loss of life in any maritime disaster. Prime Minister Winston Churchill imposed a’D’ notice on the reporting of this event, and the official reports won't be available until the year 2040. No one knows the reason for this secrecy. Suffice to say our mother Clara received a telegram from the war office informing her that regretfully her son was ‘missing in action’. She went to her grave never knowing what had happened to her beloved son. Like many others he has no known grave but his death is commemorated on the Runnymede memorial at Egham near Staines, Windsor. it reads L.A.C. Stanley Taws No.614845 98 Squadron RAF lost on SS Lancastria 17th June 1940.

We rose early that grey wet March morning and I went through the ritual of washing and breakfasting as though this was just another day. Yet young as I was I knew that soon I must face the unknown I was to take my leave of everyone loving and caring and venture out with strangers and to strangers.

We stood in long queues along the station platform, escorted by strange schoolteachers. Each of us a brown cardboard gasmask box, slung on a string around our shoulders and a blue label with name and address of destination, tied to a convenient buttonhole.

After seemingly endless hours of apprehensive train travel, we arrived at our destination, a grey dark ,damp Cumbrian railway station with the legend ‘WORKINGTON’. Hear we detrained and were herded onto buses to be scattered throughout this dark wet countryside. After another interminably long journey with frequent stops at which two or three of us at a time were decanted from the bus, I arrived at my destination. There was by now only two of us left on the bus, we climbed down onto the roadside with the one remaining teacher Come along and meet the people you are staying with’. We crossed the road to a small cottage one of three standing side by side. The teacher spoke to the lady from the cottage. ’This ones yours,’ pointing to the other boy,’ The others for next door’.

‘Would you like to come with me?’ A soft kind voice from behind. I turned and standing there, hand outstretched toward me, stood the most beautiful, kindly faced, smiling lady I have ever seen. I immediately felt a bond between us and wanted to rush over to her and bury my frightened five-year-old face into her lap. I glanced toward the teacher, she nodded, and I rushed over and grasped the outstretched hand. We turned and walked into the house next door, she uttering soothing phrases and me knowing that at last I had found a friend I could trust.

I was enrolled in the local infant school that was about a mile and a half from my lodging and to which I walked there and back daily. Food by now was rationed and very scarce, sweets were virtually unobtainable, as were exotic fruits like oranges bananas and coconuts. This didn’t bother me I was living in a land of plenty. The fields were full of potatoes, turnips, carrots and kale. The woods were full of blackberries, crab apples, hazel nuts and wild strawberries, the local gardens produced apples, pears, plums, red and black currants and rhubarb. When not in school I spent my time exploring the countryside, the woods, the rivers ponds and streams to my hearts content, and sometimes I would accompany the farmer on hunting trips for rabbits to supplement the meagre meat ration. Life was good.

Air raids were virtually unknown in this country area, there were no shelters, either brick or earth built as there were in the towns. Occasionally a stray aircraft found its way over and the local siren would sound warning the population. For some strange reason, which I have never understood, the farmer his wife, son and I would grab some warm clothing and vacate the house. Just across the road there was a field belonging to the farm. This field, as well as cows, held a large barn and three hen huts, each about the size of a large garden shed. We would all trek across the field and into one of these huts, standing there among the protesting hens until the all clear sounded. We would then wend our way back to our warm beds. I have often wondered about the reasoning behind this exercise, I can only imagine that the farmer thought it unlikely that a German pilot would want to bomb a hen hut. On the other hand if a stray bomb had found its way onto this strange ritual how would the local paper have explained it? Imagine the headline Germans bomb hen house, four killed.

My Mother and Family
As well as my brother Stan, killed on the Lancastria, my family comprised of a sister, Vera, whom I never knew as she died at an early age of Diptheria. This disease was prevalent in the 1920s and 30s as were Tuberculosis and especially in the South Shields area Scarlet Fever. Thank God for immunisations and the National Health Service. I also had two other sisters Margaret who is three years older than me and is still alive and Clara, who was older than Margaret and again of whom my memories are sparse.

Sick of the interminable spells of unemployment, my father Stanley volunteered for work with the Forestry Commission. This industry, like coal mining, farming, ship building and repair and steel manufacture were all essential to the war effort and were reserved industries. It’s workers being exempted from National Service with the armed forces. My father was posted to Scotland and was set to work in the forests around Aberdeenshire

My last recollection of my mother was when she came to visit me at my lodging at Christmas time 1940. By this time my brother had been missing for six months, my mother, I’m told, wept every day as she dusted his photograph. All this drama and heartache eluded me, as I was never told about these and other tragic events that were to follow.

My sister Margaret, being older than I, had been evacuated before I was and had gone to a different destination. It wasn’t long after my mothers’ visit that Margaret arrived and was lodged with a family just a few hundred yards along the road from me. Whether this was engineered or not I do not know but I suspect It may have been.

My mother, I’m told, didn’t use the air raid shelter. She preferred to stay in the house and shelter In a cupboard under the stairs. This was fairly common practice during the war years and It was considered to be as safe as the shelters to anything but a direct hit. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened. On the night of 9th/10 of April 1941 there was a massive air raid on the river Tyne, targets hit in South Shields were the Market Place, the Railway Station and our house in Harper Street. My mother, sister Clara and a baby of whom I knew nothing, were all killed. My father, who was in Scotland, received a telegram saying only ‘COME HOME CLARA HURT. I don’t know who sent this telegram probably my grandmother or one of my aunts. My father told me he raced home as fast as a wartime rail service would allow, he ran to the bottom of the street, only to find a massive pile of rubble where his home had once stood and there lying in the gutter was the babies Teddy Bear.

I was never told officially by anyone the tragic events surrounding my family, and lived out my gloriously happy but short years with my beloved Nan. Some vindictive pupil at school once teased me by saying my mother was dead but I didn’t believe him, what did he know?

Can you add to this page in the way of images or a story? If so please contact me.

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