MEMORY LANE: Bombardment survivor talks to the Mail

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NORMAN Collins was an 17-year-old engineering apprentice eating his breakfast before a day building vessels for the Royal Navy when the Bombardment began.

“A tremendous explosion rocked the house followed by an inferno of noise and the reek of high explosives,” he wrote in the Mail in December 1994.

“As I made for the door, clouds of brick dust and smoke eddied around.”

Norman ran towards the Block Sands, 50 yards away from his Headland home, and was amazed to see three battlecruisers, which appeared to be only a few hundred yards from the end of the breakwater.

“Their massive guns were firing broadsides and in the dull light of a winter’s morning it was like looking into a furnace,” wrote Norman, 97 in 1994.

He recalled: “I had never been under fire before and at first did not realise what was causing the high-pitched shrieks, then it dawned on me it was the whistle of hundreds of shells rushing over my head at low altitiude.”

With the great guns of the warships drowning out Hartlepool’s own batteries, Norman thought a landing was imminent and retraced his steps up Rowell Street.

“As I rounded the corner of Lumley Street, I saw the body of Sammy Woods, a schoolfriend of mine, lying half out of his doorway, a shell having burst just as he stepped out a second before I turned the corner,” said Norman, who then headed for his workplace, the drawing office of the Central Marine Engine Works.

Skirting the docks, he saw “hundreds of pit props flying high in the air like matches thrown by giant hands”. They had been stacked in piles on the dockside and scattered by shells dropping among the stacks.

The drawing office was deserted and many people were hurrying out of town to the open country, carrying their most precious possessions.

Norman decided to return home to see if his family were ok, which they were, and he collected a number of souvenir shell fragments, including one which had killed a donkey grazing on Friarage Field.

Later, Norman joined the Seaforth Highlanders, serving in France, and his letters from there and memoirs were incorporated into the book Last Man Standing, by Richard van Emden.

Email or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.


THE 100 shareholding staff of Hartlepool Transport unanimously accepted a £1.55m offer from Scottish company Stagecoach, meaning employees got £13 for each £1 share they had purchased 18 months previously when the company was bought out from the council.

Stagecoach said jobs and conditions of employment would be guaranteed for two years but the distinctive purple and beige livery of the 68-bus fleet would be replaced by Stagecoach branding.

• YOUNGSTERS at Brierton Comprehensive performed a Christmas show with a difference - based on a traditional Nativity but set in a circus.

As a result, the wise men were tightrope walkers, the shepherds clowns and King Herod a lion tamer.

• KEN Dodd’s Merry Christmas Laughter Show was at Middlesbrough Town Hall and cinema fans could choose between films including the Lion King, The Mask, Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump at the Showcase multiplex at Teesside Park.

• GAMES consoles were on many people’s Christmas wish lists 20 years ago, with the £400 3DO tipped to be a popular success due to what the Mail described as a “fantastic looking version of FIFA Soccer - squint at the TV and you could be watching Match Of The day, it’s that good”.

• AFTER shave was a popular Christmas gift and the Mail featured an unusual test of rival brands, with the judges being the paper’s editor Harry Blackwood and his son Jamie, then aged four.

Cacherel’s Eden split opinion with Jamie liking it but Harry saying it smelled “like those sweets, Cherry Lips”, while it was Jamie’s turn to have his doubts about the “oranges” in Armani Pour Homme. But both rated Ralph Lauren’s Safari for Men to make it the winning scent.

• ONE in three 18-20 year-old men expected to have casual sex at the office Christmas party, according to a survey for Durex, which also revealed just three in 100 women over 35 anticipated a fling behind a filing cabinet.