Springwell World War II Decoy Site
World War Two Bombing Decoy Site at Springwell
At a local Heritage event in 2008, a former Washington resident asked members of Washington History Society if they knew of a World War 2 Bombing Decoy Site in the area. The lady concerned remembered seeing such a site as a child, and described “lights on poles” which would be switched on by soldiers when an air-raid warning was received..The lights were apparently designed to decoy enemy aircraft away from targets of importance. Unfortunately, she had forgotten the location of the site. At that time none of the WHS members had any knowledge of the installation, and so there the matter rested.
Just a few months later however, in July 2009, at a WHS photographic display in Washington Galleries, a local resident confirmed the existence of a Decoy Site, and remembered seeing it whilst playing in a field, between Heworth Road, Washington and Springwell in an area known as “The Leam”
This new information prompted members to carry out research on the subject. Detailed information on Bombing Decoy sites was eventually found in the private records of a former RAF Pilot Officer Fred Pippet, who had been responsible for all decoy installations in NE and NW England. After the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, the Government set up a vast network of fake targets to protect facilities, such as Dockyards, Factories, Steelworks etc.There were several different types of decoy, such as fires to simulate Steel Works; sparks to look like Tram Cars in towns; and lights to replicate Factories and Docks. There were numerous sites listed throughout NE England, the nearest being located at Herrington, Silksworth, Whiburn, Boldon Colliery, Ryhope and Beamish.
According to Fred Pippet's notes the Springwell site was designed to simulate dockside lighting. Lights were set on poles, in lines, and were controlled from a concrete bunker about 400 yards away, manned by three or four soldiers. The lights were switched on when the control bunker was notified of an impending bombing attack. It was thought that the lights would decoy bombers away from their real targets on the Tyne and Wear.The officer in charge of the Springwell site was a Major Ritchie, based at the Reyrolles factory in Hebburn.
Using the map references in Fred Pippet's notes, it was possible to pinpoint the exact location of the decoy lights – in farmland which was actually nearer to High Usworth Village than to Springwell. The site of the Decoy Lights is now covered by trees on the George Washington Hotel Golf Course, near to the Hotel, but no trace of the site remains.
The location of the Control Bunker remained unknown until 2016, when a member of the Society who was examining an aerial photograph of High Usworth, taken in 1964, spotted the entrance. The bunker had been burried, and grassed over, to act as camouflage, and was difficult to see, but when the image was enlarged, the blast wall in front of the entrance, and the escape hatch could be seen. The image was compared to photos of other sites, and it was clear that the bunker was built to the same standard design. It was built in a field to the East of High Usworth Village, about 400yards from the Decoy Lights. The bunker is thought to have been demolished when the Linksfield housing estate was built by Shepherds of York in the late 1980s. The site is now ocupied by a house and garden in Gleneagles Drive.
Although Decoy Sites in some areas of the country proved to be very effective, there was apparently only one instance of the Springwell Site being bombed - a single bomb killed a horse in a field nearby. During 1943 the frequency of bombing raids on the UK decreased dramatically, and in 1944 all sites were closed down.