Families affected by the landmine explosion that hit Abbey End in Kenilworth on November 21, 1940, paid their respects to lost relatives at a special commemoration service marking the 75th anniversary of the event.
Around 70 people from all over the country turned up to pay their respects to those who died in the explosion, as well as to two women, Gladys Lawrence and Sarah Collett, who had died during the previous fortnight due to air raids.
The mayor of Kenilworth, Cllr Michael Coker, visited the chapel in Oaks Cemetery before the service started to lay a wreath inside.
The mayor’s chaplain, Father Kevin Hooper, led the service with prayers, and then went on to read the 26 names of those who died, while the assembled crowd stayed silent.
After the service was over, the mayor returned to the cemetery to place a wreath on the grave of those who died but still remain unidentified.
Tony Collett, Sarah’s grandson, travelled to the service from Cambridge with his three siblings to remember her and the others who had died. The Colletts lived in Kenilworth for many years, with Collett Walk being named after the family.
I am a great believer that young people need to be reminded of these things. We can forgive, but we can never forget.Tony Collett
Mr Collett said: “I thought the council did a splendid job - the mayor was superb and said some charming words at the service.
“For all of us the day was terribly special, and the way the service was conducted was very moving.
“I am a great believer that young people need to be reminded of these things. We can forgive, but we can never forget.”
Tony’s father, Fred, was also injured in the air raids that took Sarah’s life, but would have died if Sarah had not shielded him from the blast.
The death of Sarah meant that Tony’s aunt, Joyce, was forced to become the ‘mother’ of the family aged just 14.
Historian Robin Leach, who had campaigned for this event to be given more recognised by the town for over five years, was pleased with how the day went.
He said: “A lot of people came up to me and said what a good idea it was to commemorate the bombing. Although the town has marked the occasion before, it hasn’t been a regular occurence.”
A spokesman for Kenilworth Town Council said: “We were very pleased that so many people, and particularly those who had been involved or were related, were able to attend the commemoration service for the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Abbey End.”
It is thought that the landmine was not intended to be dropped on Kenilworth, but instead was meant for Coventry, which was undergoing heavy bombing by the Luftwaffe at the time due to the city being a key industrial asset to the war effort.
The explosion claimed the lives of 26 people, the majority of which were seeking shelter from the Coventry bombing in the Globe Hotel in Abbey End. Many inside the hotel perished after the explosion destroyed the building.
A survivor of the explosion, Eileen Norcliffe, remained skeptical that the German pilot bombed Kenilworth by mistake.
She said: “The truth of what occurred that night was never known and never will be. It was assumed that the pilot mistook Kenilworth for Coventry but this is highly unlikely as situated in the city centre are three church spires.”