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Oscar Lancellotte, Confectioner, 1 Abbey End
"Just my old trunk and I, facing - what?"
Oscar Lancellote's survival, but the death of his wife Winifred, at their home and place of business, a confectionary and tea room, at 1 Abbey End has been recorded in letters he sent to his sister in the weeks following the landmine detonation. These extraordinary accounts record the explosion, and the later utter despair and loss, and bewilderment of events overtaking his life. Being written so soon, and during the immediate aftermath, they provide a unique insight to one man's plight after the bombing changed his way of life forever.
The letters were written by Oscar from 24 Red Lane where Mr White, whom he knew from ARP work, had taken him in. They are kept by Oscar's sister's grandaughter, Catherine Gallagher, who now lives in America, to whom I am extremely grateful for their use, and for the photographs.
The first was written to his sister Toto (Antonetta), on 25th November 1940, just four days after he was dragged from the rubble of his home:
My Dear Toto,
Yes I am alive to tell the tale and here it is.
On Wednesday last the 20th inst, Win and I with four friends who were evacuees from the Coventry raid, spent a very happy evening chatting and leg-pulling until 10.00 pm when we all went to bed happy and contented. At 2.20 am Win called to me from her side of the bed to hurry up as the bombs were dropping close. Out of bed we got, I grabbed my clothes and put my shoes and glasses on and was bending down to get my case when a landmine dropped on the drive between Mrs Webb’s and Morris’s house and up we went. Poor Win, a beam fell on her head and she died instantly the walls and roof caved in on us and wrecked the town, I, as I said, was bending down for my case when the bricks etc fell on and around me, as gently as possible. I am grazed and bruised and was buried for about ten minutes. I heard the rescue squad and shouted and flashed my torch which I had retained. They uncovered me and carried me down a heap of rubble which was our shop and house and then to the first aid post, where I was examined and sent to a rest house in my pyjamas and nothing else, and so I remained until the members of the Observer corps brought me some clothes as did the British Legion from the works. I found a posh lady who let me have a hot bath in her beautiful bathroom and gave me tea. I had no news of Win until next morning when the fire chief himself, who knew us both well, came up to me and told me they had just a few hours ago found Win. I went to the mortuary just to make sure. Poor old Win looked just as if she was asleep and very comfortable. It may be or sound callous but Toto it was better so, for she would have gone mad if she could see the absolute ruin of our home and shop. She was very proud of them both and it would have been torture to her for the rest of her life.
You can imagine what it must look like. The Pub, our place, the wool shop, Morris, Robinson’s next door, Doctor Harpers and the three cottages up the road, the Hairdressers opposite and Glasspools the chemists, the cornershop, Mr Redwood’s and Mrs Randall’s all a heap of rubble and ruins. The three little shops of ours, just rubble. Desolation and ruin.
We are mourning 2 people in Morris’s, 10 in Webb’s, 4 and Win in our house, 3 in the pub. The girl and her mother at the hairdressers, 1 in the corn stores and Mrs Redwood. The two people in the Wool shop next door are very seriously injured. Mrs Morris very seriously (head wound) but now going on as well as can be expected. John’s head and face grazed, both he and I were very shaky from shock etc but nothing to worry about. Of course I had to fight on to do what was necessary that is why I have not written or let you now earlier but I hardly knew where I was.
The whole of the shop stock and furniture is gone, bits and bobs salvaged but I haven’t traced it all yet. I got my case with the money and papers thank God and Wins bits of jewellery. I got a friend to phone Grace and I’ve invited them to the funeral which takes place tomorrow Tuesday at 2.30 pm. No flowers just myself if the Worcestershire people cannot get through! Do not grieve for Winnie, had she been able to see the ruin of our home and shop, and hopes, she would have gone mad I’m sure. The devastation is just so awful and of course the death of our neighbours just too terrible.
After having a bath I just wandered around and it just rained in torrents and I found myself knocking on Mr Len White’s door. He and his wife gave me a real welcome and could not do enough for me and here I am being surrounded by every kindness. (You remember Mr White who called for me on Fridays for Duty. I believe you met his wife too).
The phone has been out of order round here so I’ve had to write to Mrs Durham asking her to tell Dorothy. What a pity she is not in London near you all, for you would have been able to comfort and console her.
Well Toto, please pass this letter on to Nina and Dolly (I wired her). I could not find our address until I got my case.
So here I am after 24 years, just my old trunk and I, facing - what? Well it’s got to be faced and it’s up to me – so remember me in your prayers,
God bless you all, love to all,
Your Bro’ Oscar
The second letter was written on 11th December, almost three weeks after the explosion:
My Dear Toto,
Guess you think me somewhat unkind keeping you waiting for a letter but there is so much to do and so little time to do it. As you know I have been back to work since you were here. I found it very difficult at first to concentrate, for I seemed dazed and of course all the enquiries at the Works did not help. However I do feel really fit again now and have got rid of my bruises and scratches. I really think that today was the best day’s work I have done for what seems years.
I have got Win’s insurance settled up £50 in all. Paid the funeral expenses £16 which I thought very reasonable. The coffin looked very nice and the service conducted very revently (reverently?). You know of course that Grace, Dot, and Kath and Auntie Flo (from Droitwich) came over. I felt real sorry for Dot, she was naturally upset but she looked real awful, it was terrible.
They were very good, for between them they sent me 2 pairs of underclothes, 1 pr Pyjamas, 3 new shirts, 2 prs socks and lots of handkerchiefs and a second hand suitcase all of which I needed badly. I salvaged my fawn overcoat Dolly gave me, and my sports jacket, 1 pr (new) flannel trousers. Had them cleaned and they look quite good. The one or two beds (mattresses) are ruined (hopeless) soaked with water and torn as are 2 eiderdowns. Have not found much else except oddments of no particular use. Of course there may be quite a bit more stored away that cannot be got at. I’ve been looking around but the goods are all mixed up and I can’t turn them over as there is no room.
Oscar then details a visit to see his daughter Dorothy, and the very welcoming family for whom she worked in Yorkshire, before continuing:
Well I think this is about all the news except that Mrs Morris is still in hospital but going on as well as can be expected. John is back at work but I have not seen him for a week. I’ve had crowds of letters which I have to acknowledge. Ted Hutton came over to see me, offered me a cheque and to go for a weekend anytime, ring up and he would come and fetch me and take me back. I have booked a room for Xmas night at the Abbey Hotel, for Dolly and you, and am looking forward to seeing you both.
Please pass this letter around as I know Dolly and Nina will excuse me not writing individually and I think this covers about all.
The b:-s are still buzzing around here tonight again. You had a terrible time last Sunday and was glad to get your PC. So my love to each of you and thank you for your kindness,
Your bro’ Oscar
Oscar and Winifred Lancellotte
Oscar, in 1939, with his sisters (from left) Dolly, Toto, Pat & Nina.
Oscar and Winifred's tea rooms at 1 Abbey End, spelt 'Lancelot'. To the right is 'The Globe', to the left Smith and Millar the drapers. (Photo courtesy Helen Scott)