- Abbey End Landmine
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The Robertson family, 9 Abbey End
(as told to Douglas Robertson, grandson of Alec, who also supplied the photograph)
Alec Edgar Robertson was the son of Charles Robertson who started a printing business in Victorian Kenilworth, including printing the Kenilworth Advertiser. In about 1908, Charles moved into one of a pair of new houses at Abbey End, number 9 ‘The Roseary’; it may have been built new for him. Sharing a common wall was the mirror image number 7 ‘Salumin’. His son Alec lived at 'The Roseary' from the 1930s.
Over a series of correspondence, Douglas Robertson, Grandson of Alec, takes up the story:
Alec Robertson had a small printing set-up in the basement of 'The Roseary', but continued his father's large printing concern in Coventry. In the spring of 1940, the Coventry printing works was destroyed in an air raid.
The Robertsons took in evacuees from Coventry, making one bedroom available. Every evening when the air-raid sirens sounded, Alec Robertson would shepherd everyone in his house down into the cellar to stay there until the ‘All Clear’ sounded. On this particular raid, a Coventry woman, 40 year-old Grace Halls, realised she had left her handbag upstairs in her bedroom and decided to slip out and fetch it. When Alec found out that she had disobeyed him and left the safety of the cellar, he was furious and sent his youngest son, 9 year-old Carl, after her to bring her back. Carl had run up the cellar steps and reached ground level when the landmine exploded, but Grace had a head-start and already managed to reach her first floor bedroom.
Carl was hit on the top of his head by a piece of flying masonry and knocked out cold. He was unconscious for quite a while but had suffered little permanent harm; apart from losing a jagged patch of his scalp where he remained bald for the rest of his life, he made a full recovery. Grace Halls was not so lucky; when they dug her out of the rubble she was already dead, but the strap of her handbag was still clutched tightly in the lifeless fingers of her right hand.
The landmine had destroyed half of ‘The Roseary’; its ‘twin’ ‘Salumin’ was completely gone. One or two rooms were still usable and the Robertson family lived in them for a few more weeks. As quickly as he could, Alec Robertson found and bought another house, 11 Southbank Road, in Kenilworth. After they had moved out, ‘The Roseary’ was re-inspected, condemned as unsafe and what remained was pulled down before it fell down. In the space of about six months Alec Robertson had lost both his printing business and his house.
Alec’s brother, George Bertrand Robertson and his wife Caroline (née Arnold) were living in 4 The Square, Lord Leycester’s Lodge, at that time. Being built of wattle and daub, when the landmine exploded it “collapsed like a pack of cards”. However most of the china and porcelain survived, together with some of the furniture. George’s son Geoffrey and his wife Pauline had a lucky escape as they were visiting at that time but had left earlier in the day of the night-time raid.
Footnote: In 1913 Charles Robertson had sold an area of his land, ‘The Roselands’, for the making of Kenilworth’s cemetery; Grace Halls was taken there, along with the other victims, as the chapel was used as a morgue. Grace was buried in Kenilworth’s Cemetery, on 27th November 1940.
The Robertson's home, 'The Roseary' at 9 Abbey End in about 1935. The small boy on the right is Carl who as a ten year old was injured in the explosion. Number 7 was a mirror image of number 9.
See 'Photograph 1' and 'Photograph 2' to see the remains of 'The Roseary'.