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Stan Kelsey Remembers......
(Published in the Kenilworth Weekly News, 3rd December 2010)
“We could hear the whistle, there was a stick of bombs…”
One of the biggest problems I had in compiling the article about the Second World War in Kenilworth published in last week’s Kenilworth Weekly News, was finding consistent reports concerning the incidents that led to the deaths of two ladies in Arthur Street and Hyde Road. It quickly became clear that I had chosen to copy incorrect reports of the incident that took the life of Mrs Lawrence in Hyde Road, as I received a phone call from an eyewitness.
This week, Stan Kelsey made me most welcome at his home to share his memories. Stan will be remembered by many in town as a coal merchant, though I suspect equally as many will not appreciate the vital role coal merchants once played in Kenilworth’s affairs. At the time of the Coventry Blitz, Stan was 13 years of age, living at Spring Lane where his parents had a shop.
With German aircraft roaring over Kenilworth through sustained anti-aircraft fire on their way to Coventry, following a radio beam transmitted from Cherbourg, Stan takes up the story:
“At the top of our yard between Henry Street and Albion Street, was a huge tree. My dad and I climbed a ladder to get to the branches; we could see over the rooftops and see the bright flare of Coventry. I remember my Dad saying ‘I think they’ve got Coventry station’.
All of a sudden we could hear the whistle, there was a stick of bombs; one fell just outside the Working Men’s club billiard room, didn’t do a lot of damage, I happened to see the bits and pieces going up in the flash. Then one at Hyde Road, on the edge of the green by about number 14. Mrs Lawrence died.
The next went through a shed, at the back of the fish shop in School Lane, where there were stables and other buildings; old Harry Wragg ran Jeffcoats the coal merchants and used to stable the horses and carts in there, the thing come through the roof, blew the floor and the doors off, and damaged the carts.
One went off in Manor Road, Joe Richards had a butchers shop and he had a garden next to it; the garden now is the car park for the flats, it blew a hole in there. Right on the corner of Manor Road by the post box, on the grass verge there was a delayed action one and the bomb squad came and took that, on an army lorry on a cradle; it was only a small thing like a gas cylinder. The rest of the things they reckon went over Tainters Hill way. It was more or less in a straight line.
Dad dashed down the yard and shoved me under the stairs with me mother…..got his car out and started to take the injured to St Johns (where the wartime First Aid station was).”
This quite extraordinary, detailed account raises an interesting question; with Coventry so well alight and easy to find, why did the aircraft drop its load early on Kenilworth? Stan provides a likely answer: “The locals at the time said they let them go because the plane had been hit by ak-ak. They all reckoned they’d just let it go because it had been hit.” If it is assumed the aircraft was flying on the alignment the stick of bombs landed, it appears the plane was veering off course and this would seem to back up Stan’s recollection. If this is the case then it may well be the only, and previously unknown, case of anti-aircraft fire from the Kenilworth area actually causing some damage. (Only one plane was actually shot down in the raid, but it would not have been this one.)
These are the stables and sheds off School Lane mentioned above. Just visible to the right of the centre shed is a curving corrugated iron structure; it was this that was hit by the Luftwaffe. An extra sheet on its roof to cover the hole can be seen. On the right is an Anderson shelter.
This site is now covered by Lawrence Gardens; Mrs Lawrence was the victim of the same stick of bombs but this is coincidental, there is no connection.
Photograph dated c1979