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21st November 2015
On 25th February 2015, I sent this email (partially reduced) to the Mayor Elect, Councillor Michael Coker:
In a year of many notable anniversaries, there is one that may slip ‘under the radar’; November 21st sees the 75th anniversary of the landmine explosion at Abbey End that killed 8 residents, 16 refugees from Coventry, and two unknown souls. It was an event that shaped the town’s development that still has repercussions today. It should not be forgotten that two others, 1 resident and 1 refugee, were killed in the previous two weeks during other air raids.
It has always disappointed me that the anniversary is never officially recognised, even by the simple laying of a floral tribute at the memorial at Abbey End. I have never understood why this far from difficult to organise, or finance, mark of respect has not become an annual mark of remembrance by the Town Council. Why these residents of our town, both permanent and temporary, are deemed not worthy of such a gesture quite simply baffles me. It has been left to the Women’s Institute and Andy Jones to mark the occasion with flowers, neither of whom have any direct connection to any who died.
There are survivors of the explosion still living in the town, there are relatives of those who died still among us, and more who remember it, but their numbers are falling; whilst there are still some alive who would greatly appreciate official recognition of their loss, do you not think that this year would be a fitting opportunity to instigate an annual act of laying a floral tribute? If not, then what is the point of a memorial that is ignored?
I have in the past raised this question at a Town Council meeting (for the 70th anniversary), then subsequently contacted Mayors during their term of office, and annually had letters published in the Kenilworth Weekly News but with little effect. Each time I have asked “If this is not to happen, then please explain why”; the only response I have had, which amounted to, “we never have in the past, so why should we now”, is obviously unacceptable.
It could be an occasion with a few invited guests, it could be a case of simply walking down and laying flowers after the remembrance day service, it could even be just a bunch of flowers for a fiver from a garage left early in the morning with no-one there to see, but there really is no reason and no excuse for it not to happen at all. The cost, when compared for example to the Town Council’s contribution to Kenilworth in Bloom, would be trifling.
I trust you will give this due attention, and I look forward to your response.
Robin D Leach
Within four hours, Councillor Coker had replied positively and as soon as he took office as Mayor in May, the wheels were set in motion for a most fitting tribute.
Prior to the service, the Abbey End Memorial; the landmine landed (approximately) just this side of the bus shelter, in the layby.
The first act of the day, the Mayor Michael Coker and his wife place a wreath in front of the Cemetery Chapel plaque recording the known names of the 26 civilians who died in Kenilworth in World War 2. As far as is known, this is the first time such a wreath has been placed.
The realtives of Sarah Collett travelled from as far as Yorkshire, Cambridge, Welwyn Garden City, and Randall Road, to gather at the memorial plaque.
The service at Abbey End, led by Father Kevin Hooper, and attended by about 70 people encircling the memorial.
The Mayor lays a wreath on behalf of the Town Council, and thus the town. Further wreaths were laid by (from the left) descendants of victim Bertie Lamb, the Kenilworth Civic Society, and Kenilworth in Bloom Committee.
The final act of the day, the Mayor moves the wreath from inside the chapel onto the grave of the Two Unknown Souls, sadly witnessed by just the author
Click on the link to see a PDF of the ceremony programme
Credit is due to - retiring Town Clerk Geoff Symes, the new incumbent Maggie Field, and Deputy Town Clerk Neil Eaton; members of the Town Council General Purposes Committee and its Chairman Councillor Pat Cain; Bereavement Service Manager Pam Chilvers, and John Taylor Funeral Services; Mayor's Chaplain, Father Kevin Hooper; staff at The Gallery, Abbey End, who provided (much needed!) warm drinks and cake after the ceremony; and of course in particular The Mayor Michael Coker and all those who came to pay their tribute to those who died.