Background to the Inquest

 

About 5 months after the landmine explosion, Kenilworth’s registrar of Births Deaths & Marriages, Eugene Huffer Thornett, of ‘Thorndale’, Waverley Road, received a letter dated 2nd April 1941 from the Home Office outlining a new addition (30A) to the Defence (General) Regulations of the Emergency Powers Act.

The new regulation was to “facilitate the registration of death in cases where the bodies of persons who have been killed in air raids, or die otherwise in consequence of war operations, are destroyed or cannot be identified or recovered. In the past, Registrars of deaths have been unable in many such cases to register the death for lack of sufficient evidence of the fact of death or of the identity of the deceased, and because they have no means of making adequate enquiries with a view to arriving at the facts. The result has been that dependants of persons who have been killed in air raids have been unable, e.g. to obtain monies payable under the Government Compensation Scheme, or to establish a claim to sums due under insurance policies”.

The letter then continued by outlining the procedures and guidelines for the holding of inquests in such cases. For Mr Thornett this was particularly relevant as the bodies of two victims of the Abbey End land mine explosion, George and Nellie Webb, had not been found. It is very probable that Mr Thornett had been visited by Thomas Insall, Nellie’s sister’s son, who is known to have made efforts to have his relatives deaths declared.

And so Mr Thornett began the process to hold an inquest into what was termed the “disappearance” of George and Nellie by gathering information locally and at the end of August 1941 he forwarded the information to the Coroner for Mid Warwickshire, Ernest F Hadow of 6 Beauchamp Avenue, Leamington.

Thornett sent a letter to Hadow saying “It is my duty to return these cases to you and for you to cause an inquiry to be made and to satisfy yourself that these two people were killed in the blitz of November last, and that their bodies have never been recovered”.

Included in the file is a handwritten note from Horace Snape saying that he was in the room with the Webbs and that he was the sole survivor, and also a report signed by Police Sergeant Bennett of the Kenilworth Constabulary, headed by the statement that George and Nellie were “Presumed dead; Death due to War Operations at Kenilworth on the 22nd November 1940”. It Continued:

“I have the honour to report having made inquiries relative to the above-named who were resident at 5 Abbey End, Kenilworth, at 2.40am on 22nd November, 1940 when that property was demolished by a land mine dropped from an enemy aeroplane. I have ascertained that there were eight persons in the house at the time and that only one, a Mr Snape of 93 Stanley Road, Coventry, was rescued alive.”

“The landmine fell and exploded within a few feet of the house and completely shattered number 5 Abbey End and the surrounding property. The bodies of Nellie Webb and George Webb were never discovered and owing to the close proximity of the explosion it is reasonable to assume that they would have been blown to pieces. Some remains of human bodies were found but it was impossible in the circumstances and the number of persons killed, 23 in all, to identify any part of those remains to belong to the above-named persons”.

“Snape is able to confirm that the two persons, who were man and wife were in the house at the time of the explosion, and it would be an impossibility in the circumstances, having regard to the damage of the property for them to have escaped alive”.

Sent with the above were the relevant forms which were returned, signed by Hadow on 26th August 1941, agreeing to the holding of an inquest, which was set for 2.30 p.m. on Saturday 8th November 1941 at the Council Offices on Upper Rosemary Hill, which it was noted was convenient for the railway station just half a mile away.

Notices were posted from 30th October 1941 on the site of 5 Abbey End and at the Council Offices - “...to hold an enquiry touching the supposed deaths of George Webb and Nellie Webb which were believed to have taken place at 5 Abbey End in the parish of Kenilworth at 2.45 a.m. on the 21st day of November 1940.” “All persons with information to forward such to Coroner E Hadow...before the inquiry or to appear before it”.

Notes:

Sergeant Bennett states that 23 were killed in the explosion. This could be interpreted one of two ways: it is the number of identified bodies that were recovered, or died later (and thus does not include George and Nellie); or it is the number of those known or believed to have died on the night (which includes George and Nellie) but not two who are thought to have died later.

The date of the explosion is recorded as the 22nd November several times, an error that is difficult to explain.