Doreen Lewis


It was being invited by Doreen Lewis to her home in Farmer Ward Road that started the process by which I gathered the last evidence available to discover new details of the explosion at Abbey End, and of course to coming as close as possible to identify at least two of the unidentified victims. She also told me a little of her family life and background, and what it was like being a ten year old girl in the time of war. Although such reminiscences are elsewhere on this website, it seemed right to have Doreen’s here due to its relevance.

In 1940, Doreen lived at 41 Arthur Street.

Her father Tom Insall, was awarded the MM in the Great War, and had been gassed. He was born in 1898 so was just 16 at the outbreak. He was a painter and decorator by trade.

In WW2, he was a Fire Watcher in Arthur St; there were several along the road on different shifts and Doreen would put discs on all the street’s front gates so occupiers knew which watcher was on.

School was half a day only, due to evacuees having the other half, and for air raid practice once the alarm sounded those that lived close had to run home as the school shelters could not hold them all. They were trusted to come back and would be in trouble if they didn’t!

The family accommodated evacuees including two girls from Dagenham, two land army girls (it wasn’t clear if they were the same girls) who worked at The Spring. During the Coventry blitz, Doreen’s mother’s relatives came to stay at Arthur Street and on one memorable night there were no fewer than 21 people in the house; she slept with her cousin, a girl of similar age, on a mattress on the floor of the larder. (The larder was under the stairs, and perhaps only 3ft square with the door shut).

Nellie Webb was Doreen’s grandmother’s sister.

At 5 Abbey End, George and Nellie had the back area and upstairs; the front part was still a shop.

There was a side passage; Doreen believed the land mine landed somewhere along it.

Her father knew the Fire Chief of the time, Mr Grindrod, and after hearing the explosion went to Abbey End to help in the rescue operation.

Doreen, and her husband Eric, died months apart in the summer of 2016.