Observations and Conclusions

The inquest into the deaths of George and Nellie Webb probably brings to an end research into the landmine explosion at Abbey End; there is unlikely to be any new source of official information (Kenilworth does not appear in the ‘Bomb Census’ for example), and no more new details from survivors or news reports are likely to surface, so what can be learned from the inquest?

Very tellingly, when the new regulations came in to ensure those who had “disappeared” during air raids could now be subject to a proper inquest, Registrar Thornett only opened the cases of George and Nellie Webb, surely proving he was confident that no-one else was missing. It would seem quite logical to conclude that the remains in the grave marked as the ‘unknown victims’ contain all that was found of George and Nellie, but it is of course possible that parts of other known victims were found too and buried with them and not where they should have been.

One possibility is that there was another unknown person of whom little was found; no-one else was missing from the house that took the full force of the bombing but he or she could in theory have been outside near the explosion. However, the remains were found at the rear of 1-5 Abbey End and so any such victim would have had to have been on that side of the bomb so the idea can be discounted.

There is a quite specific time given for the explosion; it was at 2.45 a.m., although Thomas Snape thought it to be about 2.30.

The map submitted, but not necessarily drawn, by Sergeant Bennett gives a precise location for the bomb’s impact as immediately outside the front of 5 Abbey End; Sydney Clarke said it was within a few feet of 5 Abbey End. Neither say how they know this, neither claim to have seen it fall, and it is curious; had the bomb hit the ground there would surely have been a crater, and probably a very large one (as there was from an identical land mine that fell near the cemetery), but photographs suggest there wasn’t. This implies that it detonated by hitting the top of a building. However, taking Sgt Bennett at his word, the impact location marked on the map is today the southern end of the taxi-rank lay-by at Abbey End.

Horace Snape’s assertion that those in the house were walking in a passageway or sitting in a room reveals that all in the house were up and about at 2.45 a.m. This means that the air raid sirens had sounded and they had probably also heard the first explosion near the cemetery perhaps 30 seconds before that at Abbey End, although Horace does not, nor does anyone else, mention this. (Sergeant Bennett said the warning was sounded, the Robertson family 2 doors away at Number 9 were in their cellar so must have heard it).

Where in the house they actually were is unclear. The front of the building was still a shop and so the Webbs lived at the rear downstairs, and on the upper floor. Horace Snape’s two statements that he was sitting in a room with them or they were in a passage heading somewhere do not really help without knowing the layout of the building. Would they all have got out of where ever they were sleeping just to sit together in one room? That would not seem to be any safer than staying where they were but maybe they assumed the plane would just fly over as had so many hundreds before. As mentioned, the front of the building was still a shop so was likely to be ‘out of bounds’, so if the landmine exploded directly outside the front of it, George and Nellie would not have been that close, and the distance difference between them and the others in the group would not have been great enough to explain how 5 bodies were found, one other person survived, and yet George and Nellie were not found. Were they heading outside for a shelter with George and Nellie knowing where to go leading the way? There was a passageway alongside the house, is this the passage that Horace mentioned? Doreen Lewis believed the bomb to have fallen in that passageway; Oscar Lancellotte (see elsewhere) said it fell between “The Webbs and Morris’s” houses, again suggesting the passageway. The occupants may even have been in an upstairs room, very close to the explosion should the bomb have hit the roof.

Wherever they were, clearly George and Nellie were very close to the explosion, and the other six were not so close.

The inquest also helps to clarify the number of victims, despite the contradictory nature of some of the statements. I have not seen any mention anywhere that any others were not accounted for that night; there were survivors from every house that would have provided evidence of occupants, and in any case for there to be so little or nothing to find, any others missing would have had to have been very close to the explosion and thus in number 5 Abbey End, but all there are accounted for.

It can now be said with some certainty exactly how many perished that night at Abbey End: eight residents, sixteen visitors, all named, and one unidentified man; a total of 25.