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The Blitz in Coventry

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The 70th anniversary of the Coventry Blitz

The 14th November 2010

Lest we forget.

The following account is taken from a book written by an old college friend of mine, Ron Vice. Ron was the first nerd I ever knew but a lovely nerd. He loved trains and lots of other things that did not much entertain the thoughts of most eighteen-year-old college students. Ron worked for Dunlop, one of the biggest manufacturing companies in Coventry, and indeed, the world at that time. He went on to become Chief Airworthiness Engineer. As he neared retirement around 2003 he wrote down his memories for the company magazine and then compiled it into a book called “We re-invented the wheel”. This was a quite apposite tribute to Dunlop.

The book was a limited edition, published by Dunlop, and will one day be of immense value to historians. I was fortunate to buy a copy from the Midlands Air Museum at Baginton. I had intended to contact Ron to congratulate him and thank him for this excellent story but, sadly, he died soon after retiring.

The Dunlop story started at the end of the nineteenth century and ended at the end of the twentieth century. It well parallels the trials and tribulation and successes and horrors of that century. This is my small tribute to Ron, to Dunlop, to Coventry and to the men whose story is given below. The story is of the night of 14th  November 1940 when Hitler coined a new word “Coventration” which meant to destroy a city by bombing. The streets described below were my teenage stomping ground but no one ever told me about the details like this.

I make no apology for plagiarising Ron’s work. It is too important to risk being lost to posterity. I hope Ron does not mind.

After reading this you will not have to wonder why RAF Bomber Command laid waste to Germany.

Colin Walker 6th October 2010.


As the bombs rained down, it was those who had to be on the streets that faced the greatest dangers, the emergency services and the civil defence and rescue organisations. Of the many eyewitness accounts that have been written of events on that night, perhaps the most poignant and disturbing concerns two members of the Home Guard who, on the night of the 14th November, were on duty in North Coventry. When reading the following account it becomes increasingly difficult to remember that it relates to events which did not take place in some distant land but which occurred in an area fifteen minutes walk away from the Dunlop factory. Roy narrates the account of his and his friend and colleague, Arthur’s, activities during the raid.

We grabbed hoses and ran out four lengths to reach some double doors. As we pushed them open, we were met by a blast of hot air. Arthur ran back to the pump to get the water turned on. It came through at full pressure, knocking me off my feet and drenching me from head to foot. 

We got out just in time as the roof [of the Daimler building] fell in and responded to a fireman who helped us drag the hose and asked us to direct the jet over the heads of four other fire fighters on the roof so that the spray might keep their clothing from scorching.

Soon the flames were breaking through the roof.  All of a sudden, a huge ball of fire shot into the air and the whole of the roof caved in, dragging the four men with it. The screams of those men frightened the life out of me.

The wall in front of us collapsed inwards, showering us with red hot debris. Behind us in Daimler Road a couple of houses were hit.  The blast flung both of us against what was left of the wall and, if it had been two feet lower, we would have been thrown into the inferno.

More detonations followed, one after the other men were being tossed about like rag dolls. Arthur yelled, “The fire pump’s been hit,’ and ran. I followed. Debris was still falling and there was a huge crater where the pump had been. On the edge, a lorry lay on its side.

Torn pieces of Auxiliary Fire Service clothing hung from telephone wires and a jacket with only a torso lay in the middle of the road. Steam came from it as the blood cooled and a sleeve complete with hand stuck out of the mound of earth. Thinking a man lay buried, we started to dig with our hands. We found only a severed arm. We gathered together what we could and laid them by the fence. By this time, I began to feel ill, and the look on Arthur’s face told the same story. Very little else could be done.

Before we could decide what to do next, more bombs came hurtling down. We just flung ourselves to the ground as each one landed. The detonations came closer and closer…. 

Thirty yards in front of us the road erupted like a volcano, shock waves hit me and I could hardly breathe. Next, there was an almighty thud behind us. Arthur got to his feet and gave me a kick as he went by, shouting, “Run, you silly b***er, that one hasn’t gone off.” I jumped to my feet and followed, then, whump! The blast hit me. I hit Arthur and we both spun across the road and landed in a heap in the gutter, with me on top.  

We picked ourselves up and followed a group of firemen and Home Guards on to Radford recreation ground. They were making for a public shelter and hoped to scrounge a cup of tea. By this time, the group were twenty yards in front when, without warning, they disappeared in a sheet of flame. Twenty yards to our left another bomb hit the ground. My head went numb as more bombs hit the houses by Westfield House. I was deafened as debris was flung into the air I sank to my knees and squeezed my nose, so that my hearing came hack. I looked up. Arthur was running towards where the group of firemen were, yelling as he went, “Stop praying and give me a hand!” A Home Guard sat dazed, with one arm torn off. Groans guided us to two firemen, one with all his limbs missing, the other with his stomach hanging out and no limbs. Arthur shouted, “There’s an ambulance coming up the hill,” and ran to stop it. I wrapped my field dressing around the wound of the Home Guard. Arthur came running hack with a young chap. He was a Red Cross cadet and we got him to have a look at the firemen. He shook his head. “Sorry they’re done for.” Then he took the Home Guard back to the ambulance.

The moaning of those two men prompted me to seek help from the people in the shelter; but not one came forward. They just turned their heads away “There are wounded up there. Won’t anyone help?” Still no reply. I got mad and yelled, “You b…. load of cowards, call yourselves men?”

A woman came forward and offered to help and., as we were leaving, I turned and gave them another blast “You b….s.  I hope you can sleep at night!”

As I left the shelter, Arthur returned to say that the badly wounded firemen had passed beyond human aid. It was the first time I had ever seen tears in his eyes.

We gathered what remains we could find and laid them under the trees. Bombs were still screaming down, one hitting the railway line at the end of Daimler Road and others blasting the recreation ground. One hit a shelter lower down Lydgate Hill and muffled screams could be heard, but there was no one in the part that collapsed.

In Lydgate Road a bomb dug a crater in front of a speeding ambulance and, when the dust cleared, the vehicle lay with its bonnet deep in the hole. There seemed to be no one around so, still with thoughts of a cup of tea in mind, we took a short cut through a back garden. More bombs fell, some of them so close that a flying brick struck my steel helmet and a house we had just passed took a direct hit…. 

Arthur went off to search for his parents, whilst Roy returned to his family in their shelter.

On going to the front of the house, 1 saw flames from a fractured gas main lighting up the street Neighbours across the road were trapped in their shelter and could not get out because of the flames in front of it. After helping to dig the people out I returned to my family’s shelter hut felt uneasy and decided to go and find Arthur.

No one had seen him and, as I searched, the picture was one of tumbling houses and shops, a blazing school [probably Radford Primary School] and another hit on an ambulance. I was blown across the road by a blast…

As I got to my feet, an object hit me full in the chest, knocking me backwards. As my head banged on the school boundary wall, I lost consciousness. When I came to, my head felt as if it was in a vice and all I could see was a red blur. My hand touched something warm and wet, my vision cleared and, on looking closer I saw part of a human torso. I vomited and crawled away and lay with my head overhanging the gutter. The ambulance lay on the side of the road in a tangled heap and I got to my feet and staggered towards it. The body of a man lay half out of the cab, and he was wearing a Home Guard uniform.

I turned and ran, my legs went weak and I collapsed in the road. Then I crawled over to a garden wall and sat with my back to it. If only I could talk to someone…

I was close to cracking and decided to go home by way of Bede Road. On nearing the top, I heard the scream of a single bomb, the likes of which I’d never heard before. Like a train entering a tunnel at full speed. I flung myself flat and waited for an explosion that didn’t come, only a great thud as it hit the ground. ‘Delayed action,’ I thought and ran as fast as my legs would carry me. Turning right into Cheveral Avenue, I fell into a hole that seemed too small for a bomb crater.

My knee touched a metal object that I took to be a gas main, but I stayed put because the hole offered some protection from the enemy bombers. When I realised I was just across the road from a land mine, I bent down to get my helmet I found I was sitting on a huge bomb, probably one of those nicknamed a Hermann Goering because of its vast girth.

1 reached home in record time and, as I entered the shelter my father looked up and said, “You look as though you need some sleep.”

Arthur was killed and buried in one of the two mass communal graves at the London Road cemetery. He received a posthumous commendation for his bravery. Arthur was seventeen, Roy was sixteen.


Colin Walker by posthumous courtesy of Ron Vice

11 October 2010

28th March 2011

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