Whitley Abbey in the First World War

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With the centenary of the Armistice very much in the news, Coventry Society Chairman Paul Maddocks was asked to speak to the children at Whitley Abbey School.

Paul told the pupils about the history of Whitley Abbey during the First World War. The use of Hall had been negotiated by Siegfried Bettmann, the then Mayor of Coventry, to house Belgian refugees who were evacuated when the Germans advanced over their land.

Charles Mast, a real local hero, bravely went many times to Belgium throughout the war and brought back over 130 people to safety. His wife Amelia Moore looked after them in the grand house of Whitley. After the War, in 1920, they both received medals from the King of Belgium.

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Charles Mast’s passport show date stamps of when he went to France and Belgium on a special letter/pass.

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There were about 120 refugees staying at Whitley Abbey, and when they’d settled in, they went about their lives. Children went to local schools and families got jobs. They’d often had to leave Belgium with very little, and many had lost almost everything they had.

If a refugee was able to work, he was expected to support himself. In Coventry so many men had enlisted that the new labour force was welcomed by factory owners. As men found work, the number of people in the official homes in Coventry, Rugby and Kenilworth dwindled, and very few refugees needed support until the end of the war.

A magnificent stone plaque expressing the thanks of the refugees is still displayed at St Mary’s Guildhall in Coventry.

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Whitley Abbey also featured in the first “blitz” on Coventry. On the night of the 12/13th April 1918 there was a Zeppelin raid on the city and at 11.45 pm Airship L62, commanded by Hauptmann Kuno Manger, offloaded four HE and nine incendiary bombs. At Whitley Abbey Park a 300kg bomb fell in a field and smashed a few windows, the rest exploded at Baginton: two HE and the nine incendiaries landed around the sewage works and in neighbouring fields, killing a bullock, a heifer and a lamb.

Youngsters of Whitley Academy created a beautiful art installation to mark this year’s Remembrance Day. They used their crafting skills to create a stunning poppy display from plastic bottles.

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Photos courtesy of Coventry Telegraph and John Payne

There is more about Whitley Abbey on the Coventry Society website.

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