9th Dec, 2016

Memorial unveiled to victims of Coventry IRA attack

Les Reid 15th Oct, 2015 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

A MEMORIAL has been unveiled in Coventry city centre to the victims of the city’s worst ‘terrorist’ attack.

A memorial stone dedicated to the five victims of the 1939 Broadgate bombing by the IRA – which shocked the nation – was unveiled on Coventry Cathedral’s Unity Lawn yesterday (Wednesday, October 14).

On 25 August 1939, just nine days before the outbreak of WWII, at around 2.30pm, a bomb went off in Broadgate, one of Coventry’s main shopping streets.

It killed five people and injuring 70. The bomb had been planted into the carrier basket of a bicycle.

The five victims were Elsie Ansell, 21, Rex Gentle, 30, James Clay, 82, Gwilym Rowlands, 50 and John Arnott, who was just 15 years old.

Families and relatives of the victims were invited to the unveiling and dedication of the memorial stone in a service organised by Coventry Cathedral and Coventry City Council – as previously reported in the Coventry Observer.

A white rose was laid on the memorial stone by a representative of each of the victims to honour their memory.

The Very Reverend John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry, and Lord Mayor Councillor Michael Hammon also laid a rose as a mark of respect.

Coun Hammon said: “As a city promoting peace and reconciliation it is most fitting that we honour the loss by unveiling and dedicating this memorial stone to remember the five people who sadly lost their lives 76 years ago.”

In January 1939 the Irish Republican Army issued an ultimatum to the British Government – withdraw the army or face counter military action, with Coventry named among its targets.

History records the city’s electricity supply was supposed to be targeted, not civilians, under the IRA’s so-called ‘S-plan’ bombing campaign in England, which ran until March 1940.

Elsie Ansell was a shop assistant at Millet’s in nearby Cross Cheaping and was due to get married.

Gwilym Rowlands was a road sweeper. John Arnott and Rex Gentle worked at W H Smiths.

James Clay had left a business meeting in a nearby cafe.

James McCormick and Peter Barnes were hanged for their role in the bombing, although they did not plant the devise.

Joby O’Sullivan, from Cork, was never caught, despite claiming he planted the bomb.

An Irish journalist in the 1960s, Mike Burns, claimed O’Sullivan had told him the bomb was left in the busy street by “a total accident” and it was intended for the police station, but the wheels had become stuck in the tramlines.