The King’s Diary: secret D-Day visit revealed

American Airmen at Winkton Camp

Published Wednesday 20 March 2013

Details of a secret visit by Her Majesty The Queen’s father to inspect hundreds of D-Day landing craft in the New Forest have been revealed for the first time thanks to a WWII project.

His Majesty King George VI visited the naval training base, HMS Mastodon, at Exbury as last minute preparations were being made for the Normandy landings during World War II.

In a diary, written by the King himself in 1944, he revealed how he sailed down the Beaulieu River to the Solent and saw a fleet of more than 300 landing craft and ships from the deck of the command ship HMS Bulolo, just days before Operation Overlord and the campaign to liberate Europe from German occupation.  

Letters from the time also revealed how a captain at the naval training base stopped the WRENs from being inspected by the King, but that some sneaked into shrubberies to catch a glimpse.

The diary entry was made available by the Royal Archives after The Queen learned about the project during her visit to last year’s New Forest Show. The King’s diary entry will now go on public display for the first time at a temporary exhibition at the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst from 23 March.

The free exhibition is part of the New Forest Remembers: untold stories of World War II Project run by the New Forest National Park Authority, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and ExxonMobil at the Fawley Refinery. It will be officially launched on Friday 22 March at 11am by the National Park’s Chairman Julian Johnson and New Forest East MP Julian Lewis.

The two-year project aims to bring the war years alive through archaeological surveys and digitally capturing the memories of those who lived through the war. So far, more than 170 people have come forward to tell their stories.

Among the other compelling tales are pilot Arthur Poore DFC who was diverted to Beaulieu Airfield along with dozens of bombers after fog impeded their return from a Stuttgart raid, and showgirl Brenda Logie who was interrupted mid-concert with the news the war was over.

Project officer Gareth Owen said: ‘I’ve been to plenty of Roman and Bronze Age archaeological digs, wondering what it would be like to speak to the people who lived through those times. But on this project I’ve actually been able to do it. This has been a unique project, bringing together a wealth of untapped archaeological evidence and written history as well as capturing the memories of those people who are now reaching their 80s and 90s.’

Julian Johnson, Chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: ‘We are recording personal reminiscences from people living in the New Forest during the dark days of World War II. Thanks to the New Forest Remembers project, these memories will be kept for posterity so that future generations can learn and understand how people lived and experienced those bygone days. Not only did the New Forest play a vital part in defending the south coast from an ever-present threat of invasion but, later on, became the launching ground for D-Day when a  massive concentration of Allied troops and naval personnel were accommodated in the forest, as well as RAF and American airfields. It is our responsibility to keep these memories alive.’

New Forest East MP Julian Lewis said: ‘There is a wealth of history in the New Forest, and this exhibit brings this period to life. It’s crucial that these stories are captured and kept to help future generations understand what wartime life was really like.’

The New Forest Remembers exhibit will run at the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst from 23 March until 28 April.

The exhibits will also be available online on a digital portal full of recorded interviews, photos, letters, diaries, film footage and animated 3D reconstructions. Members of the public can also add their stories and memories to the portal.

For more information about the New Forest Remembers Project go to www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/wwii.

-ends-

Picture credit: Friends of New Forest Airfields

About New Forest Remembers – untold stories of World War II

The ‘New Forest Remembers - untold stories of World War II’ is a Heritage Lottery Fund project. It is hosted by the New Forest National Park Authority, and supported by a wide range of organisations, including ExxonMobil and English Heritage, both financially and through staff time.

The project is carrying out essential archaeological surveying of part of the New Forest National Park including an airborne infra-red LiDAR survey (light detection and ranging), mapping work and field surveys.

An outreach programme is being designed to encourage local communities, groups and organisations to get involved. Teaching resources and educational activities will also be developed to link World War II archaeology with the National Curriculum.

If you have your own story for the New Forest Remembers Project, you can contact the team at 01590 646600, email archaeology@newforestnpa.gov.uk or write to New Forest Remembers, New Forest National Park Authority, Lymington Town Hall, Avenue Road, Lymington, SO41 9ZG.

About the New Forest National Park Authority

Protect - Enjoy - Prosper

The New Forest National Park Authority’s statutory purposes are to:

■        Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park - Protect

■        Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities – Enjoy.

We also have a duty to:

■         Seek to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park – Prosper.

The New Forest National Park was designated in March 2005. Its unique landscape has been shaped over the centuries by grazing ponies, cattle and pigs which roam free. Majestic woodlands, rare heathland and a spectacular coastline provide fabulous opportunities for quiet recreation, enjoyment and discovery.

Visit www.newforestnpa.gov.uk to find out more.

Media Contacts:

Sion Donovan, Communications Officer, New Forest National Park Authority

Tel: 01590 646639

Email: sion.donovan@newforestnpa.gov.uk

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