Dan Snow unveils the people’s story at New Forest World War II exhibit

New Forest Remembers WWII exhibit web

Published Thursday 27 June 2013

Historian Dan Snow has opened a new exhibit telling the people’s story of how the New Forest was turned into a military camp during World War II.

The New Forest Remembers World War II exhibit reveals how local people’s lives were transformed by the conflict which turned once quiet woodland into store depots and military camps housing thousands of Commonwealth and American troops in the build-up to D-Day.

Italian and German prisoners of war worked alongside local timber workers, whilst bouncing bombs were tested by the Dambuster squadron on land targets at Ashley Walk, the same site where the biggest bomb ever dropped by British Forces was first tested - the 22,000lbs earthquake bomb Grand Slam.

TV presenter Dan Snow officially opened the permanent exhibit at the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst on Thursday (June 27).

The exhibit includes a replicated Nissen hut, original uniforms worn by New Forest lumberjills and a large-scale interactive map showing key sites in the Forest during the conflict. Visitors can also ‘listen in’ on a housewife’s conversation about wartime home life, based on oral histories from local people.

A number of period vehicles were also on site to mark the opening, including an aircraft recovery vehicle, an American Jeep and a number of Austin 7 cars.

Dan, who lives in the New Forest, spoke at the opening: ‘The story of places like Beaulieu, Buckler’s Hard and particularly the Second World War is of interest to us because it’s local history. But by quirk of fate and geography, what happened here in the New Forest matters not just for us but is globally significant. That’s what we’re here to celebrate today the stories of these people, because they were playing their part in one of the greatest struggles against tyranny the world has ever seen.’

The exhibit has been brought to life thanks to the ‘New Forest Remembers – Untold Stories of World War II’ project run by the New Forest National Park Authority.

With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Exxon Mobil at Fawley, archaeologists and volunteers have been collecting the memories of more than 170 military personnel, residents and prisoners or war, unearthing previously unseen photos and maps, and surveying WWII sites from the air using lasers.

Terry Gittoes remembered as a ten-year-old seeing hundreds of landing craft and ships in the Lymington River in the run up to the Normandy landings, and how the New Forest felt like a ‘ghost town’ after their departure.

Terry, 81, from Sarisbury Green, near Fareham in Hampshire, said: ‘When the Americans arrived you couldn’t see across the Lymington River for all the landing craft. One of the captains, Bob Horton, always allowed us on board for a run around and we had doughnuts and fruit cocktails which we’d never had before.

‘Then one night we heard this tremendous noise and when we looked the following morning all the planes from the airfield and all the ships in the river and Solent had all suddenly vanished. They’d all gone to Normandy.’

Betty McCarthy, an assistant photographer at the time at a secret testing today, witnessed the highly confidential trials for the bouncing bomb at a secret testing site at Ashley Walk, whilst  Edwina Bright’s home was damaged after a bomb from the range was accidently dropped near it.

Edwina, 78, from Bramshaw in the New Forest, said: ‘I was coming home from school one day when someone said our farmhouse had been accidentally hit. In fact the bomb had fallen about 500 yards away, but it blew out all the windows and it shook the roof. The church next door was also badly damaged.’

Julian Johnson, chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: 'World War II left its mark on the people and landscape of the New Forest. You can still see the outline of bomb craters, camp buildings and military roads on the forest floor, and for many who lived through the conflict the memories are just as vivid today as they were 70 years ago. But many are in their 80s and 90s, and I'm delighted that their stories will now be passed on to the younger generations.’

Much of the New Forest Remembers WWII exhibit can also be found online at 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.

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Picture caption:

The opening of the New Forest Remembers World War II exhibit at the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst (from l-r) New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) chairman Julian Johnson, NFNPA chief executive Alison Barnes, historian and TV presenter Dan Snow, New Forest Centre trustees chairman Mary Montagu-Scott & New Forest Remembers World War II project manager James Brown. 

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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