FRIDAY 11 JUNE 2021 – Visit to Tyneham Village

Our first outing since July 2019! What a strange sensation it was. A feeling of childish excitement came back. A gang of mates and a picnic lunch. The latter, along with tea and coffees, supplied on site by Sarah Hedin and team. What a pleasure. A great big thank you to Sarah, her husband and Kelly for all the hard work.

Where was this fest? Tyneham Village – frozen in time since 1943. We had the whole village to ourselves and an excellent guide in Major (Rtd) Sterling who has a detailed knowledge of the military history of Tyneham.

Tyneham has been associated with tank training since development of the tank in WW1. Leased from the Bond family, the estate owners, in 1916 it is the oldest tank range in history. But it is perhaps more famous for its role in the preparations for the D-day invasion in WW2. In 1943 around 250 villagers were asked to leave their premises on the promise they could return when the war was over. The majority were re-housed in Sandford and Poole where in some respects life was an improvement: it was the first time they had hot and cold running water, electricity and gas.

Touring the village was quite a poignant experience. The School House brought back memories for many: nursery rhymes on tablets, the cane on the teacher’s desk. Sadly, the school was closed in 1932 for lack of children – not enough to warrant the payment of a teacher. The Laundry Cottages were the only place supplied with running water; the rest of the village had to walk to the church to the pump to fetch theirs. At the church there was a copy of a letter from the vicar’s wife left pinned to the door for the US 1st Division who took over Tyneham:

Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.”

It was not to be. The demands of the subsequent Cold War followed by the continuing needs for military training meant the properties were never handed back. There was a high-profile campaign in the 1960s/70s led by Rodney Legg. The people never returned but the compromise was that the public could visit on 140 days in a year. And it is well worth a visit.

John Ferretter

                                                                                                                                               

Updated 28/7/21 – EJ