75 years on from the D-Day landings a new trail launched this week will commemorate 12 of the most important military and cultural sites of the Second World War in North Devon. The World War II Heritage Trail will be unique in including sites of both strategic magnitude and human significance, and will highlight locations from Great Torrington in the south to Watermouth Cove in the north of the area.
Developed by North Devon’s museums and the North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the trail unveiling follows the announcement that one of its sites, the D-Day practice structures at Braunton Burrows, is to be given heritage protection by the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, on the advice of Historic England.
Each location on the North Devon-wide, 12-point trail will be marked with a bronze plaque. An accompanying booklet will feature an area map and grid references, helping local people and visitors to find their way around the key sites while revealing the military and human stories behind them.
Claire Gulliver, project coordinator, said: “The North Devon coast closely resembled that of Normandy. We hope that this trail will bring to life the military strategy that was being developed on North Devon’s beaches, estuaries and sand dunes, in practising for the biggest amphibious assault in military history. But we also hope to evoke the human stories of the British and Allied soldiers who lived and trained here, together with those of the local communities they mixed with.
“Some of the trail sites are well known for the role they played in the D-Day preparations, such as the concrete structures at Braunton Burrows where soldiers practised debarking from their landing craft, or the dunes of Northam Burrows where British personnel experimented with adapted tanks known as ‘Hobart’s Funnies’. Other locations are more surprising, such as Torrington Square where off-duty American GIs used to gather before a night out on the town, or the American Red Cross Centre in Woolacombe, now the Red Barn Pub and popular with surfers today.”
A special booklet, Devon D-Day: A World War II Heritage Trail of the North Devon Coast will be available from museums from the D-Day anniversary, 6 June.
The trail is part of Devon D-Day. Devon D-Day is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, with additional financial support from North Devon Council, North Devon Coast AONB and North Devon Marketing Bureau.
PHOTO: GI soldiers at the American Red Cross Centre, Woolacombe (now the Red Barn pub), 1943 (courtesy of Mortehoe Museum).