The two world wars which scarred the world during the early and mid 20th centuries have left an ever lasting impact on the countries which saw conflict and whose brave men went off to fight. Landmarks and memorials dedicated to the atrocities or that tell the stories of the brave people who fought and lost their lives can be found throughout the UK so that future generations can be reminded of what past generations have sacrificed.

Within South Devon there are a number of historical sites which are linked to the First and Second World Wars. Below we’re going to look at 5 keys sites that you can visit.   

Slapton Sands, Torcross

During the preparations for the D-Day landings, Slapton Sands and the surrounding area was used by the American military to carry out exercises. During this time around 3,000 local residents were evacuated from their homes around Slapton, Torcross, Strete, Blackawton and East Allington.

One of the exercises, which was carried out in early 1944, ended in terrible tragedy costing the lives of nearly 800 American Servicemen; it was a rehearsal for the D-Day landings on Utah Beach, Normandy, called Exercise Tiger and took place on the night of the 27th April 1944.

Slapton Sands was chosen for the exercises because of its resemblance to sections of the French coast. Exercise Tiger was designed to be as realistic as possible with landing crafts filled with soldiers, tanks, equipment and live ammunition was used.

Unfortunately under the cover of darkness German E-boats managed to make their way in to Lyme Bay and sank two landing ships, badly damaging a third, and over 700 soldiers lost their lives due to hypothermia and drowning.

The exercise continued but due to live ammunition being used many more servicemen were killed by friendly fire from the supporting naval bombardment. The official report states 749 servicemen lost their lives during the exercise, however others believe the number could be much higher, either way, it was more than those that died storming Utah Beach. Details of the tragedy were not revealed until long after the war due to the fear it would impact morale.

The nearby River Dart was used as a harbour for the attack on France and on the 4th June 1944 485 ships left the river ready for the invasion to begin on the 6th June.     

A corroded Sherman tank, which was lost during the E-boat attack was found and winched from the sea in 1984. It now stands just behind the beach at Torcross as a monument to the dead.   

Dunkeswell Airfield Heritage Centre, Honiton

Dunkeswell Airfield owes its creation to the critical need to tackle the threat created by the German U-boats and submarines during the Battle of the Atlantic, which was one of the longest campaigns of World War 2.

When France fell in June 1940 the Germans gained access to a number of naval bases along the Atlantic coast, within the Bay of Biscay, which increased the capabilities of their U-boats. There was a lack of airfields in the South West of England which limited the operation to intercept U-boats operating from these new bases and by the autumn of 1941 the U-boat threat had become so serious that it was decided to urgently construct special advanced bases in the South West of England.

With its position 850 feet above sea level and with relatively flat terrain it was decided that one of the new airfields should be constructed at Dunkeswell. Land was requisitioned from a number of farms and construction was started in early 1942 and completed on the 26th June 1943. The airfield was built to the war time RAF Standard Class ‘A’ operational airfield design with three 50 yard wide runways. 

The base was home to a number of American units during the war which attacked, damaged and sunk a number of U-boats, the last mission was flown in May 1945 and today the airfield is an active private airfield with an onsite heritage centre.

Dunkeswell Heritage Centre was opened on the 25th September 2016 and houses over 400 photographs that depict day to day life on the base during the war, as well as many artefacts. The centre’s displays tell the story from the construction and the forces which were stationed there to the eventual break-up of aircraft and its closure as a military base.

Brixham Battery, Brixham

Located to the north of Brixham between the town and Fishcombe Cove is Brixham Battery and Battery Gardens. Battery Gardens is home to the now abandoned bunkers of the battery, which were first used in 1586 to guard against attacks from Spain. 

All the buildings which can be seen today were built immediately after the allied defeat in Dunkirk, between June and September 1940. During this time 116 emergency batteries were built along the UK’s coast. Of these only 7 remain and one of them is Brixham Battery, which is now a scheduled monument.

The World War 2 defences at Brixham Battery, which were manned by about one hundred officers and soldiers, included two main guns, anti-aircraft weapons and extra harbour defence guns. The sites role was to guard against the expected invasion by enemy forces and it operated with a similar battery at Corbyn Head in Torquay which defended possible landing beaches around the bay, whilst Brixham Battery could cover parts of Lyme Bay.   

The Battery Heritage Centre is open to the public on Sundays, Mondays and Friday, 2 – 4 from February to December where you can visit the museum, which is housed within the ATS hut. Within the museum you can handle various World War 2 rifles and machine guns, try your hand at Morse code and view a model of how the site looked in 1940, as well as finding out about the Home Front in the 1940’s.

Teignbridge War Memorial Heritage Trail, Teignbridge

Following the end of the First World War, towns, villages and communities looked to commemorate the sacrifices of those who died. War Memorials were created and erected throughout the country bearing the names of those who lost their lives. They are still a focal point for remembrance, particularly on occasions such as Remembrance Sunday.    

To mark the 100 year commemorations of the Battle of the Somme, Teignbridge District Council mapped and listed all the First World War memorials in the district, creating a Teignbridge War Memorial Heritage Trail

The trail marks the location, along with an image, of all the memorials which are dedicated to those who lost their lives in the First World War, but also subsequent conflicts.

The trail map can be downloaded here.

Charles Church, Plymouth

During the Second World War, air raids by the Germen Luftwaffe, known as the Blitz, lead to heavy bombing of many parts of Britain. The German air force were looking to hit military targets, cripple infrastructure and weaken the peoples will. Due to the presence of HMNB Devonport Royal Naval Base, one of the most heavily hit locations in Devon was the city of Plymouth.

Plymouth sustained many nights of raids by the Luftwaffe between 1940 and 1944, but it was during the night of the 21st March 1941 that Charles Church was destroyed by fire following incendiary bombing. Named after King Charles I, Charles Church was completed in 1708 and was built as a second church for the old Parish of Plymouth.

After the war, Plymouth was rebuilt but the decision was taken not the rebuild the church and instead preserve it in its ruined state as a memorial to the citizens of Plymouth who died during the Blitz. It was dedicated a memorial in 1958 and a commemorative plaque is located on the north wall. Today the church can be found at the centre of the roundabout close to Drake Circus Shopping Centre.

The city of Plymouth has a long naval past and is still home to HMNB Devonport, the largest naval base in Western Europe. The city’s naval connections can be explored at sites like Devonport Naval Heritage Centre and the Royal Citadel.

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