North Devon D-Day commemorations are taking place this June and the region is going to be hosting some fantastic events to mark the occasion. The centre piece, and a unique North Devon holiday experience, will be a two day event on the wonderful Saunton Sands which will see the beach transformed into a snapshot from a different era on the weekend of June 15th/16th.
For many years, North Devon’s unique contribution to the D-Day landings was something of a hidden history. Between 1943 and 1944 it was the temporary home for over 10,000 American GIs who were mostly billeted in and around the villages of Woolacombe and Braunton.
However, the annual Saunton D-Daycommemoration event has helped to put the region’s WW2 past on the map. In the past couple of years has attracted big crowds – with its mix of living history, period vehicle and airplane displays and educational activities – attracting visitors from around the country and beyond.
This year will have added attraction as the event marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings and organisers are promising ‘one of the biggest battle displays’ the South West has ever seen! This is the only large scale living history event of its kind in the UK – taking place as it does at an actual WW2 site.
North Devon’s D-Day History
How did they end up in North Devon? The D-Day invasion required an expeditionary force and final assault on mainland Europe that had no historical precedent. Launching attacks in occupied France from the UK’s south coast was a massive gamble that required intricate planning and coordination.
By the time the USA had committed to the exercise, the ‘best’ training spots were already taken up by the British and Canadian armies. They were offered a stretch of coastline that was deemed totally unsuitable for training – the beaches of Woolacombe, Croyde and Saunton and the sand dune system of Braunton Burrows.
It was here that commanding officer, Brigadier General Paul Thompson established the Assault Training Center and worked on a blueprint for the impending invasion – training troops for the task of assaulting heavily defended beaches, which required mastering new weapons such as the bazooka rocket.
As fate would have it, North Devon’s coastline turned out to be more than suitable for the task, with the steep dunes of Woolacombe in particular serving as a remarkably similar substitute for the terrain the GIs would encounter in northern France that fateful day in June 1944.
The vital role the coastline played was reflected in a wonderful quote from Brigadier General Thompson, who once noted; “If Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, surely the sands of the North Devon beaches contributed importantly to the success of the assault over the Normandy beaches”.
North Devon D-Day Commemoration: What to Expect?
The Saunton D-Day weekend is not the only event taking place to mark the 75th anniversary. In the month leading up to it, visitors can enjoy a D-Day inspired North Devon holiday experience thanks to a wider programme of events. The Devon D-Day initiative involves museumsacross the district, from micro exhibitions to special walks and talks with WW2 historians.
The Carlton Hotel, in Ilfracombe provides the perfect base to immerse yourself in the wartime experience, its high class en suite bedroomsproviding first class comfort after a day spent trudging on the front line of the D-Day North Devon holiday experience. Quite a change from the days when it accommodated billeted US troops from the Pay Corps during the Second World War!
And one doesn’t have to stray too far either to get a taste. On the doorstep, Ilfracombe and Mortehoe Museums host D-Day RememberedandWartime Woolacombe and Mortehoeexhibits. The Carlton is also just a 20 minute drive from the main Saunton beach event.
Ilfracombe celebrates its own contributions to history with two events that have become permanent fixtures on the North Devon What’s On calendar. Throughout the month of June, the town will take its annual walk back in time to celebrate the Grand Victorian and Steampunk Festival which enjoys a reputation for being a great spectacle.
Later on in the summer, The Carlton is supporting the Sea Ilfracombe Maritime Festival (the weekend of August 31st/September 1st) with our own special sea food dishes contributing to a celebration of all things sea based.
If you have an interest in history, especially 20th century and the WW2 experience, North Devon this summer provides a unique destination to visit. Contact the Carlton to book a stay and do it in style! Give us a call on 01271 862446 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.