Aerolite – A Royal Visit in 1944

Aerolite was the codename given to the visit on May 24th 1944 when King George VI came to review the assembled Eastern Task Force invasion fleet.

The following is a transcription from the diary of King George VI – Wednesday May 24th 1944

Wednesday May 24th

I motored to Exbury, which is now a naval shore base, H.M.S.”Mastodon”, where landing craft crews are trained. I spent the day with the Eastern Task Force to see the officers & men of the British Naval Assault Forces in Overlord. I was met by Admiral Sir B. Ramsay, Allied Naval Commander Expeditionary Force, Rear Admiral, Sir P. Vian, Naval Commander Eastern Task Force & others. We went by barge, the Royal Yacht barge, down the Beaulieu River out into the Solent passing landing craft. I went on board the “Bulolo” Command Ship, Force “G”, Commander Douglas-Pennant, the “Langs” Command Ship, Force “S”, Rear Admiral A.G. Talbot and I saw Force “J” ashore at the Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes, Commodore Oliver. From here I saw all the landing craft in Portsmouth Harbour & lunched on board the cruiser “Scylla”, Rear Admiral Vian’s flagship. I went in a Naval Rescue Motor Launch to Southampton Water & the Hamble River passed all the landing craft there. I must have seen over 300 landing crafts and other ships attached in the command. I spent a most interesting day. I got back to Wilton at 6:30 pm.

(This transcription has been made with the permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. No unauthorised reproduction is permitted)

He was to arrive at H.M.S. Mastodon at 9.30 a.m. where Captain Swinley and the ship’s company would provide the guard of honour. He would then proceed to Gilbury and board the Royal Barge.

This gave rise to great excitement amongst the Wrens, however the Captain (a misogynist of note!) confined them to the upstairs rooms of the House, only allowing the male ratings to be inspected on the lawn in front of the House. Others remember that some of the WRENs were allowed to stand in the Ha-ha, so only a line of hats were visible for inspection. They also sneaked into the shrubberies and watched from there.

Being May, of course the Gardens were in full flower, so Swinley spent days learning all about the various flowers in anticipation of having to show the Monarch around. The King, however, had other ideas, having been a regular visitor to Exbury prior to the War. “No” he told Swinley politely, he knew his own way round and would relish a few moments of tranquillity before having to review his fleet.

Down at the Gilbury jetty there was much excitement amongst the boats crews, one crew, expecting to be inspected, found that their feet had been glued to the decks by sticky tar. Luckily the King had spent longer than the 15 minutes allotted him in the Gardens and they were saved the embarrassment of not being able to come smartly to attention.

He boarded the C.I.C. Portsmouth’s barge, known as ‘The Green Parrot’ and slowly and quietly went down the Beaulieu River. All the C.O.’s saluted in turn. It was a very quiet and sombre occasion.

In the Solent he transferred to a high speed Motor Launch and with his party of Admirals sped off. The return to the barge presented the King with a moment of humour. Their craft approached at high speed, creating quite a wave. The poor WREN on the bow of the barge had enormous difficulty in maintaining her dignity and not falling into the sea. The King and the Admirals watched this balancing act with much mirth, commenting to the effect that WRENs look better in skirts.

Account supplied by Nicholas de Rothschild of Exbury Estate – 17 September 2012

There is a short section of archive footage filmed at Wilton House, Wiltshire on the 25 May 1944 held by criticalpast.com.  It shows Allied officers attending a conference in Wilton House shortly before D-Day landings during World War II. Group of U.S. and British officers attend a conference at Southern Command (Wilton House). Includes British General Miller at his desk.

See the footage (No sound) here.

(Please note that this is a third part site and we are not respectable for it content.)

You can find out more about the other D Day holding camps, and related activities dealing with Mulberry Harbours and Embarkation by visiting our main page on D-Day in the New Forest.

 

American Airmen enjoy a day trip to the New Forest

This series of photos from the Imperial War Museum start with the residents deciding to go for a picnic in the New Forest. It is decided half the group will cycle and half the group will travel by jeep, and they will swap over for the return journey. The cyclists check the route on a map in the sunshine before they set off from the grounds of the large country house. Left to right, they are: Captain R W Smith (from Pomona, California), Lieutenant J D Baird (from Suring, Wisconsin), Miss Kathleen Deane (from Connecticut and one of the American Red Cross hostesses working at the club) and Lieutenant E T Broadnax (from Bastrup, Louisiana).

During their picnic in the New Forest the airmen play numerous pranks on each other. In the first one Lieutenant ‘Judy’ Judas falls victim to a practical joke. Having been challenged to drop a penny from his forehead into his trousers, he is caught unawares by Lieutenant Royal Firmin, Jr., who instead pours a bottle of beer into his trousers. Lieutenant Firmin runs the estate at Stanbridge Earls, as assistant to Captain B B Morse. It is his main job to keep the guests happy.

American airman Lieutenant Broadnax then plays a practical joke on his sleeping colleague Lieutenant Michael Zincowich (a Fortress Bombardier from New Hampshire) known as the ‘Hot Foot’ treatment: a lighted match is inserted between the sole and upper of his boot. He then wakes with a start much to the amusement of his colleagues.

The group finish their picnic with a relaxing pint of beer in the sunshine outside the Sir John Barleycorn pub in Cadnam. In the centre, in a white t-shirt, is Lieutenant Royal Firmin, Jr. Also seated outside the pub are two of the American Red Cross hostesses who work at the home, and have joined the men on their picnic. A greyhound dog can just be seen in the background.

Background

The original MoI ‘background story’ caption for this sequence of photographs reads: American pilots, co-pilots, navigators and bombardiers exhausted by long, relentless flights into enemy defences, are sent to “rest” at this English Shangri-La. Lush and mellow, centuries old yet up to the minute in comfort and fittings, the house and grounds have been lend-leased to the US Eighth Army Air Force by Britain’s Air Ministry. The home aims to prevent nervous breakdowns by easing the nervous tension before it becomes unbearable. At first sign of jitters bomber crews are ordered to “rest”, maybe four days, maybe two weeks. “Doc” Kennedy, Louisianan Flight Surgeon in residence, keeps an eye on heroes of Liberator and Fortress down for a few days’ lounging, trout-fishing, picnicking, cycling, tennis and eggs-for-breakfast with friendly American Red Cross hostesses and English staff including Mr Bunting, the butler. Mr Walter Hutchinson, British publisher whose home this was until the government requisitioned it, gladly lives in a couple of caravans in the grounds while lend-lease works in reverse to keep US airmen flying and fighting fit. This large country house is Stanbridge Earls, near Romsey in Hampshire

All Photos are credit: Imperial War Museum for Non-Commercial Use

(Licence)

Anti-tank gunners in Ringwood High Street

Anti-tank gunners practicing defending approaches to RAF Ibsley aerodrome in the centre of Ringwood to the amusement of some locals and probably annoyance of the local shop keepers.

All Photos are credit: Imperial War Museum for Non-Commercial Use (Licence)

Brock Beach – Then and now

Just south of Balmer Lawn the Lymington River cuts accross the landscape and the main road between Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst. Today this is locally nicknamed ‘Brock Beach’ as it has become a favourite site for families to picnic and paddle at during sunny days. Rewind just under a 100 years and the area looked different, but the acitivities were not too dissimilar.

During 1918 Balmer Lawn was in use as a satellite site for convalescent New Zealand officers that were being treated at the No.1 New Zealand General Hopsital. You can find out more about the hospitals story here.

This series of photos from the National Army Museum of New Zealand are possibly part of an album compiled by 4/386 Major Henry Masterton Clark along with some more recent photos taken by the New Forest National Park Authority.

Calshot Castle Gun Battery

Calshot Castle is a mid 16th century stone built artillery castle with 18th and 19th century alterations, lying on Calshot Spit on the southern shore of Southampton Water. The symmetrical plan of the castle centres on a three storey gun tower or keep, separated from the surrounding curtain wall by a courtyard within which lie both accommodation buildings and later searchlight emplacements.

Fears of a French Invasion at the end of the 19th century resulted in the castle undergoing substantial modification to become an artillery fort once again after a long period of use as a Coastguard base combatting smuggling in the area. In 1894 a large quick fire gun battery was built to the south east of the castle, which was completed by 1897. this was supplemented by the installation of Defence Electric Lights installed on the castle to be used in conjuction with the battery and a boom was built across Southampton Water controlled by the castle.

A set of detailed maps and colour drawings of Calshot Castle and battery completed in 1901 can be found in the National Archives WO78/4954 some of which have been reproduced for this article.

In 1907 Calshot Castle underwent its last major modification as a fortress; the roof of the keep was strengthened to permit the installation of a pair of quick fire guns to augment the adjacent battery.

Calshot Castle and its adjacent battery were stripped of their weapons before the end of the World War I.

The battery had been completely removed by the late 1920’s when aerial photos available from Historic England through the Britain From Above website show hangers built on where the battery once stood.

The full Historic England scheduling record for Calshot Castle can be found: Here

D-Day at Lepe Beach

On the 6 June 1944 thousands of troops with their vehicles and supplies left Britain via locations such as Lepe Beach in the New Forest for the beaches of Normandy. This was D Day, the start of the great campaign to liberate Europe and to bring the Second World War to its end.

The D-Day invasion, code named Operation Overlord, is one of the most remarkable feats in military history, it had toke over two years of planning, and was one of the best kept secrets of the war.
During the build up to D Day troops and supplies were marshalled along much of the Hampshire coast. Lepe and the surrounding area came under the control of the shore station HMS Mastodon, the headquarters of which were at Exbury House. Many hundreds of troops with their equipment, vehicles and ammunition were hidden along the narrow roads and in numerous closed camps hidden in the wooded areas accross the New Forest.
Even before the build up of troops, supplies and machinary had begun the south coast was busy with the construction of Mulberry Harbour elements that would be essential for supplying the army on the beaches of France and allow the allies to launch an attack on the Normandy Beaches rather than the very heavily defended deep water ports. The idea to build a harbour on the south coast and take it with the invasion force was a brilliant feat of engineering and was one of key factors in the success of Overlord. The floating harbours was to be assembled from a variety of component parts manufactured on the south coast. Several construction sites were chosen. The beach at Stanswood Bay being used in the manufacture of six type B2 Phoenix concrete caissons. The floats ‘Beetles’ supporting the roads connecting the harbour to the beach were constructed along the Beaulieu River and at Marchwood. Many of these sites still retain some of the archaeology associated with the Mulberry project today.
Today at Lepe you can still see plenty of evidence of wartime activity.
If you walk along the beach or track, about half a mile east of the car parks you will come across the extensive concrete and brick structures were used for three different tasks: construction of the ‘Mulberry Harbours’ (caissons), caisson launching, and for embarkation of men, vehicles and supplies. Including:
  • The concrete floor remains of the site buildings used by construction workers and the military. They are dotted about in the Country Park area.
  • Water Tower Base used for water purification, required because so little fresh water was available on site.
  • Construction Platforms where the caissons were constructed. Today, although parts are storm damaged, the platforms run for 374 metres and are 11m wide and 1.3m high. The platforms were large enough to construct all six caissons simultaneously, reflecting the urgency of the work.
  • Beach Hardening Mats which resemble huge bars of chocolate, were held in place by a series of iron hooks. They were laid out to strengthen the beach enough to take the weight of the tanks and other vehicles being driven onto landing craft.
  • Dolphins forming part of the pier head used to load ships departing for Normandy.
  • Bollards used to tie up the ships that were being loaded for the invasion.
  • Concrete Slipways run from the rolling track walls to the sea. These were used to launch the caissons at high tide

This recent drone footage of the site gives a birds eye view of the extensive features that were designed and built to support Mulberry and D-Day at Lepe.

You can find out more about the other D Day holding camps, and related activities dealing with Mulberry Harbours and Embarkation by visiting our main page on D-Day in the New Forest.

More Information
If you have more information on D-Day in the New Forest or memories of the closed camps or embarkation please share them with us on this site.
Detailed Breakdown about Lepe during D Day from National Archive Research
(The following information was passed on to us from R. Reeves via Lepe Country Park)
Lepe (recorded as Stanswood in the loading orders) was used for loading the heavy equipment, i.e. tanks, trucks and stores, for the assault on Gold Beach the assault force being named as ‘Force G’ which was based around the 50th ‘Northumbrian’ Infantry Division. (The insignia of the 50th Division shows the letters TT in red on a black backgrounfd and stands for Tyne & Tees.) To this was added all the armour and assault troops.  Troops listed in the loading were as follows:

Y-4 – Stores – no descriptions

D-3 – Vehicles for 231 Brigade & Vehicles for 69 Brigade –

231 & 69 Brigades were the assault brigades for Gold Beach landing on Jig and King Sectors respectively
D-3 – Self Propelled Artillery, 231 Brigade

These were 25-pounder Sexton = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexton_%28artillery%29; units were 90 and 147  Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.
D-3 – Duplex Drive Tanks, 231 Brigade

Sherman D.D. tanks of the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DD_tank

D-2 – AVRE, 231 Brigade Assault Vehicle, Royal Engineers; 6th Assault Regiment, R.E., equipped with modified Churchill Tanks, including some of the so called  ’Flying Dustbins’

D-2 – AVRE, 69 Brigade With their Petard Mortars, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1st_Assault_Brigade_Royal_Engineers; they were accompanied by Squadrons from the Westminster Dragoons with their ‘Sherman Crab’ flail tanks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westminster_Dragoons#Second_World_War.

D-2 – Duplex Drive Tanks, 69 Brigade Sherman D.D. tanks of the 4/7 Dragoon Guards

D-1 – Army Fire Service. We do not know what his was composed of.

Notes.

  • The Westminster Dragoons claim to have been the first unit ashore on Gold Beach
  • The D.D. tanks were landed directly on the shore due to the rough conditions.
  • The loading tables list the Landing Craft by number
  • The Canadian Unit the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, which was attached to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division which formed the core of ‘Force J’ the assault force for Juno Beach, they left the area in April 1944 to prepare for embarkation from the East side of Southampton Water.  The embarkation points at Lepe were in constant use for training and for ferrying troops to and from the Isle of Wight, well before the D-Day loading, during this earlier use infantry units were also frequently using the site, not just mechanised units.

The storm that arrived late on Friday evening (14 February 2014) exposed a couple of small brick structures in the beach front car park. Further erosion along the coast caused a possible gun emplacement to start to collapse on to the beach.

Revealing the Secrets of Emery Down Churchyard

As part of the Our Past, Our Future, Heritage Lottery Funded (HLF) Landscape Partnership Scheme the New Forest National Park Archaeology Team have been working with Emery Down to survey the condition of, and record the monuments in Christ Church graveyard. The survey will help accurately map and identify monuments that can be conserved using HLF funds and will ultimately create a database for ongoing management of the graveyard. The other ambition is to make the list of burials and monuments within the graveyard available to the public on this site to help people who are researching their family trees.

As well as hard graft from volunteers we have been using technology to help us reveal the secrets of Christ Church; Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). The process involves taking numerous photos of one monument with a raking light and then letting the computer do the hard work to produce some amazing results. If you are interested in learning more about RTI photography you can do: here. The results produced highlighted how valuable RTI is; as the inscriptions that were once illegible have now been legible, providing a greater resource within the overall survey and documentation process.

Inscriptions

Grave 1

In loving memory of Albert Broomfield who died July 25th June 1916, aged 42 years

Day by day we all do miss him, words would fail our loss to tell, but in heaven we hope to meet him, never more to say farewell.

Louisa, beloved wife of the above, died Feb 16th 1951, aged 80 years.

Grave 2

In loving memory of Reuben Henry, the beloved son of Reuben and Mary Phillips, who died June 15th 1908; aged 21 years.

His end was peace

Grave 3

In Loving memory of our dear parents Thomas Taplin, died Dec 19th 1921, aged 69, and Sarah Taplin, died Sept 27th 1932, aged 77.

In thy presence is fulness of joy

Grave 4

Martha, the beloved daughter of Henry and Charlotte Veal, who died April 8th 1875. Aged 25 years.

And all wept and bewailed her; but he said, weep not, she is not dead, but sleepeth. Luke 8.52.

He gave, he calls them when he thinks it best, for them to come to him and take their rest.

Pellery Mason

Grave 5

In Loving memory of Emily Veal who died Aug 20th 1903, aged 76 years

Sleep on beloved; sleep and take thy rest; lay down thy head upon thy saviour’s breast; we love thee well, but Jesus loves thee best.

Grave 6

In Loving Memory of Samuel Whitehorn who died June 15th 1916 aged 49 years.

Also of Charles son of the above who was killed on Febry 4th 1916 whilst serving with the Hants Regiment in Egypt Aged 28 years

Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest, Grant them Thine eternal rest

Conservation

Survey work is ongoing at Emery Down and we will share all the results with you when we have them. As a result of the volunteer led survey several of the monuments have been conserved and several additional conservation projects are ongoing.

As well as Emery Down we have been working at the following graveyards and using RTI to reveal their secrets.

New Forest Graveyard Survey

RTI Example from Emery Down