United Kingdom / Landmark
Stansted Forest, located in Rowlands Castle, Hampshire was home to thousands of troops before D-Day in camp A1. This was just one of the troop camps in marshalling area ‘A’ based around Portsmouth and Gosport, which accommodated men and supplies ready to be sent to Normandy in June 1944.
Owing to the close proximity of the village to Portsmouth and the ease of access to the local train station, Stansted Forest provided a good site for a major troop encampment in marshalling area ‘A’. The village had a 16-kilometre civilian exclusion zone to maintain the secrecy of vehicular and troop movements, which did not apply to the local residents of course. As with the other troop camps in the vicinity, the local residents largely embraced the men stationed there, often helping to serve meals and make tea in the camp mess tent. Leftover rations were given to the children. This camp was, as others, heavily concealed in the thick woodland. Troops could remain for days or weeks in an effort to conceal the planned date of Operation Overlord.
The village green was used to temporarily store tons of brick rubble from bombed buildings in Portsmouth until they could be rebuilt and was then used as an armoured vehicle repair depot. Residents could stand by and watch large Matador vehicles moving heavy guns through the village, smashing the pavements underneath them as they went. Despite the noise of tanks and aircraft disrupting school lessons and the camp practically dominating everyday life, the men gave the children pocket money before their embarkation and let them ride on the Bren carrier and help to operate tanks.
Several Canadian regiments were welcomed with equal enthusiasm, being invited to people’s houses for tea on some evenings and later sending food parcels to the families to reciprocate their generosity or helping with household chores. By all accounts, the relationships that formed ended just as swiftly as they had begun, with many residents waking up to find the entire camp had disappeared overnight leaving only remnants of oil and litter. Considering the affection and humanity shown by the troops to their involuntary hosts, some residents were left wondering about the fate of those who landed on the beaches of Normandy.
There is a commemorative stone on Manor Lodge Road in Rowlands Castle to mark the location where King George VI stood to observe the parade of troops and vehicles through the town some time before they embarked from Portsmouth to Normandy. The stone bears the inscription: “Here on 22nd May 1944 His Majesty King George VI reviewed and bade God speed to his troops, about to embark for the invasion and liberation of Europe - Deo Gratias”
Rowlands Castle, Hampshire PO9 6DA