East Chinnock and D-Day
by Jeremy Churchill
The 6th June this year (2014) will be the 70th anniversary of the D-Day of Operation ‘Overlord’, the invasion of German-occupied France by the Western Allies; the long-awaited ‘Second Front’ of World War 2 on the continent of Europe, in which the US and British Empire forces would assist Soviet Russia in the defeat of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
We know of 29 people of East Chinnock who served in the Armed Forces during WW2, but we don’t yet know any further details of their service histories, so we don’t know if any were involved in the D-Day operations.
What is certain is that the people of the village would have been very well aware that something big was going on. In the build-up for the invasion the West Country was effectively taken over by the US military from late 1942 (except for a few RAF units, and the Royal Navy in Weymouth & Portland, the nearest British or Imperial troops would have been in Hampshire and Berkshire); there were US encampments in Crewkerne and Hinton St George, a tented camp of coloured troops of the 43rd Signal Heavy Construction Battalion at Haselbury Plucknett, and units at camps in Barwick Park, Lufton and Houndstone, and possibly at Brympton.
All these were support troops, part of V Corps of the US First Army, on their way to France via the beaches codenamed “Omaha” (now better known for the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan”). There were also the 169th General Hospital, from July, at Houndstone and the 121st General Hospital from September onwards at Lufton, to play their part in coping with the casualties expected from the fighting in France.
The air would have been full of the sound of C-47 Dakotas from Merryfield (Ilton) carrying out training for parachute drops and supply runs, and of the Spitfires and Seafires being built and repaired at Westlands. The roads, laid out with nothing bigger than the horse and cart in mind, would have been full of US military vehicles of extraordinary size being piloted around narrow roads and lanes by not necessarily experienced (or considerate) drivers. A bungalow opposite the Village Hall had its garden wall demolished by a tank transporter; there would have been many other incidents of this type at that time.
A former Council worker remembered the deep, steep-sided lanes such as Chinnock Hollow being full of parked US military vehicles laden with equipment and camouflaged against any German reconnaissance aircraft that might have made it across to photograph the build-up and return. On D-Day and immediately afterwards, these would all have made their way by carefully-planned stages to embark at Weymouth and Portland for the invasion fleet. A common joke at the time was that England was going to sink under the weight of all the troops, weapons, equipment and supplies that were being accumulated and stored wherever there was space!
As massive as the build-up of forces in the West Country was, by October they were largely gone; the US armies in France were by then being supplied direct from the USA and there was little left in Somerset except the empty buildings and camp sites. The last few remains of the wartime camp buildings around Yeovil can still be seen in quiet corners of the Houndstone Business Park.