North Devon WW2 & Natural History Tour
North Devon was home to many servicemen from the US armed forces in 1942-1944, as they trained for the Normandy D-Day landings.
Day 1: Bideford and Instow
Day 1 begins in the historic town of Bideford, which saw thousands of GIs pass through during the war, chiefly associated with Ordnace Service preparations for the D-Day invasion . Their stay is documented in the town’s museum and by the ‘friendship’ tree in adjoining Victoria park.
The tour moves on to nearby stately home, Tapeley Park and gardens, which housed many child evacuees from Britain’s cities during the war. A private house tour with current custodian, Hector Christie, followed by a stroll around the classical gardens and visit to the tearooms, delivers a quintessential English country house experience.
The day concludes with a visit to the nearby village of Instow, a village that overlooks the River Torridge and the estuary. During WW2, the Commodore Hotel was headquarters for the US Navy, overseeing D-Day training. The white sand of the beach, many boats and picturesque views over to the fishing village of Appledore, make it an ideal stop.
Day 2: Saunton Beach and Braunton Burrows
Day 2 delves into the history of the Assault Training Center, which existed on Braunton Burrows, between 1943 – 1944. During that time it 10,000 US GIs were trained here, ahead of the Normandy D-Day landings, and billeted in the nearby village of Braunton.
As well as being rich in history, the Braunton Burrows sand dune system is a UNESCO biosphere, world renowned for its unique flora. Day 2 involves a walking tour with a break for a picnic lunch in the dunes prepared with local produce. It ends with tea at Saunton, whose 4 mile long sandy beach was used for amphibious landing training exercises.
Guide for the day is historian Richard Bass who has been researching the history of the ATC and the American wartime presence in North Devon for over 25 years. On a walking tour, Richard brings the history alive with vivid descriptions and anecdotes depicting the experiences of GIs training at the ATC.
Day 3: Woolacombe and Ilfracombe
Day 3 continues to follow the trail of the GIS who lived and trained in North Devon during the war, with a visit to Woolacombe. The beach was the focus of amphibious landing and assault training thanks to its resemblance to Omaha Beach in northern France.
The village has a memorial to the US troops that were stationed there, and the headquarters of the Assault Training Center were located in the Woolacombe Bay Hotel and a granite memorial to US troops sits on the esplanade.
From here the tour visits the picturesque of town of Ilfracombe, still used as a fishing harbour. In WW2 housed a garrison of American troops from the Pay Corps and was a refuge for up to 3000 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and Austria. In addition to its World War 2 history, the town has some fine examples of Victorian architecture, a throwback to its boom as a seaside resort in the Nineteenth century.