The Second World War on Headley Heath

Purley Plain home to a secret during the war © Will Frost

Purley Plain home to a secret during the war

During the Second World War, Headley Heath was used by the Canadian Army as a training ground. Engineers learnt to build trench systems (using earth-moving equipment), gun emplacements, roads and even a runway. The idea was that, when they finally arrived in Europe after D-Day, the army would be fully trained and not have to learn on the job.

When you visit Headley today you'll probably walk on one of the many main paths created by the Canadians. You'll also see evidence of their activities in the number of lumps and bumps all over the heath. There's also an area known as the Pyramids which is where the Canadians kept a ‘pyramid of stores’.

The Heath was used by other troops and, even though the army cleared the area of weapons after the war, some small unexploded munitions have since been found. During a severe fire in 1956, ammunition could be heard exploding as the fire progressed across the heath.

On Purley Plain, an area on the heath, there was a secret device which was supposed to confuse enemy aircraft by emitting random spots of light. There was also a Royal Observer Corps post near the cricket ground.

Most major buildings around the heath and in Headley were used by the military for different purposes:

  • Headley Court – Headquarters of the 1st Canadian Army Europe
  • Headley Park – residence of the American Ambassador
  • High Ashurst house – billet for Canadian troops
  • Bellasis House – used by Special Operations Executive (SOE) as a training school for covert operations in Europe

Peter Denyer, Friend of Headley Heath