East Anglia at War

A soldier looking out into the parkland

During the Second World War, East Anglia and its close proximity to Europe, played a vital role in the war effort.

The region became home to over 350,000 American air force personnel, country houses were requisitioned and our coast was used in the preparations for the D-Day landings. Evacuees arrived from London to the safety of the countryside and land was provided for the 'Dig for Victory' campaign. Here's how the places in our care were involved.

Country houses requisitioned

Preparations for D-Day

Normandy landings

Operation Overlord

Due to its similarity with the proposed landing beaches in Normandy, the sandy beach at Brancaster played a key role in Operation Overlord. There was concern that the sand would be too soft to land the specialised amphibious tanks, so units from 79th Armoured Brigade were sent to Brancaster Beach to carry out practice landings ahead of D-Day.

Wimpole Estate

A hospital for 12,000 soldiers

As part of the preparations for D-Day, several locations in England were identified for the treatment of wounded soldiers. One was Wimpole Hall, where a large tented 163rd US Army General Hospital was set up in the grounds in 1944 for the treatment of injured US soldiers. More than 12,000 servicemen were treated here, brought by ambulance trains to nearby Meldreth station.

Defending our skies

Spitfire

A spitfire for the nation

In 1940 Lord Fairhaven of Anglesey Abbey and his brother each gave £5000 towards an aircraft for the nation, helping to purchase a Spitfire for the Royal Air Force, which they named ‘Cambridgeshire’. On 24 February 1941 it was shot down during an attack on the airfield at Maupertas, near Cherbourg.

Duty calls

Second world war image

Preparing the troops

During the Second World War, British, American, Dutch and Polish troops used Ashridge Estate as a training ground. There’s a concrete road known as Monument Drive, which includes an area called ‘Barracks Square’ where troops practised drills and parades. Ashridge House was also used as a secondary site for Charing Cross Hospital.

Sheffield Park Second World War images

Defending our coast

North Norfolk has long been considered vulnerable to invasion and during the Second World War extensive fortifications were built along this stretch of coastline. Oak Wood in Sheringham Park was used throughout the war as a defensive position. With the threat of invasion looming, an additional pillbox was constructed using an unusual design, modified for machine gun use.

Bombs away

Picture looking down Drainers Dyke between Sedge & Verral's Fen

An explosive plant

Wicken Fen faced destruction during the Second World War, when plans were drawn up to use it as a bombing range, but thankfully it was spared. It was only following the discovery of the plant Alder Buckthorn that helped save this area of fenland. This plant produces charcoal when its burnt, which was proving useful to make fuses for explosives.

Life on the Home Front

Exterior of Thorington Hall

Evacuation to the country

A work party from London took over Thorington Hall in 1941 to prepare the house for use as an evacuation hostel, for elderly bombed-out Londoners. The local community welcomed the new arrivals, with produce from their autumn harvest and in return the evacuees laid on a party in the big house for local residents.

Group of children evacuees at train station

Life as an evacuee in Suffolk

A group of evacuees from Hackney in London were allotted the basement at Ickworth in Suffolk as living accommodation during the Second World War. We know from our research that the Marchioness held tea parties for them in the East Wing. It would have been quite different to what they were used to.

Potatoes being dup up

Dig for victory

Now a focal point in the garden, the Victorian Parterre at Oxburgh Hall, was once used for growing potatoes during the height of the Governments 'dig for victory' campaign. The hugely successful propaganda campaign encouraged civilians to grow their own in order to reduce Britain’s reliance on imports.

Remembrance and memorials

A magnificent ancient beech tree at Ashridge Herts

A memorial with a difference

There is a Beech tree on the Ashridge Estate with the states of Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, New York, Illinois and South Dakota carved into the bark by American troops. It also includes the date 4 May 1944, the ‘V’ for victory and three dots and a dash, which is morse code for ‘V’.

The Victory V at Felbrigg

The Victory V Plantation

The last owner of Felbrigg Hall was Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer. His brother and heir, Richard, was killed in action whilst serving in Crete with the RAF. You can find a memorial to him in the woods. The Victory ‘V’ plantation comprises two avenues of beech trees, which acts as a reminder for planes flying overhead.