Places with Second World War connections

8 May 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the end of the Second World War in Europe. The impact of the conflict was universal and many of the places we now care for were directly involved in the war effort.

From weapons testing sites and a D-Day training area, to homes for evacuees and secret military bases, many of our places, and the people who lived there, played a crucial role in the Second World War.

VE Day

It is now 75 years since VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day, which marked the end of the Second World War on the Continent. Catherine Troiano, Curator of Photographic Collections at the National Trust, explains its significance:

'After almost six years of conflict, the Allied Forces accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May 1945. Wartime had generated widespread social change at home as well as on the front lines. VE Day signalled a shift back towards ‘normal life’ for those who had taken up temporary roles as part of the war effort.

'Over a million people went out onto streets across the nation to celebrate VE Day. In London, crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and along the roads to Buckingham Palace, where Churchill appeared with the Royal Family. Such was the joy of this occasion that Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were even allowed to go out in disguise and enjoy the celebrations among the masses. But for many VE Day was bittersweet, as they mourned those lost in the war.'

Our collection items with a wartime story to tell

Many people associated with the places we look after fulfilled important duties during the war, and this is reflected in our collections. Letters, pictures and trinkets sent to and from soldiers at the front show the scale of conscription and the emotional turmoil of being separated from loved ones. Photographs at Castle Drogo and Lanhydrock show what life was like for evacuees housed there during the Blitz. And objects such as gas masks, army helmets, blackout blinds and rationed food tins quickly became essential to daily life.

Fruit cake

A slice of wartime history 

This cake was one of Winston Churchill's favourites. It was created by one of his personal cooks at his family home of Chartwell, Georgina Landemare. Churchill claimed he, 'could not have managed throughout the war without her cooking'. So why not give our version of the recipe a try?

Our places with a wartime story to tell

Properties themselves were also essential to the war effort, with many requisitioned for wartime purposes. Here are just a few of the places in our care that have a Second World War story to tell.

Second World War officers on the steps of Coleshill House, Coleshill, Oxfordshire

Coleshill, Oxfordshire

Over 3,000 men were trained as ‘Auxiliers’ – members of the British Resistance to be deployed in the event of a German invasion – at Coleshill during the war. Coleshill was chosen as the Auxiliers' GHQ after the original offices in Whitehall were bombed.

Replica Dig for Victory allotment at Trengwainton, Cornwall

Trengwainton, Cornwall

Trengwainton played host to the Women's Land Army during the war. Every available green space was given over to food production and in one year 40 tonnes of rhubarb were grown. A Dig for Victory allotment has been recreated in the orchard (complete with replica Anderson shelter).

The south front of Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill between 1922 and 1964, Kent

Chartwell, Kent

Chartwell was home to Prime Minister Winston Churchill from 1924 until the end of his life. Churchill spent the war years in London but returned to his family home when hostilities ended. He took with him many wartime artefacts, including the Union Flag that once flew over Rome when it was liberated in 1944.

Upton House's south facard and terrace with vegetable planting

Listen to our podcast: Upton House and the Second World War

Lord Bearsted of Upton House helped to rescue Jewish children from Nazi Germany during the Second World War on the ‘Kindertransport’. Historian Bettany Hughes investigated the story in our Ten Places, Europe and Us podcast series.

Secret Second World War sites

Black and white aerial image of sick quarters at RAF Defford

Croome, West Midlands

The secret airbase of RAF Defford was Croome’s closest neighbour during the war and part of Croome's parkland served the military personnel and scientists working there. It was at Defford that Airborne Radar was tested, developed and proven. Airborne Radar provided a decisive factor in victory for the Allies.

Bomb Ballistics on Orford Ness

Orford Ness, Suffolk

Orford Ness’s history is shrouded in secrecy and tales of military testing. It was here that the first tests in the development of radar took place and where the flight of bombs were recorded to improve aerodynamics and aim. The military also wanted to determine the vulnerability of aircraft and the information gathered here led to improvements that helped many aircrews make it home.

Winston Churchill with NELLIE, Clumber Park 1941

Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire

‘Nellie’, Churchill’s prototype trench-cutting tank, was developed and tested at Clumber Park during the war and it was also a secret storage location for large quantities of ammunition. It wasn’t until 1955 that the military eventually left.

RAF staff making maps in the drawing room

Hughenden, Buckinghamshire

Once the country home of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Hughenden became the wartime base of the top-secret map-making operation codenamed 'Hillside', where skilled cartographers drew the maps used for bombing missions.


Secrets of Operation Hillside revealed

Hughenden in Buckinghamshire was home to a secret map-making operation in the Second World War, so secret it only came to light 60 years later after a chance encounter one of our house volunteers had with a visitor. In this video, Hughenden volunteer Bernie Knill tells us about Operation Hillside and, how Disraeli's former home played its part in ending the war in Europe.

The coastline at war
Tunnel inside of Fan Bay Deep Shelter

White Cliffs of Dover, Kent 

During the Second World War, the White Cliffs of Dover were Britain’s frontline. Many offensive and defensive structures were built to defend and protect it, including long-range gun batteries and the tunnels of the Fan Bay Deep Shelter.

The wartime exploits of a National Trust volunteer

The wartime stories of our places are brought to life by personal memories, such as this one from Emma Thomas, General Manager of Seaton Delaval:

'My great aunt Mary Terry (née Hodgkinson) (1920-2016) joined the Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service) close to the start of the Second World War and was posted to Dover Castle. She worked for Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who was responsible for overseeing the defence of the Straits of Dover and protecting cross-channel military traffic.

'Much of the operations took place in the chalk tunnels and chambers under the castle. It was from here that several famous events were controlled, such as Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk evacuation in which 338,286 British and Allied soldiers were rescued over 9 days and including Mary’s brother Jim.

'In later years, Mary volunteered for the National Trust at Mompesson House, Salisbury and certainly influenced my decision to join the National Trust at Seaton Delaval Hall through her love of history.'

Mary Terry (née Hodgkinson) in her Wren's uniform (© Thos. Fall 22 Baker Street)

Ancient field patterns and Carn Llidi

Pembrokeshire coast

There are reminders of Pembrokeshire’s wartime role along its coastline. There are remnants of gun emplacements and a radar station along the clifftops at Lydstep and St David’s Head and a memorial to a D-Day training tragedy at Freshwater West.

A coastal meadow with a row of old oak trees dips down to the Helford River

Glendurgan Garden, Cornwall

Trebah beach, on the North Helford coastline, was where American troops departed for Normandy on D-Day. Many wartime relics remain along the coastline, including gun emplacements and pill boxes.

Second World War concrete dragon's teeth defences at Studland Beach, Dorset

Studland Beach, Dorset

Studland Beach was used as a training area for troops before D-Day. The marks of this chapter in its history still remain, including the Fort Henry observation bunker and devices built to foil a German invasion such as ‘dragon’s teeth’ anti-tank defences and pill boxes.