Of course there has still been a lot happening on site at the Museum, but this week I’d like to talk a bit about another project that affects museums in North Devon. To keep you going here’s a rather strange panorama of our building site, taken by leaning out of my office window…
Next year is the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which marked the beginning of the Allies’ combined effort to push Nazi Germany back out of Western Europe, and led to the end of the War the following year. North Devon played a very special part in the months leading up to D-day, as the site of the US Army Assault Training Center.
The history of the Assault Training Center has been ably researched and vividly brought to life by historian Richard Bass. One particularly successful project, about 10 years ago, was led by Braunton Museum with Braunton Academy, and enabled schoolchildren to research individual GIs, create films on Braunton Burrows and visit the Normandy beaches where so many died. The result of their work were loaded on GPS-based Explorers (a technology which has come and gone), but can also be found on the project website here. The late David Butt, then Deputy Head at Braunton, was one of the great enthusiasts for this project, and I am sure the young people who took part are still benefiting from the work they carried out.
More recently by the Friends of the Assault Training Center have been coordinating reenactment events on North Devon’s beaches. Next year there will no doubt be many more events. You can find out more here and here.
The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team has been awarded Heritage Lottery funding for a Coastal Heritage Project which includes looking at the imitation landing craft, gun emplacements and other physical remains which still pepper our coastline. The project will create trails to support Ancestral Tourism so that the families of the thousands of US Servicemen who trained here can visit North Devon and find the places where their fathers and grandfathers lived, trained and enjoyed themselves. We also hope that a group of North Devon Museums can put together displays that will tell the stories of their local area.
The Americans had a profound effect on North Devon. 25 years ago we carried out an Oral History project with Barnstaple Local Studies Library which elicited many stories. I’m struggling to translate them from 1994’s .WRI format to present day .DOCX, but we are getting there, and they will be a great source. One contributor, Eric Bennet, was born in 1930. He may not be around any more but here is a part of his story:
I’m sure there are still plenty of people who were children at the time who can remember playing baseball, being given gum or even dancing with the Americans.
Our Pop-Up Museum at Bridge Chambers is mostly collecting stories about living and working in North Devon for our new Social History Gallery. However, we have already collected some information about the War. One story tells how the Americans burned all their kit when they left – including baseballs and mitts that the local children had rather thought would be given to them. If you have any memories of the War, do please drop in and tell us about them so that we can pass them on into the future.
Next week I’ll be back to talking about the project.
A sixteen square mile corner of s
outh west England, ten miles of Atlantic coastline, beaches, cliffs, headlands and sand dunes.