Download The Dorset Military Trail!Dorset is famous for the Jurassic Coast, fossils and Thomas Hardy. But less well-known is its fascinating military history.
The whole of Dorset played a huge part in the D-Day invasion. As American troops and equipment poured into Britain after November 1943, Dorset became host to one of the D-Day assault divisions that would land on the Normandy beaches. The towns, villages and large houses were taken over or surrounded by units of the 1st US Infantry Division in camps. Around 34,000 men and 3,300 vehicles were based in Dorset and went to Omaha Beach when the invasion began.
New for 2009, with The Tank Museum revealing its completed redevelopment project including its new Tank Story exhibition, is the Dorset Military Trail. It takes in 17 of the most significant military sites in Dorset, from The Tank Museum at Bovington down to the famous chalk cliffs and across to Weymouth and Dorchester and their historic forts.
- Start at the Tank Museum at Bovington (www.tankmuseum.org) – home of the world’s best collection of tanks. At the heart of Dorset's Jurassic coast, this is a national treasure with a collection of 300 vehicles and thousands of supporting artefacts. Home of the tank since its invention at the end of the First World War, the new exhibition tells the fascinating tale of the tank and its servicemen with armoured exhibits from all sides of major 20th century armoured conflicts. Today The Tank Museum exists to conserve the national collection of tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, and to preserve and record the individual human history of those who have served in the Royal Tank Regiment and Royal Armoured Corps. The museum also holds a series of special events throughout the year and live Tank Action displays every weekday of the school holidays throughout the year.
- At nearby Weymouth, the Nothe Fort (www.nothefort.org.uk) contains displays and models recounting everyday life of Victorian and WWII soldiers within the Fort. The Nothe Fort did not see action against the enemy until WWII, when the main threat came from the air. In 1938 it had been decided to use the fort as a central anti-aircraft ammunition depot and the Nothe was also given its own AA guns. Every year a Victorian Military Festival is held in August when the Forts' Volunteer Artillerymen combine with invited groups to perform drill, fire rifles and cannons and create the atmosphere of a Victorian Fort.
- On the outskirts of Dorchester lies the Keep Military Museum (www.keepmilitarymuseum.org), which documents over 300 years of the Devon and Dorset Regiments and their battles. The combination of interactive displays and artefacts mean there is something to interest everyone. On display in the building are the medals, uniforms and weapons of past Devon and Dorset regiments, documenting changes in both tactics and clothing. Also notable are the excellent views over the county from the museum's battlements.
- Heading further inland to Blandford is The Royal Signals Museum which chronicles the history of army communications since the Crimean War. The exhibits and displays show the incredible role military signalling has played in warfare over the last 150 years.
- On the Isle of Purbeck close to Lulworth, Tyneham is an atmospheric ghost village that was commandeered shortly before Christmas 1943 by the then War Office for use as firing ranges for training troops, displacing the 200 residents. Despite the commandeering initially being a temporary measure, in 1948 the army placed a compulsory purchase order on Tyneham and since then the land has remained in use for military training. The surrounding heathland has become a haven for wildlife, despite the regular shelling, and in 1975 access was granted to visitors to wander around the village and ranges at weekends and throughout August.
Returning to The Tank Museum completes the tour of the top five attractions on the Dorset Military Trail.
To download your copy of the complete Dorset Military Trail click here.