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D-Day 1944: ‘Llantarnum’ Abbey and the lost American Marshalling Camps of Wales.

June 6, 2014

History is upon us right now. It is a necessary, but saddening, weight that we all have to bear. The media is pummeling recent historical events, through various types of delivery, at us at an incredible rate. And so they should. Seventy years ago the largest military amphibious invasion in history took place on Normandy beaches that eventually led to the downfall of Hitler’s ill perceived utopia. So why would I blog? What, if anything, has come to light that would make me want to blog about a subject that is already adequately covered by the media? Allow me to explain…

During WWII many gentry and private estates were utilised by the military in this country for various tasks. These were big estates, they offered many boxes that had to be ticked. Isolation was key while providing suitable housing for officers and suitable areas of land for camps for those that volunteered or were conscripted. These estates were the icing on the military cake. It was a win win situation across many sites throughout Britain. Although they are way to many to list, one thing is clear, landowners did their stuff to help the war effort in as many ways as they could. I have no idea if the landowners were paid for this, compensated, received parliamentary privileges, or whatever, that does not interest me one iota. What interests me, as a life long resident of Cwmbrân, is did it affect the landscape that I currently live in?

It did.

Llantarnam Abbey’s estate developed into an American military base. It is a fact that is not extensively published. Local historians have not published the issue although I do not think that is intentional. I think it is more due to the fact that many people do not simply know of what was happening in Cwmbrân at that particular time. That was normal for the Second World War, secrecy was of the highest order. However, would our historical perception of the site change if unpublished details were to be presented into the public domain?

 

 

Llantarnum

 

This map outlines the American camp that was within Llantarnams estate in the early part of 1944. I feel inadequate re-producing this quality of cartography. It is the highest resolution I have: it will have to suffice. What does it signify, if anything? Well, quite a lot actually. This map outlines the base camp where thousands of American Soldiers lived before they embarked to Normandy. This camp, this field, is where many of them ‘strapped up’, as they prepared themselves ready for the biggest day of their lives. Many of them would never have returned to Britain, let their homeland.
The site was one of 27 US marshalling camps set up between Chepstow and the Gower in advance of D-day. Llantarnam camp was in existence by 22nd March 1944, was known as camp U74. It housed 2046 troops and 210 vehicles and was a ‘summer tented camp’. The troops came from a range of US regiments. This included infantry, armoured and medical corps who were mustered there prior to their embarkation from Newport to the south coast to prepare, be briefed and waterproof the vehicles, prior to D-Day. The majority of the troops (1374) and 203 of the vehicles left the camp between the 30th May and 3rd June 1944, and were destined to be part of the troops mobilised on D-day -1. The camp in Llantarnam would have contained a large number of buildings, both temporary and more permanent, that would have facilitated the build up of the troops.

So whats my beef?

The site of the camp is destined for development. That is fair enough, things move on, but the initial archaeological assessment mentioned nothing of the above. Cotswold Archaeology were responsible for that report, CADW also never mentioned it. After retorts were sent to the planning office, GGAT thankfully mentioned that the WWII camp had been ‘obviously overlooked’. It is too late now though, the initial reports leave a long lasting imprint on those responsible for planning matters. It is important to remember here that when council officers are advised on these matters, unless evidence is presented to them, they can only make an informed decision based on what has been written in an actual report. Initial reports deliver a heavy punch.

So why was it missed?

I have no idea. The simplest of internet searches can re-produce what I have laid down above, it really is not hard to do. The report by  CADW on this particular site was, in my opinion, woefully inadequate. They do know of this camp, WWII sites along with later cold war sites have been recently scheduled. The problem lies within the first report. As it is ‘official’, CADW have an awkward dilemma facing them as to whether they produce a new report overriding the first. As this situation is deemed as ‘awkward’ the easiest thing to do is, erm, nothing. If you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, never move.

Which of course stinks.

There is an upside to this site although I am slightly loath to mention it here. I have been told that unless new evidence presents itself for this particular parcel of land, no new reports will be forthcoming. I have carried out an extensive landscape survey of the field that the American soldiers camped in, my research suggests that there is a strong medieval imprint stamped on the landscape.

Let us all hope that that will be enough for a new decision to be made.

Least us forget.

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One Comment
  1. brianhstanding@gmail.com permalink

    just read you blog, see I do sometimes. dad

    Sent from Windows Mail

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