In November 2009 Braunton and District Museum won Heritage Lottery funding to tell the story of how this coastline played an important part in the winning of the battle for Normandy, and possibly shortened the Second World War.
The aims of the project included creating an “oral archive”, production of a DVD and an exhibition of the artefacts and stories collected.
Seventeen year 10 students from Braunton School and Community College were selected to take part in the project and were tasked with interviewing local residents to obtain material for the archive. Each was also given the name of an American soldier that trained at what was known as the “Assault Training Center” and asked to research what happened to “their” soldier.
During December 2009 a field trip was arranged on Braunton Burrows to show the students some of the archaeology that still exists, this trip was filmed by Kingfisher Multimedia and was also covered by the local BBC news reporter.
In January 2010 a “Memories Day” was held at Braunton Museum where the students interviewed 5 members of the local community, these interviews were filmed and some of the resulting edited films appear here on this page.
Marines from 24 Commando Engineer Regiment, based at RMB Chivenor, gave the students a chance to see modern day equipment during an afternoon of demonstrations in February 2010.
In March 2010, having researched their soldier, the students were taken to Normandy to see where the landings took place and later visited the American Military Cemetery at Colville-Sur-Mer, the main cemetery for those Americans that were lost in the Normandy campaign. Students were interviewed on the beaches and those whose soldier was killed laid flowers at the grave. The teachers that went along also laid flowers on “Omaha” beach as a tribute from the village of Braunton. Again, all this was filmed with a view to adding into the final DVD and to the website in the future.
The project was based upon the work of historian Richard T Bass who has written several books on the subject of the American military presence in South West England and North Devon in particular. Mr Bass spent time in Braunton as a Policeman during the 1980s and became interested in the history of the area whilst walking on Braunton Burrows. As is often the case, interest became obsession and he has given many talks and led walks to tell the story as well as being a battlefield tour guide.
Mr Bass led the trip to Normandy and was able to take the group to see the places that have been made famous by films such as The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.
The DVD “Spirits of the sand”, based on the book of the same name written by Mr Bass, was launched at Braunton Parish hall on the 19th of June 2010 as part of the Project, in front of a full house.
Heritage Lottery funding allowed the Museum to purchase all the archive footage that was used and this was edited, together with the contemporary footage, to tell the story of how American troops used the beaches of Saunton, Croyde and Woolacombe to learn the necessary tactics to assault Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall”.
The film tells the story of how the troops were trained to assault Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’ and how a small quiet corner of Britain played an important part in shortening the war. A collection of short videos is showcased on the right of this page, we hope you enjoy them.
Braunton and District Museum now has a permanent exhibition dedicated to the "Friendly Invasion" which has proved to be popular with locals and visitors alike.
The full DVD is on sale now from Braunton Museum, and online from Kingfisher Multimedia, priced at £6.99 plus p+p. For further information about Museum opening times, please call 01271 816688.
To find out more, visit www.assaulttrainingcenterfreinds.co.uk and www.rtbassbooks.com.