6 November 2013
Last updated at 00:56
After spending nearly two years collecting memories and anecdotes, recording archaeological sites and artefacts, researchers are able to paint a picture of what life was like in the New Forest during World War Two. Everyone who contributed to the project was invited to Hurst Castle.
Originally built as one of Henry VIII's Device Forts, Hurst Castle played a key role in defending Southampton during WW2 from its position at the end of a long shingle spit at the west end of the Solent. It still has many of the original features used to entertain the troops, such as the Garrison Theatre.
Margaret Norcliffe (née Cox) was two years old when an Italian war prisoner gave her this toy horse. "My father had a garage in Southbourne and the army from Setley [prisoner of war camp] would take their trucks there. They used to bring some of the prisoners with them who were allowed to make toys for the local children from off cuts. One called Tony made this for me. I've got a feeling we named him Dobbin."
Pamela "Bunny" Borthwick, seen here with her naval colleagues onboard a landing craft in 1943, enlisted as a Wren and witnessed the D-Day preparations. "I was walking to Beaulieu village, saw the sky turn black with a huge swarm of German planes and bombers," she said. "It seemed there were hundreds of them. Then a couple of Spitfires came and harried them as they turned towards Southampton. That’s when I realised the war is real, this is happening."
Vera Storr was just 16 years old when she left home in Manchester to work at Millersford explosives testing station. She vividly remembers the build up to D-Day. "It was very busy, lots of troops hiding in the bushes," she said. "We knew something was going on, but not what. Then all of a sudden they were all gone." As she and colleagues watched through a fence, truck loads of troops left for France. Ms Storr cried as she knew "half of them would probably never come back".
Brothers Terry and Brian Gittoes were living in Lymington when the war broke out. Aged 10 and eight in 1942, they remember swimming across the river and sneaking in to the American airbase on the other side where they made friends with the troops. "We also used to go to planes that had crashed and take away shrapnel, live ammunition and parts of the planes as souvenirs to swap at school," Terry said. "We were too young to understand the danger."
Brian Gittoes said: "The Americans were very generous. We used to get lots of food, the first time in our lives we had sliced peaches and doughnuts - of course we were on rations. And they gave us a used fuel tank from a Thunderbolt plane which we used as a canoe. We learnt to speak American and the soldiers wanted us to smuggle out notes to the girls in the village. One we called Technicolour Lil because she had so much make-up."
As part of the New Forest Remembers World War II project, more than 50 hours of people's memories and stories have been recorded for a digital archive, as have details of all known WW2 sites, including its 12 airfields. This photograph shows US Airforce pilot Russell 'Freddy' Fredendall of at Winkton airfield.
Barry Halford and his brother were young evacuees from Bitterne in Southampton from 1941 to 1944. They stayed at Wilverley House in Lyndhurst and, being 11 years old when he arrived, he remembers the war years as "a big adventure". He said: "Funnily, I never missed home. We used to go out in the field and help the farmer with the hay and then we would go a see the crashed planes being dismantled."
Hurst Castle’s history as a wartime coastal defence fort can clearly be seen here in its World War 2 NAAFI, where the old gunports were bricked up to create a recreational area for the troops. Friends of Hurst Castle is looking for funds to help waterproof the NAAFI area so it can renovate the space and open it to the public.
Archaeologists and volunteers have also scoured the New Forest for remains from the war years. A radar survey has revealed features in the landscape that had been forgotten. These are the remains left on Lepe beach where parts of the Mulberry harbours were manufactured ahead of D-Day in 1944.