On the 6 June 1944 the Allied landings started in Normandy often referred to as D–Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history. However, prior to D-Day there was a lot of planning and preparation, much of which occurred close to where I now live.
Two of these historic sites are now on lovely walks along old railway tracks, and it is the railway tracks in particular that are the centre of attention. The railways across southern England played a major role in the preparation for the invasion primarily in moving huge numbers of troops and thousands of tons of equipment.
But is was two other roles that I am looking into today. One is the site of a high level clandestine meeting, and the other a training ground for a crucial role once the beach head had been established.
Meon Trail – (Meon Valley Railway)
Throughout the early part of WWII, the Meon Valley Railway had a fairly quiet role compared to some of the other lines in the area. Occasionally used to supply goods to the Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth, it did not see any real action until the start of the build up to D-Day.
The line was used to move thousands of troops to forward positions and large numbers of tanks were moved to Mislingford goods yard where they were temporarily stored on numerous hard standings prior to D-Day. But the Meon Valley Railway’s most crucial role happened just 4 days before D-Day.
On the 2 June 1944 a special train (part of the Royal Train) arrived at Droxford Station for a very important meeting. On board were The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, the Prime Ministers of Canada and South Africa William Lyon Mackenzie King and Ian Smuts. They were joined from his nearby headquarters at Southwick House by General Dwight D Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander.
Apart from its proximity to Southwick House, why was Droxford such an important location? The station had the longest siding in southern England and was close to a deep cutting that provided the train with relative safety from air raid. It was one of the safest places for so many senior people to meet.
The meeting was convened to carry out the final planning and decision-making for Operation Overlord, the Normandy Invasion. The whole operation was run from Southwick, later the Wardroom of HMS Dryad and now a Golf and Country Club.
Droxford Station is still there, though now a private residence and just south of the station is the infamous cutting where the momentous meeting took place. The Meon Valley Trail starts at West Meon, about 6 miles to the north, grid reference SU 65193 23200 and officially ends at Wickham approximately 6 miles to the south, grid reference SU 58398 11095, though it does continue for a further 1½ miles to SU 58408 11070.
The trail can be accessed from several points along it route so there is no requirement to walk the while length to see the siding. There is direct access to the Station and siding from the village of Droxford.
Longmoor Military Railway
The Longmoor Military Railway originally known as the Woolmer Instructional Military Railway was a British military railway, started in 1903. Its primary role was to train soldiers on railway construction and operations.
The railway was used to service the numerous engineers’ depots in the area and saw frantic activity during the build up to the Normandy landings on D-Day. The railway also served two large army bases at Bordon and Lower Oakhanger. Both these bases were used as forward deployment camps for thousands of troops prior to final transportation to Portsmouth and Southampton.
In order to facilitate the movement of troops from the forward holding camps to the embarkation points, the Longmoor Railway was linked to the Mainline railway at Liss. At the height of the troop movements up to 7000 troops a day were being moved through Liss.
The Longmoor railways major contribution to the war effort was the fruits of it primary role – soldiers trained in railway construction and operations. Once the beach heads were established in Normandy the Royal Engineers shipped approximately 76,000 men to operate, and maintain, the railways across Europe. Crucial for the resupply of the troops moving steady east and south.
The railway closed in 1969 and 1 ½ miles of the trackway from Liss Forest Road to Liss Village was handed over to the Local Authority. This section now forms a beautiful area to walk through and forms part of the the Liss Local Nature Reserve.
The public section of the path, referred to as the Liss Riverside Railway Walk, runs from Liss (on the north side of the level crossing) grid reference SU 77603 27655 and ends at Liss Forest Road, grid reference SU 78043 29047. It is jointly owned by East Hants District Council and Liss Parish Council. It is partly managed by the volunteer Liss Conservation Rangers.
Beyond the Liss Forest Road entrance you can enter into the Longmoor Military training area now under a managed access agreement with the MOD, allowing access to miles of the old railway track plus miles of other paths. A beautiful area to walk even if you do meet the occasional Army Training Corp exercise ‘playing soldiers’.