October 2013

Gareth Owen ‘The New Forest remembers
untold stories of WW2’
October 2013

The October Meeting of the Society was addressed by Gareth Owen who with the assistance of a power point presentation gave a truly enthralling talk entitled ‘The New Forest Remembers—Untold Stories of World War II’.

The talk was based on a major project being undertaken by the New Forest National Park and largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The aim is to identify, record and interpret, all the New Forest sites which showed any evidence of having been associated with WWII, whether of minor or major significance from, say, bomb shrapnel to the Setley Prisoner-of-War Camp.

Until a few years ago there were 280 known WWII sites which were identified by physical evidence on the ground. But with the help of the most modern recording devices and the input and assistance from the public, this figure has increased to 2500. The modest collection of only six photographs originally portraying some sites has now grown to 750.

The information obtained has lead to a great many fascinating and sometimes thrilling stories. Certainly, an interesting story recounted by the speaker was the identification of pieces of concrete near Ashley Walk which tended to be somewhat rounded in shape. These proved to be the remains from an experiment based on the Barnes Wallis ‘bouncing bomb,’ (used so successfully in destroying several of the Ruhr dams in 1943) but the tests established that this type of bomb would be of little use on the beaches of Normandy.

Much information on the POW camp at Setley has been obtained. Virtually all the buildings have been identified from various records. Initially, the camp was used to house Italian POWs but after that country’s surrender in 1943 was used as a German camp. So far as personnel were concerned, the senior German officer, Herr Max Müller, after the war, married and settled in Brockenhurst, additionally, seven other ex-POWs from Setley are known to have settled in this country.

This project has certainly captured the imagination of the public who have co-operated greatly in furnishing oral, written and photographic information. It will provide a comprehensive archive, which will show in much detail, the part played by the New Forest in WWII and will be available not only to people with a particular interest in the subject but to everyone wishing to know more about the forest.

This splendid talk was very much enjoyed by a large audience of members and visitors. It was preceded by the Society’s AGM, where the chairman and committee were all re-elected to serve for the coming year.

The next meeting of the Society will be held on Friday, 29 November when the speaker will be Roger Ottewill whose subject will be ‘Edith Sharp, a character and early feminist of Edwardian Lymington’.