FEATURE: Burnham Beeches in the Second World War

FEATURE: Burnham Beeches in the Second World War

Steve Scott

FEATURE: Burnham Beeches in the Second World War

The ancient woodland of Burnham Beeches is a much-loved area of recreation and beauty, but many are unaware of the prominent part it played in the Second World War. Reporter Steve Scott spoke to senior ranger Chris Morris about the site's historical past.

Today it is a scenic area of woodland, open space and outstanding natural beauty, popular among walkers and rich in wildlife.

But in the mid-1940s Burnham Beeches was a hub of military activity as Vehicle Reserve Depot Number Two during the Second World War.

When passing through Slough by train, then prime minister Winston Churchill apparently saw army vehicles being stored near the railway station and decided they were vulnerable to enemy bombers.

The nation's leader suggested the Beeches as a suitable place to hide the vehicles and in May 1942 large parts of the site were requisitioned by the war department.

Most of the wooded area as well as a large part of East Burnham Common were taken over and used for the marshalling of vehicles destined for the D-Day landings.

"At any one time there were up to 10,000 vehicles parked under the trees," said senior ranger Chris Morris.

"They were mostly light amphibious vehicles, like Jeeps, ambulances, personnel carriers and troop vehicles.

"They were checked and kitted out and when the call came they would drive them out through one gate on the site and send them down in convoy at night to the south coast."

Burnham Beeches senior ranger Chris Morris

American tank transporters were lined up between Beeches Road and Victory Cross, while Burnham Walk and Dukes Drive were used for vehicles weighing more than three tons.

Barbed wire was placed around the Beeches as a security measure but some of the more inquisitive villagers were not deterred.

Chris said: "Local people were used to using the woods but then they found they didn't have their open space any more.

"Some of the local kids found a way of getting underneath the wire and that's one of the ways we've heard stories about what was in the woods at the time."

More than 300 people served at the woodland including electrical and mechanical engineers, the Royal Army Service Corps and women from the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

It was not until November 1947 before large parts of Burnham Beeches were open again to the public.

"East Burnham Common was completely pulled up and restored after the war because of the amount of damage caused," said Chris.

"A lot of rubble and wire was buried, probably in Seven Ways Plain, so there was some archaeological damage but I'm sure they had more important things to worry about."

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