How WW2 Turned Tyneham Into A Ghost Village

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Tyneham is a ghost village in Dorset abandoned in 1943. Guest writer PENNY G MORGAN tells us how the once vibrant village is now a shell of its former self

Tyneham Ghost Village

Every Thursday evening at 9pm, Penny G Morgan hosts the Haunted History show on Parasearch Radio and brings us the history, myths, legends and hauntings surrounding various locations from around the world. Recently, Penny had a look at a little village on the south coast in Dorset, a village called Tyneham…

How would you feel if you received a letter in November 1943 which said the following?

“In order to give our troops the fullest opportunity to perfect their training in the use of modern weapons of war, the army must have an area of land particularly suited to their special needs and in which they can use live shells. For this reason you will realise the chosen area must be cleared of all civilians.

The most careful search has been made to find an area suitable for the army’s purpose and which at the same time will involve the smallest number of persons and property. The area decided on, after the most careful study and consultation between all the government authorities concerned lies roughly inside of the square formed by East Lulworth, East Stoke, East Holme Kimmeridge Bay – including your property.

It is regretted that, in the national interest it is necessary to move you fromyour homes and everything possible will be done to help you, both my payment of compensation and by finding other accommodation for you if you are unable to do so yourself.

The date which the military will take over this area is the 19th December next and all civilians must be out of the area by that date.

A special office will be opened at Westport House Wareham on Wednesday 17th November and you will be able to get advice between the hours of 10am and 7pm from there on your personal problems and difficulties. Any letters should be sent to that address also for the present.

The government appreciate that this is no small sacrifice which you are asked to make, but they are sure that you will give this further help towards winning the war with a good heart.

This was the letter which triggered the move of the 225 residents of Tyneham Village, albeit supposedly temporary in the month from 16th November 1943 to 19th December 1943.

Please treat the church and houses with care, we have given up our homes where many of us have lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.

However in December 1947, then prime minister Clement Attlee and his government admitted that although they had promised that Tyneham would be returned to its residents at the end of the emergency, that the extended firing ranges were part of the war office’s gains from the second world war and it was not going to give them away. After a public inquiry in 1948 the war minister John Strachey upheld the decision in the interest of national interest.

Over the next 25 years, many of the buildings continued to deteriorate, with the 19th century rectory being burned down in 1966, the beautiful Tyneham House, the home of the Bond Family who were the owners of Tyneham, which had been used as a billet for members of the Womens auxiliary air force during world war two, being gradually demolished. This could be seen a as a massive loss to the historical heritage of the area.

In fact, the last Bond to own the property, Ralph, who inherited it in 1935 died in 1951, a broken man by all accounts at the loss of his home and the broken promises of the government to give the village back to its inhabitants.

From the late 1960s, a group was formed to try and get Tyneham given back to it’s original owners, but, and this may seem a cruel comment, but how many who actually lived there are still around?

I doubt there are many if any, and most are more than likely descendants as opposed to people who lived there prior to their forced move.

I would also question who wants to live somewhere that is in the middle of a live firing range, and not any old firing range, the major firing practice range for tank warfare.

What I couldn’t find out whilst doing my research was the kind of compensation the old residents were given, and whilst a broken promise is something that can cause great angst, it is also a shame to see an area which has been lived in since Roman times, turned into a giant war game.

But, there has been massive restoration to the area and you can visit it when the range is not in operation, I’ll be honest, I don’t remember ever going as a child, but my parents are regular visitors there even now and have said that it is quite an eerie place where time does seem to have stood still, many of the buildings whilst stable, have no roofs and the guides can tell you all about the history of the area and what happened.

It is a shame that possibly the most infamous village in the UK with a census of zero still stands empty, although not the only one commandeered for war use, it does seem to be one that still produces many feelings of emotion in those whose ancestors used to live there.

To hear more about this fascinating part of history then have a listen to the show.

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