IT’S a past that not many people are aware of.
But now Hayling Island’s crucial role in the Second World War has been recognised with a four-mile trail that takes in the island’s most important military sites.
Historian Robin Walton has put together the UK’s first ‘liberation route’ which details strategic points on the seafront where the island played its part in defending our shores, saving thousands of Allied lives.
On Saturday Mr Walton was joined by the Mayor of Havant, Cllr Gerald Shimbart, at the Station Theatre, along with former Marine Commander Douglas Sharp and Second World War vehicles, for the official opening.
Mr Walton said: ‘It is the very first UK leg of the Europe-wide liberation route.
‘I would say about 99 per cent of people are totally unaware of Hayling’s role in the war. Actually, if you look about the evidence is there but people don’t really think about it.
‘There are still a dozen or so pillboxes left on the island.’
The trail, which was funded by the South East England Development Agency, begins at the Hayling ferry. The site marks the building of the Mulberry Harbours – huge portable concrete harbours used to facilitate the Allied landings in 1944.
The next stop is the gun site at Sinah Common which was manned by ATS – mainly made up of teenage girls – during the last three years of the war.
Next are the Inn on the Beach restaurant, the Station Theatre, the Combined Operation Pilotage Parties (Copp) memorial, and Eastoke Corner at the most eastern end of the island.
Mr Walton said: ‘Hayling was the biggest land craft training and repair base in the UK.
‘The stretch of beach between Eastoke and Norfolk Crescent was used as a rehearsal for D-Day several weeks before.
‘And they say that it was observed by Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower from the roof of the Royal Hotel.
‘The thing to remember is all the big buildings and houses were appropriated by the military during the war.
‘There is so much history for people to discover.’
Each site is marked with an information board.
Mr Walton suggests the trail is an easy bike ride or a walk which would take a few hours.
One of the stops, the 12-ton Copp memorial stone, will be officially unveiled next Thursday by Countess Mountbatten, whose father Lord Mountbatten set up the elite, secret Coppists in 1943 for reconnaissance work ahead of the D-Day landings.
A COPP exhibition is being held at the Newtown House Hotel, tomorrow and Wednesday from 11am to 5pm.
Go to coppheroes.org.