Deep in the woods, the hidden remnants of a D-Day army

There were many transit camps set up across the Portsmouth area holding troops ready for the second front and the greatest invasion the world had ever seen – D-Day.Many are well-known but one, north of what is now the Leigh Park housing estate, have been lost in the mists of time and dense foliage.

Monday, 3rd June 2019, 4:06 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th June 2019, 11:47 am
The route map the convoy took to the embarkation point for the Normandy beaches.

Thanks to Arthur Herbert Jones, private secretary and estate manger to Sir Dymoke White whose home was at Southleigh Park north-west of Havant, we can see what was involved.

His booklet Front-Line Havant 1939-1945 tells how, in 1942, the Earl of Carnarvon arrived at his office to ask Sir Dymoke to allow the army to take over some woods. It was for a transit camp to hold hundreds of troops and accompanying vehicles for the Second Front. He was of course being gentlemanly as the army could requisition any land it wanted.

The woods were south of Emsworth Common Road with a smaller camp north of the road. Within months large Nissen huts on concrete bases were built along with cookhouses, latrines, washhouses and administration buildings. After the troops had left the north camp was hit by a V1 with no loss of life though.

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The remains of a Nissen hut deep in Hollybank Wood at Southleigh Park.

The remains of many of the huts’ floors and sides can be found deep in the woods, now overgrown with trees and lush undergrowth.

Arthur tells us that on D-Day only admin staff remained at the camp as the troops had departed a night or two before, silently and smoothly.

Of interest to some is that instead of crossing Southleigh crossroads into Bartons Road, which was straightforward, the convoy of lorries and troops turned left down Horndean Road; right along Southleigh Road and right again along Eastleigh Road to join Bartons Road just west of the crossroads. Strange. The army must have thought if a vehicle broke down on the crossroads there could have been mayhem. The crossroads is now a staggered junction. The original course is behind a high fence.

On the verges of Horndean, Eastleigh and Barton Roads concrete lay-bys were laid to park vehicles with mechanical problems. These lay-bys can still be seen today.

Arthur Herbert Jones kept a record of troop movements on the Southleigh Estate.

Arthur says there was a lull in refilling the camp in case it had to be used by survivors had the invasion failed. It was later used by Canadian troops.

My picture above shows the remains of Nissen huts in Hollybank Woods which survive to this day. A brass plaque was put in the doorway of one on the 60th anniversary which read: ‘Friends of Hollybank Woods. Allied troops were billeted in these and nearby woods prior to taking part in the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944.’

One of the lay-bys built to take convoy vehicles which might have developed mechanical problems. This one is in Eastleigh Road, north of Warblington.