16th May 2019

D-Day 75th Anniversary

A little history of Devon in WWII

North Devon’s associations with the Second World War are typically considered in terms of evacuees and refugees. What is often forgotten - and so surprises people - is that it in fact harboured one of the most unique and important training camps. 10,000 American soldiers used the area’s beaches, estuaries and sand dunes, stretching 10 miles covering Saunton Sands, Woolacombe and Braunton Burrows to perfect the techniques to invade the German-occupied coastline of Europe.

Saunton Sands Hotel during WWII

The art deco hotel was built in 1933 by Sir John Christie, who also built the Glyndebourne opera house, and remained a dazzling destination for holidaymakers for many years, withstanding WWII, but later fell into disrepair. In December 1977, the Brend family, who worked hard to restore the hotel to its former glory and reinstate its prestigious reputation, purchased the hotel and have owned it ever since. 

The fascinating history of Saunton Sands Hotel during the war demonstrates how the hotel played an important role in the war effort in North Devon. From being painted green in camouflage to prevent German bombers using it as a navigational marker (it was thought they used it to line up their route over Cardiff), to in 1940 being briefly requisitioned to house the children of Duke of York’s Military School, which had to be relocated from Dover to make room for troops who were being evacuated from Dunkirk. In compliance with wartime secrecy, the location was kept discreet and guest bedrooms became dormitories with bunk beds to sleep the orphaned children of military recruits. From September 1943 to April 1944 the British government reluctantly offered Saunton Sands, Braunton Burrows and Woolacombe to become the US Assault Training Centre, despite the British previously deeming the area unsuitable for training. American troops then spent the time preparing for the D-Day assault on the heavily defended Normandy beaches.

Luckily, the coastline was ideal for amphibious exercises and every spec of coastline was utilised. Even the 10-mile stretch of sand. Its quality, beach gradient and tidal range was similar topography to Omaha and Utah beaches where the troops would land and begin their assault.

Training was tough, vigorous and unrelenting. The military practiced many exercises including use of live ammunition, explosives, tanks, artillery and air support on the beaches. It is no doubt that use of these North Devon beaches and its similar terrain proved invaluable to the troops. The road behind the Burrows by Sandy Lane car park is known as American Road. On June 6 1944, the greatest and largest amphibious assault in military history took place against Normandy’s coastline, the bloody battle saw the huge courage, sacrifice and devastating loss of allied troops but marked the beginning of the end of WWII.

Read more about North and WW2 at Visit Devon

Devon D-Day - What’s on

D-Day Micro Exhibitions 

From April until October, temporary exhibitions will be held at museums and visitor centres, telling the stories of World War 2 across North Devon. Meanwhile, there will be a touring exhibition made up of Brian Chugg’s paintings of the Aftermath of War. Read on for the timetable of events.

Braunton and District Museum - Devon D-Day

From 15th April | Mon - Fri: 10.30am - 3pm, Sat: 10am - 1pm, Sun: Closed

Start your Devon D-Day journey here! Braunton Museum has one of the largest D-Day displays in North Devon. The exhibition includes an introduction to World War 2 sites throughout the area.

Free Entry

North Devon Maritime Museum -  Appledore at War

Mon 1st April - Thurs 31st Oct | Daily: 10am - 4pm (last entry)

Discover the World War 2 secrets of this historic village. Photos and eyewitness accounts of military experiments C.O.X.E, the ‘Carrot’ and ‘Hobart’s Funnies’

Adults: £3 | Concessions £2 | Children: £1 | Under 5’s: Free

Morthoe Museum - Wartime Woolacombe & Morthoe

Tue - Thu & Sun: 11am - 3pm, School holidays: Mon, Wed, Thu & Sun: 10am - 4pm

World War 2 displays include the American Red Cross National register kept at The Red Barn in Woolacombe, which was used as a  social centre for US troops. This historic document can be digitally searched. Photo exhibition of US soldiers on training day on Woolacombe beach.

Free (donations welcomed)

Ilfracombe Museum - D-Day Remembered

Mon 6th May - Fri 28th June | Mon-Sat: 10am - 5pm, Sun: Closed

Discover Ilfracombe’s role in the D-Day preparations, the American troops who were stationed in the town and remarkable story behind HMS Ilfracombe. Contemporary British press photos of the action on the Normandy beaches.

Brian Chugg touring exhibition: Mon 10th June - Sat 6th July

Adult: £5 | Senior/ concession: £4 | Under 16s: Free

Barnstaple Guildhall - Barnstaple Remembers

Mon 13th May - Sat 18th May | 10.30am - 4pm

A stirring exhibition remembering the brave men who trained on our beaches and the local people who supported them. Presented by the Barnstaple History Group.

Brian Chugg touring exhibition: Mon 13th May - Sat 18th May


Northam Burrows Centre - Wartime Westward Ho!

Sat 25th May - Sun 1st Sept | Daily 11am - 5pm

Photographs, footage and artefacts from the Northam Burrows and Westward Ho! Area during World War 2.

Brian Chugg touring exhibition: Tue 9th July - Sat 10th Aug


Combe Martin Museum and Information Point - Wartime Combe Martin

From 6th April | Mon - Fri: 10.30am - 5pm, Sat & Sun: 11am - 3pm

Discover how the people of this busy coastal village helped with the war effort.

Brian Chugg touring exhibition: Tue 13th July - Sat 10th Aug

Adults: £2.30 | Concession: £1.50 | Children: Free

D-Day Events

Sat 18th May - The Friendly Invasion

Woolacombe Parish Hall |  7.30pm

A talk by Richard Bass of the Friends of the Assault TRainign Centre about the American Army training on the North Devon coast

To reserve a space, please email: susancon.hill@btinternet.com

Tue 28th May - World War 2 Discovery Trail

The Skern, Northam Burrows |  2pm - 4pm

Take part in a family-friendly orienteering trail. Find hidden WW2 remains and learn about D0Day training operations in the sands of Northam Burrows, a key military site.

Book your place by visiting https://www.torridge.gov.uk/northamburrows

Thu 6th June - D-Day History Walk

Northam Burrows | 2pm - 4pm

Discover the World War w significance of Northam Burrows in this History Walk with Dave Edgecombe from North Devon AONB.

Free, Book your place: https://www.torridge.gov.uk/northamburrows

Thu 6th June - D-Day 75th American Memorial Service

St. Brannock’s Church | 11am

All welcome.

Thu 6th June - D-Day 75th Anniversary Wreath Laying Service

Braunton Burrows (meet at Crow Point Carpark) | 11.50am

Join the Royal British Legion and relatives of US servicemen at the WW2 concrete landing craft on Braunton Burrows. All welcome.

Contact: braunton.secretary@rbl.community

Sat 15th June - 1940s Dinner & Dance

Braunton Parish Hall | 7pm - 11pm

Dress to impress, 1940s style for this dinner dance with live Big Band and wartime singer.

Tickets £15, contact braunton.secretary@rbl.community

Sat 15th & Sun 16th June - Saunton D-Day Weekend

Saunton Sands Beach | 10am - 4pm

The only living history event of its kind in the UK, Saunton D-Day takes place on historical location – amongst the dunes and on the beach where 10,000+ American GIs trained and planned for their assault on Omaha and Utah beaches.

You will also find us at our Brend Hotels stall serving traditional Devon cream teas!


11am - Aircraft Landing

Planes will land on the beach at approx 11am.

11.30am - Vintage Vehicle Parade

Vintage vehicle parade up the beach from the Burrows to arrive at Saunton end of the beach.

1pm - Aircraft Depart

Planes will depart at approx 1pm.

3pm - Major Battle Display

Major Battle Display involving the storming of Little Normandy defences by 100+ re-enactors. This will be one of the biggest battle displays ever seen in the Southwest!


Vehicles will be on display all weekend


11am - Aircraft LandingPlanes will land on the beach at approx 11am.

1pm - Aircraft Depart

Planes will depart at approx 1pm.

3pm - Major Battle Display

Major Battle Display involving the storming of Little Normandy defences by 100+ re-enactors. This will be one of the biggest battle displays ever seen in the Southwest!


Vehicles will be on display all weekend


Interactive Little Normandy

Interactive Little Normandy installation – mock-up of beach defences in dunes that visitors can tour.

Interactive Allied and German Camps

Interactive Allied and German Camps – living history groups on hand to interact and talk about life as it was for ordinary soldiers.

‘War Room’

Interactive Battle of Britain ‘war room’.

Interactive History Trail

Interactive History Trail – kids have to find period characters to ask questions.

The Liberty Sisters

Period song performances by the Liberty Sisters throughout the day with a performance at The Beachside Grill or at Saunton Sands Hotel (weather depending)

Find out more about Saunton D-Day Weekend