Historical Background – The Army Camp
This is Island Farm in Bridgend. This mini village was built in 1939 to house workers at the nearby Royal Ordinance Munitions Factory. However, because most of the workers were women with families, they preferred to live at home and commute to the Arsenal, so for four years the buildings weren’t used. Then, in 1943, when the Americans arrived in Wales to prepare for D-Day, many of them stayed at the camp, while others lived in tented villages or built accommodation on the sand dunes. After D-Day, the A!lies captured many prisoners of war, and some of them were placed in Island Farm. On the 10th March 1945, seventy prisoners escaped, an event known as the Welsh Great Escape, a breakout greater than the Allied Great Escape, which later became a famous film. After the war, the site became Special Camp Eleven and received many notable prisoners, including Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt and Field Marshal Erich von Manstein while they awaited trial at Nuremberg.
This is the American army camp on Kenfig sand dunes, a home to servicemen from 1943-4. On the picture you will see the main road, the trails running through the dunes, a small section of the pool (bottom right) and the regular quarters of the army camp. The beaches of South Wales were considered similar to the beaches of Normandy, and therefore served as ideal preparation for the D-Day landings. The servicemen practiced their manoeuvres on these dunes and beaches, firing thousands of rounds of ammunition from rifles, pistols and machine guns. Evidence of tank activity and mortar craters can still be found within the dunes.
Led by Major General Lloyd Brown, the 28th Infantry Division left America for South Wales on 8th October 1943. Upon their arrival they began their training for D-Day. On 22nd July 1944 the division landed in Normandy, seven weeks after the initial D-Day landings, and were involved in Operation Cobra. The 28th Infantry Division pushed east towards Paris through the Bocage. Five weeks later, on 29th August 1944, they were given the honour of marching down the Champs-Elysées to mark the Liberation of Paris, pictured.
The 28th Infantry Division and the planes at nearby Stormy Down used live ammunition in their training on Kenfig sand dunes and beaches. Every year, munitions surface in the sand. When mortar bombs appear, as this did recently, the bomb disposal squad are called in to conduct a controlled explosion.
Although live ammunition was used in training, thankfully there are not many recorded incidents of mishaps. However, on 5th April 1942 a Whitley bomber with gunnery trainees on board fired at a Lysander target tug. The gun jammed only to clear as the Whitley flew across the seafront at Porthcawl. The burst of bullets killed an ATS woman as she walked out of a cook-house. An example of the dangers civilians had to cope with on the home front. The picture is of another Second World War bomb found recently on Kenfig sand dunes.
The pool at Kenfig, a natural, freshwater feature, is inviting. However, it does contain certain dangers, particularly amongst its reeds. In 1944 three American soldiers went swimming in Kenfig Pool, and got into difficulties. Their plight was spotted by a local man, Mr Harries. Although he only had one leg, Mr Harries was a noted swimmer. But unfortunately his prowess could not save the soldiers and they drowned. Despite this sad outcome, Mr Harries’ bravery did not go unnoticed and he was later highly commended by the American authorities. Shortly after this incident the soldiers of the 28th Infantry Division completed their training and embarked on the beaches of Normandy.
Below are DUKWs on Coney Beach, Porthcawl. When the 28th Infantry Division returned home they left these amphibious craft behind and the locals used them for pleasure trips along the beaches and into the sea.
What did the locals make of these thousands of soldiers in their small town? Here are some quotes from young women who were there.
“They introduced us to new words – okay, super, gee whiz, babe, doll and honey.”
“They had an endless supply of chewing gum, chocolate and nylon stockings.”
“The dance halls were crowded. Girls used to flock to dance with the soldiers.”
“I remember their smart barathea uniforms with their Red Indian corps flashes.”
“One American soldier struck up a friendship with a local woman who worked at the Arsenal. He used to call her his ‘little Welsh daffodil’ because the chemicals she worked with turned her skin temporarily yellow.”