The start of the invasion
by Raymond Pidgley
My family lived in the School House in between the church and the school at Godshill, near Fordingbridge, we had moved there from Bournemouth at the commencement of the war.
At the Southampton end of the village nearly opposite the 'Fighting Cocks' Public House, was a small R.A.F. Detachment, living in a concrete hut surrounded by some wooden huts where they kept their vehicles and equipment, and whose job it was to look after the 'Bombing Range' which was fenced in, and took up most of the forest.
They also had a 'Bomb Disposal' Squad stationed there which were kept fairly busy at times.
They had a large truck with 'Bomb Disposal' written on the sides in Red Paint.
Inside the Bombing Range fence, was parked some obsolete aircraft which the RAF continually practised bombing, although mostly everyone knew that they were practising with new types of bombs.
At the side of their range at Godshill Wood was the Firing Range for the Godshill Home Guard, which the Home Guard used mostly at week ends.
We very often scrambled under the fence and played in the aeroplanes, hiding at times from the RAF Guards that frequented the area.
We also knew where the Home Guard dug holes to bury their live ammunition, ready for the following week-ends practise.
The American Air Force arrived, mostly at Ibsley Aerodrome, near Ringwood, and I can clearly remember when two of their planes smacked into each other, and crashed near Frogham, which was just over the hill from Godshill.
One of the American Pilots managed to 'bail out' even though he had lost a leg in the crash and noone spotted him, with the exception of my brother Oliver, who made his way through the forest and found him, bound his leg with the parachute, and made his way over the hill to Stuckton to fetch help.
When Oliver arrived at the scene of the crash where one of the planes had crashed into a farmhouse, none of the policemen or airmen would let him near the scene, until an American Officer in a jeep noticed his agitation, and took him in his vehicle over the forest to where this american pilot was lying in agony.
He was transported to Odstock Hospital, which was then an American Hospital, and my brother visited him there until he was sent back to the United States, and my brother lost touch with him when he joined the Artillery.
At the top of the village of Redlynch, just outside the Bombing Range Fence, there was an experimental station, with some huts where some of the workers lived, and further down into the forest near where my Grandfather lived at Godshillwood, was a line of concrete huts where explosive experiments were carried out.
Sometimes at night the Bombing Range was lit with coloured lights to attract the German Bombers to drop their bombs in the New Forest instead of Southampton, which meant that the forest was dotted with large bomb holes.
Early in the morning, on the day of the allied invasion of France we were awakened by a sky that was absolutely smothered in aircraft and Gliders, and the road through Godshill was jammed with american trucks and tanks, mostly American, that were making their way through the village to Southampton to board ships on the way to invade France.
In a field opposite the school where we lived there was a large barn which belonged to a Godshill Farmer, Jimmy Witt Jnr, and this barn was soon to be filled with wounded troops returning from the French Landing Beaches.
There was a schoolboy friend of mine, that lived at Newgrounds, a little village between Godshill and the Bombing Range, his name was Roy Horsburgh, and I did not know it, but he joined the Royal Marines, the same as my elder brother, unfortunately he was injured in a training accident, and you can imagine my surprise when after he recovered he was posted to my recruit squad 602 Squad, and we met up again at Commando School which was then at Bickleigh in Devon, and we were both posted to 40 Commando, where my elder brother was,in the Canal Zone, I remember that just before meeting up with Roy I won the Light Welter Weight Boxing Championship of the Royal Marines, when I was still a recruit at Portsmouth.
We both sat the examination for corporal together at El Ballah, in the Canal Zone in Egypt in 1954.
Soon after that I served on HMS Surprise with Lord Louis Mountbatten the Commander in Chief Middle East, who was an Uncle of Prince Phillip, the Queens husband.
My other brother George, joined the Royal Army Service Corps, served abroad for most of his service, and later lived at Downton.
What a fantastic family history you have Raymond!
Thank you so much for sharing this with us - this is very close to areas of the New Forest I know very well too.
Has anyone got anything to contribute to Raymond's wonderful tale or are you one of the people he mentions??? Please add your comments and we can build an even bigger and fascinating history of wartime New Forest life.