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Tavistock has a special connection with the D-Day landings.






















From July 1943 until May 1944, American soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division of the US Army were based at Abbotsfield Hall in Tavistock, commanded by Major General Charles. H. Gerhard. Part of V Corps United States 1st Army, the task that lay ahead for them was the invasion of Europe - now known as the D-Day landings - and they used their base in Tavistock to prepare for the military maneouvre. Locals recall tents and military vehicles on Whitchurch Down, even a field hospital and landing strip.


During their stay, many of the soldiers became part of life in Tavistock. They serviced their vehicles at Matthew's Garage on Duke Street, played baseball in the Meadows, had a social club on West Street and enjoyed a tipple or two at the White Hart on Brook Street. It is thought that some 40 local girls became GI Brides.


The Americans were always courteous and friendly, often surprising local children with treats of chocolate or bubblegum. In one especially memorable act of kindness during Christmas of 1943, they took over the town’s two cinemas for a day, invited all the local children and generously distributed gifts.

Tavistock lays claim to a number of high profile visits at this time including, in April 1944, a meeting between the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower and Overall Land Commander, Lt General Sir Bernard Montgomery at Abbotsfield Hall. Today it is a nursing home and there is a plaque above the fireplace recording the meeting in the room they used.

Late in May 1944, the 29th Infantry Division left Tavistock destined for Omaha Beach in Normandy as part of the operation to re-capture mainland Europe from German Occupation. Hundreds and hundreds of soldiers, four abreast and dressed for battle, marched silently down from the Whitchurch Road, crossed the Abbey Bridge, down Plymouth Road until they passed Drake Statue. A large crowd gathered to watch but there was no cheering nor flag waving, no bands played, just the eery sound of their boots and the occasional sobs of a local girl. Everyone knew something 'big' was about to happen.

Sadly, many of the American servicemen based in Tavistock were the first to land at the Omaha Beach, where they sustained heavy casualties.Very little went as planned. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of the landing craft to miss their targets throughout the day. They encountered opposition from well-entrenched German forces and in the early stages of the landing the Americans were pinned down on the beach by heavy German mortar and machine-gun fire which caused horrific casualties (around 3,000 plus) in a short time. Finally, after bloody fighting, the beachhead was secured, and in the second wave the 29th Infantry Division's 115th Infantry Regiment landed, later the entire division came ashore.

Once inland the 29th Infantry Division was involved in bitter fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy. It helped capture St. Lo in a fierce and devastating battle, moved on to take Brest in the Brittany Peninsula, and by the end of the war had fought their way across Western Europe into Germany. After VE Day they were on duty with the occupational force in Germany until the end of 1945, and returned to the United States in January 1946. They were demobilised on the 17th January 1946 at Camp Kilner, New Jersey.

Today, you can find out more about our place in the D-Day landings in an exhibition at Tavistock Museum.

Credit: Peter Gallie.and Tavistock Museum

Here is how you can mark the 80th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings here in Tavistock.

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