Page last updated at 00:15 GMT, Saturday, 6 June 2009 01:15 UK

Where D-Day took its test drive

The village of Garlieston served as a testing ground for much of the equipment which was used to build mobile harbours used on D-Day

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South of Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Looking out beyond the bowling green and village hall in Garlieston there sits a small and quiet harbour.

A few visitors mill around nearby while a handful of locals go about their daily business.

There is little to suggest that during World War II this was one of the most important testing grounds for the Normandy landings of D-Day.

Only a sign at the village entrance, an inscribed stone and a carefully-tended display highlight its historic role.

In 1943, the small village in south west Scotland became a stand-in for the coast of northern France.

Suddenly the harbour just filled up with all sorts of strange craft that we had never seen before
Fraser Evans
Garlieston resident

It proved the perfect test base for the Mulberry Harbours which were later used to help allied forces land on 6 June 1944.

The tidal and weather conditions were the best match that could be found for the French coastline.

Tucked away in the bottom left-hand corner of Scotland, the village was also nicely concealed from prying eyes.

Jane Evans, who lives in Garlieston and co-wrote the book A Harbour Goes To War, remains fascinated by the story.

She sparks with passion for her subject as she describes the amazing operation.

Over just eight months, equipment had to be built and tested to create two massive mobile structures the size of Dover harbour.

The breakwaters, piers, roadways and bridges would then be towed into position to allow troops and vehicles to get to dry land.

Mulberry works
Tons of materials were brought to southern Scotland in 1943

The technology was developed in a variety of places, but most of it was tried out in the Dumfries and Galloway village.

Mrs Evans explained: "The very clever thing was that they got all the different components and structures built in different parts of the country.

"But everybody that was building them did not know what they were for or what they were going to be used as.

"It was only after D-Day that they discovered they had been working on the same thing."

That "thing" was a massive Mulberry Harbour - two of which would be used to allow allied troops and vehicles to land in France.

They were to transform the village of Garlieston.

Mrs Evans' husband, Fraser, was a young farmer when that change occurred.

Prying eyes

"Suddenly the harbour just filled up with all sorts of strange craft that we had never seen before," he recalled.

In these days of blogs, social networks and easy internet access such images would have been sent around the world in seconds.

But in 1943, initial attempts at keeping locals at bay were soon dropped.

Mr Evans said: "At the very beginning there was a sentry box and wire going down to the harbour, then that disappeared.

"They realised that if anybody wanted to see it they could come up to our place and look down at it.

Garlieston sign
The sign at the entrance to Garlieston honours its role

"By leaving it open like that it indicated that this wasn't terribly important."

Nobody, however, dreamed of questioning what was going on.

"I think war makes people shrug their shoulders," said Mrs Evans.

"You were told not to talk about things and you didn't talk."

It did not stop the locals from watching the Mulberry equipment being put through its paces in some treacherous weather conditions.

Mr Evans remembers quite clearly watching a lorry trying out one of the flexible bridges during a "hell of a gale".

He said: "The waves were so big, that the lorry disappeared out of sight in between them."

It was precisely those kind of conditions that helped to test the harbours to the full and, ultimately, ensured their success.

Key role

In addition, hours and hours of repetitive training was carried out to try to guarantee that everything went to plan when D-Day arrived.

It was 31 May 1944 that Garlieston's key role in the operation came to an end.

The harbour equipment began its journey to the south of England before finally being put into action for real.

The Scottish village then returned to its normal life and the last visible piece of equipment collapsed into the water a few years ago.

However, local residents like Fraser and Jane Evans have not forgotten the part Garlieston played in the beginning of the end of World War II.

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