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DVD marks US troops' Devon story
Flamethrower practice at Saunton Golf Course
Flamethrower practice at Saunton Golf Course

By Julie Fisher
BBC Radio Devon, North Devon reporter

Over sexed, overpaid and over here was the good-hearted banter between the war-wearied Brits and the hordes of Yanks who'd arrived in Britain.

And they brought with them what seemed like endless supplies of chocolate, gum and stockings.

10,000 of those boisterous young American soldiers descended on the little community of Braunton in North Devon in 1943.

And the locals had no idea what debt of gratitude they would end up owing them.

Now, the village museum has won £23,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to tell the forgotten story of the US troops who spent six months on Braunton Burrows training to storm the Normandy beaches on D-Day.

"Of the 10,000 troops that trained here a quarter of them perished on the beaches of Normandy and I would suggest that probably another 2,000 -2,500 didn't see the end of the war."

The whole tragic story has fascinated military historian Richard Bass for 20 years and he'll be heading up the new project.

When the soldiers left Braunton in April 1944 they went to Slapton for Exercise Tiger to rehearse the D-Day Landings.

Marching across the burrows
Marching across the Burrows

German E-Boats attacked the beach, killing nearly 1,000 Americans.

Richard says north Devon's beaches are of world importance because of the part they played in the way the war turned out.

"The Americans were very fortunate getting hold of Saunton Sands and Woolacombe.

"They found out after the war it was an exact replica of Omaha Beach. The rise and fall of the tide, the gradient of the sand and the quality of the sand."

"The Americans realised when they landed in the UK the troops they were going to send to Normandy had no training in amphibious warfare whatsoever.

"The training was absolutely vital to teach them how to get on and off landing craft, how to storm enemy defences, how to take them on.

"They actually had to start learning tactics right from the very beginning."

Locals who remember the Americans training will be interviewed for the project.

Their memories will end up on a DVD for the community. It'll also go on sale at Braunton Museum.

Teenagers from Braunton Community College will do the interviews and each of the 14 and 15-year-olds taking part will trace the life of a soldier.

Practising dummy beach landings
Practising beach landings in dummy landing craft

They'll also visit the Normandy beaches where the men fought and so many died.

15-year-old Ollie Greatreck is nervous about starting the research.

"My soldier's called Thomas E Riley and he's from Virginia.

"After studying these men for a long time you may have some attachment to them, finding out whether they survived or not - it could upset you or relieve you."

Student Becky Oscroft is moved by the soldiers' sacrifice.

"It's quite upsetting really, they did something for us, they gave their lives.

"It's a massive point in history what happened on D-Day in Normandy. We're going to have researched it so to be there is going to be amazing."

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