Every town has its notable quirks and features that it has accumulated over its lifetime; but not everyone knows the history that you can’t see anymore. This week’s post remembers the 228th American Hospital at Haydon Park just outside the town.
Well, Remembrance Sunday is rapidly approaching.
The 11th of November.
The 11th Day of the 11th Month, when we remember the end of World Wars I & II.
This year I very much want us all to remember the 228th American Camp that was stationed at Haydon Park just outside Sherborne.
This was a field hospital for the American troops. It was built by the Americans in 1943 between Milborne Port and Sherborne at Haydon, part of the Sherborne Castle Estates.
This field hospital was a safe area for the injured troops who were brought back from the fighting on the Normandy beaches.
But a tragedy happened in 1944. A huge tragedy involving an anti tank mine explosion and the American troops who were training at the camp for the D Day landings. 29 Americans of the United States Army lost their lives.
A live minefield had been laid in Sherborne Park.
On completion of the training exercises for the morning all the mines were gathered up and stacked onto a large truck.
Then the truck suddenly slipped backwards, activating one of the live mines, and consequently the whole truck load burst apart in a colossal explosion.
There were no survivors.
This dreadful accident happened 500 yards South South East of Sherborne Castle in the field to the South of the public footpath running from the slopes in Sherborne out to Haydon Lodge.
Some of the agricultural workers who were working in a nearby field reported:
“It was a tremendous explosion.
One of the trucks disintegrated completely and many others were severely damaged.
Mutilated bodies everywhere.
It was an appalling scene.”
Later a spokesman for the United States Forces confirmed that it was the largest single loss of American servicemen since their arrival in England.
This story was documented as “locational sensitivity” and was not released for some time after the war had ended.
Sherborne War Memorial in front of the Abbey displays two plaques commemorating the 294 Engineers Combat Battalion of the United States Army.
One plaque displays the names of the 29 members of the ‘C’ Company who were killed on the 20th March 1944. Killed in an anti-tank mine explosion whilst training in Sherborne for the D Day landings.
The second plaque is inscribed:
On June 6th 1989, surviving members of the 294 Engineering Combat Battalion presented this plaque to commemorate its members killed in action and to express its gratitude to the people of Sherborne for their friendship in 1944 while the Battalion completed its preparation for the invasion of Europe.
The Battalion left this town to serve as a part of the VII Army Corps in the battle in Normandy , northern France, the Hürtgen Forest, the Ardennes, the Rhineland and central Germany. We recall those killed during those campaigns.
The hospital in the Haydon Camp was disbanded in 1945 and had treated over 22,000 patients both Allied and Prisoners Of War during its short life time.
Sherborne Library contains Jean Treasure’s excellent book about her experience as a young secretary working for the Americans at the hospital. Sadly Jean has now died, but her husband continues to live in Sherborne.
In 1945 the disbanded hospital was handed over by the MOD to the National Assistance Board for housing Displaced People; mostly families and relatives of the Polish Soldiers returning from Europe to be resettled by the Polish Resettlement Corps.
Eventually, after they had left, the camp was dismantled and the whole area returned to agricultural use.
Each year during the Remembrance Sunday parade in November, a major from the US Corps of Engineers, an attachment to the School of Infantry in Westminster, places a wreath on Sherborne’s War Memorial.
This year I want to remember these servicemen.
These men who came to Sherborne, all so young, each and every one someone’s child, someone’s son.
We will remember them.
At the going down of the sun, we will remember them.