All's fair in love and war they say. Tyneham, the English village destroyed by friendly fire...
The village of Tyneham's story is a tragic one. Near to Lulworth in south Dorset in the UK, the surrounding area has beautiful little villages, green rolling hills, and the famously handsome coastline of the Jurassic Coast - so called because of the erosion that has exposed innumerable fossils.
Another feature of the area is its connection with the British Army - in particular to its tank warfare training. The excellent Bovington Tank Museum is a short drive away too, which is a terrific place to visit and learn about the history of the tank, which is all well and good. But the MOD (Ministry of Defence) own the Lulworth Ranges, a 7,000 slab of rural Dorset that since 1917 has been given over to live-fire practise for tanks and armoured vehicles.
Part of the Armoured Fighting Vehicles Gunnery School, the land includes what was once the peaceful hamlet of Tyneham. It was inhabited since Roman times, is mentioned in the Doomsday Book and has a limestone church built in the 13th Century at its heart.
As well as the church, there was a school, a rectory, post office and several little rows of cottages, but just before Christmas 1943 it was all requisitioned in order to conduct firing tests. The fad for bumper stickers saying 'will the last person to leave so and so...' is over, and I never much cared for it, but in the case of Tyneham, the last of its 225 souls forced to flee did something profound. They left a note on the church door. It read - "Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly."
Sadly, although the evacuation was supposed to be temporary, the writer of the note, and all the other villagers never did return to live in their former homes. The land was compulsorily purchased by the army in 1948, and has been in use for training ever since.
Visiting is a poignant experience. True, the number of people wasn't large, the buildings are modest, and its ghostliness is overshadowed somewhat by the fact that there are other perfectly normal villages just a few miles away. Even so, walking round the village makes you think that it could just have easily happened anywhere in the country and how powerless everyone is in the face of the armed forces at times of war or peace.
Tyneham was just the place unlucky enough to be in the firing line, and so it goes. Literally too, as over the years its buildings have been damaged by shelling.
The scene is surreal enough as it is, but is made more so by having a good chance of seeing tanks in the distance on the route into the village. Sometimes the area is used for live firing, during which times the village and surrounding area is closed to the public - that said, it is open most weekends and public holidays. See the Tyneham & Worbarrow Website for more information on the village, and to find out when it is open. More generally there's Visit Dorset