The Unknown Warriors

Relive the Wartime Experience with the National Trust  




Seventy years on from the outbreak of the Second World War on 3 September, 1939, the National Trust has published a list of it's properties that played an important role in the war effort.


Many historic houses and areas of coast and countryside now in the care of the National Trust offer a unique insight into work that was going on behind the scenes.  


A top secret radar testing site, a mansion that housed map-makers for the Dam Buster raids, a former RAF hospital and the home of Sir Winston Churchill are just some of the places where the atmosphere of wartime Britain can still be experienced.




Here’s a selection of sites to visit:


Map-making for RAF dam buster raids at Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire.


Codenamed 'Hillside', Hughenden Manor, former home of Victorian Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, played an important part in the allied bombing offensive. Here, a team of artists, designers, architects and cartoonists created nearly all the target maps used by RAF bomber crews for missions such as the Dam Buster raids, airborne D-Day landings and for an attack on ‘Eagle’s Nest’, Hitler’s secret bunker at Berchtesgaden.  Hidden beneath the trees, difficult to spot from the air, and just down the road from Bomber Command at Naphill, it was the perfect spot for the RAF to plan with pinpoint accuracy where allied bombs would drop.  You can listen to the experiences of the map makers in a special audio tour.


Top secret radar development site at Croome Park, Worcestershire.


Experience the conditions for the sick and injured at Croome Park which was requisitioned in 1941 to form part of a new airfield, RAF Defford.  The Telecommunications Flying Unit operated flights out of Defford with civilian scientists and aircrews drawn from the RAF and Royal Navy.  The RADAR systems tested on these flights were to revolutionise the operational capability of Allied aircraft, aiding in combat against the German U-boat menace and critical to the success of the Battle of the Atlantic.  Croome Park is also home to Britain’s last remaining WWII RAF hospital that treated that 2,500 personnel based at RAF Defford.  The site has been recently redeveloped to feature a 1940s-style canteen, visitor reception, shop and exhibition room.


Gun placement to fend off the Luftwaffe at The Needles Old Battery, Isle of Wight.


The strategic position of The Needles Old Battery on the Isle of Wight was originally built in Victorian times to protect Portsmouth and Southampton against a French invasion.  During World War II however, the main threat to the Needles was from the German Luftwaffe.  The battery played its part against German aircraft laying mines in the Needles Passage and in several battles, including the battle of convoy CW9.  The eerie 60 metre searchlight tunnel is still in place and you can see a variety of different guns and shells on display that were used at the time.


The home of Sir Winston Churchill, Chartwell in Kent.


Feel the presence of Sir Winston Churchill at Chartwell which he bought 1924 and in which he lived in for the rest of his life.  Despite being closed for the majority of the war, its location making it a potential target for German bombers and commando-style attack, Churchill made several visits back to Chartwell through the war years. He used it as a base for preparing speeches, to prepare for negotiations and to check on his wildlife!  The rooms and gardens remain much as they were when he lived here, with over 5,000 items personally associated with Churchill including pictures, books, maps and personal mementoes strongly evoking the career and wide-ranging interests of this great statesman.  


Bomb ballistics and firing trials at Orford Ness in Suffolk


Explore the top secret Orford Ness, purchased by the War Office in 1913 as a secret site to research using aircraft as weapons of war in a way that had never been done before.  By 1939, the research at Orford Ness was already in full swing, with many of the products of the research playing vital roles in military equipment during the Second World War.  Radar and self-sealing fuel tanks are amongst Orford’s most famous inventions, but it was also a vital place in the development and testing of both firing trials and bomb ballistics and remains a fascinating and unique ‘secret’ site.




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