Tyneham: the British village that time forgot

Imagine receiving a notice to say that you must leave your family home within the next month in order to ‘help the national war effort’. Few would have begrudged the cause in the autumn of 1943, but for the villages of Tyneham in Dorset this would still have been a letter that they hoped they would never receive.

Tyneham School House

Preparations for the D-day landings were in full swing and the Army had developed new, more powerful tanks. These tanks required more space on the Dorset firing ranges for their exercises and the village of Tyneham was suddenly an unwelcome obstacle on their local map. With success in the Normandy landings of paramount importance, the government issued letters to the 225 residents in November 1943 requiring them to move out by the following month.

The move was meant to be temporary as the poignant note pinned to the church door suggests:

Note on Tyneham Church door

The hand-written note reads, “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”.

Almost 70 years later and the villagers of Tyneham (and their descendants) have long given up hope of ever returning to their homes. The military continued to use the land for their exercises as the war ended and the Cold War began. In 1975 the Army did allow access to the village and the surrounding countryside on weekends and during holiday periods, and that situation persists today.

Tyneham church

The village school has been recreated to show a classroom from the time it was last used. The coat pegs by the door still bear the names of the children of the time while a piano sits along one wall, silently gathering dust. The adjacent village church is also a museum with excellent interpretative displays telling the history of Tyneham long before the 20th century as well as an explanation of life during the war years.

Inside the school house in Tyneham

While the church and the school have survived intact the same cannot be said of the houses of Tyneham, many of which have fallen victim of bombardment by practising troops. Little more than shells remain of most properties, no doubt a sad reminder to those few surviving people who remember their childhood years in this tiny village set in the most idyllic of valleys.

Only the fires remain

Tyneham is a village where time really did stop in 1943. Those temporary evacuations became permanent and houses fell into ruin while people had to get on with their lives elsewhere. Perhaps the residents of Tyneham did feel that they made a valuable contribution to the war effort. This sense of public duty must have been tinged however with more than a little personal sadness at the great sacrifice they had been forced to make.
Phone box in Tyneham

Abandoned tank nearby

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Freelance travel writer

8 Responses to “Tyneham: the British village that time forgot”

  1. That is fascinating. I’ve never heard of this before, despite living in England for 40 years before emigrating. I’ve definitely put it on my list as somewhere to look up next time I go “home”.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:13 pm
  2. Such a sad story. The residents of Tyneham must feel some pride that they helped with the war effort but it is sad that all of their childhood memories have been taken. Did they receive any compensation, or help with the rehousing?

    June 29, 2011 at 11:57 am
  3. Slapton in Devon is another village. I’m sure there are many other examples all over Britain.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm
  4. This is such a poignant example of one of the lesser talked about results of war and conflict. If makes me wonder what other villages and towns throughout the world have met a similar fate. I will most certainly be visiting Tyneham on my next visit to England.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:10 pm
  5. It’s quite a sad story, really, made all the more poignant by the note left on the church door. What a fascinating place… I hope to visit one day.

    July 1, 2011 at 3:50 pm
  6. Thank you so much for sharing this! Just thought I’d give you a heads-up that we’ve featured your piece in today’s media round-up over on the Atlas Obscura Blog (link: http://atlasobscura.com/blog/friday-media-round-up-adventures-and-oddities). Keep doing what you’re doing!
    Senior Editor,
    Atlas Obscura

    July 1, 2011 at 10:19 pm
  7. wow they actually have a tank! I want to go take a picture of that now (and of course wondering around the village).

    July 8, 2011 at 11:36 pm
  8. Wow, what a great village with a sad story!

    May 3, 2012 at 8:38 pm