Going to Tyneham, a small village in Dorset is like a trip back in time.
Seven decades ago, one fateful month in 1943, Tyneham’s residents were given the orders to leave their tiny village as the government was going to use it for military training.
The final inhabitants of the village left in quick haste that day. leaving a note pinned on the door of Tyneham’s church:
‘Thank you for treating the village kindly.’
However, after the war not one of its 225 inhabitants returned.
And Tyneham is left a ghost of the past. Currently, all that are left of the once inhabited village are roofless shells of farm houses, cottages, a post office and the rectory. Nevertheless, as curious tourists pass by these seven-decade-old edifices, they still get a glimpse of what life was like back then.
The 3003-acre Tyneham estate, which was situated near Wareham, was owned by the Bonds for over 300 years.
It was during the fall of 1943 when villagers were given a month’s notice by the government to evacuate their homes – the reason cloaked in mystery, so much like the other plans of the Allies in preparation for D-Day.
This was all what was written in the official letter given to the people of Tyneham informing them of their impending move:
“The Government appreciate that this is no small sacrifice which you are asked to make, but they are sure that you will give this further help towards winning the war with a good heart.”
They were then, at first, given the promise that they could return to their homes soon after World War II. However, demands of the Cold War had meant the use of the village as training ground for the military had to continue.
90-year-old Commander Mark Bond, is one of the surviving residents of Tyneham. He was the son of the family owning the estate and had been a prisoner of war. He only knew about the takeover when his father picked him from Wareham station in 1945 and told him they were already living elsewhere.
My father greeted me and I remember being in the car when he told me ‘We’re living in Corfe Castle’,” he recalled.
He then added that his father showed “resigned patriotism” about the whole takeover thing which meant the family had to lose their ancestral home:
“He understood with the war coming to its climax it was absolutely necessary to give tanks the proper training area.”
The WWII vet then, admitted to feeling mixed emotions when he sees the ruins that was Tyneham.
“It has its old magic and a rather sorrowful background,” he said then added, “I’m sad that what I knew of the people and the village no longer exists and the houses are in ruins.”
Throughout the following years after the war, some residents had issued a comeback call into the village.
For one, a certain John Gould, one of Tyneham’s inhabitants, wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Harold Wilson pleading to the government that the village be returned to its dwellers in 1974.
“Tyneham to me is the most beautiful place in the world and I want to give the rest of my life and energy to its restoration … Most of all, I want to go home,” his written plea stated.
Painting Another Picture
On the other hand, Lynda Price, who had spent the last two decades going through the Tyneham’s history and making displays for visitors, gave a warning about “rose-painting” the town.
“While it was a traumatic experience, especially for the older residents, many people don’t appreciate it was basically a feudal set-up with people working for the Bond family,” she said.
The advent of the motor car was one death signal for the village; it had given Tyneham’s dwellers an opportunity to escape working in the fields and finding a means of income elsewhere.
In 1932, Miss price said, Tyneham’s school closed due to the lack of students.
the rise of modern farm machinery also meant only few hands were needed in the farm while the estate’s fishing community situated in Worbarrow Bay had growing fishing competitions in Weymouth.
the Bonds may have received a compensation of 30,000 pounds for their lands’ loss, but the tenants who lived in tied houses did not officially own any of the land so, they were, reportedly, only given compensations for the crops they grew in their gardens.
“Nevertheless, they had electricity in their new homes and running water, rather than having to queue at the village pump,” Miss Price added.
Additionally, a comeback to the village was made more unlikely as local builders looted the village for building materials.
“There was a lot of pilfering after the war. It was under the radar but everyone knew it was happening,” she stated.
In the course of time, the Ministry of Defense turned the ruins into a tourist attraction allowing tours in times when there is no training taking place within the area.
The Remains of War
Tyneham Village is not the only one of its kind – there are others who suffered the same fate as it did during WWII, take for example Stanford in Norfolk and the Wiltshire village of Imber.
What could have happened if Tyneham’s inhabitants had really returned to it will always remain unknown — it could have turned out to be a quaint tourist spot with small hotels, cafes and leisure parks.
Worbarrow Bay is one of the most peaceful places there is in the coast and due to this, the Tyneham site gets to have many visitors each weekend. However, there are by-laws that prevent the purchase of any goods much less converting the land into a conventional tourist attraction which sits really well with Miss Price.
“It’s just a joy – from the story you get a sense of belonging and can foster the nostalgia and the feeling of it being frozen in time,” she said.
Meanwhile, a band of singers and musicians want to commemorate the sacrifice the tiny Dorset village made for WWII and have decided to stage a play based on its story.
“I was always fascinating by Tyneham. Every time I visit I’ve come away captivated and slightly haunted, I guess.
“It’s a story of human determination and stoicism. It was an awfully sad thing to happen to a community which had been there for hundreds of years, but they really took it on the chin,” Geoff Tizzard King, the play’s producer, said and even went on to describe the the villagers as “refugees of war”.
At dusk, when all the tourists are gone and Tyneham is left to itself is when the musical’s theme rings ever so disturbingly – ‘Can you hear the whispers in the walls?’