Wanstead Flats and D Day – 80th anniversary

Thursday 6 June 2024

80 years ago, allied troops staged the biggest seaborne invasion in military history, landing thousands of soldiers on the beaches of Normandy. The liberation of Europe had begun.

Our part of east London played a role in the D Day operations. Throughout the war, Wanstead Flats was the scene of military activity, with anti-aircraft guns, barrage balloons, and a radar array part of London’s defences against the Luftwaffe. 

Anti-aircraft battery on Wanstead Flats

The anti-aircraft defences meant that the Flats and the surrounding area were frequent targets of German bombing, and some houses in the area still bear the scars of war.

Wanstead Park Avenue after an air raid

In the summer of 1944, the Flats became a muster point for troops joining the invasion force. On the 50th anniversary of D Day in 1994, one veteran remembered how they found out they were on their way to France. On 28th May, he received his pay packet in French francs. “That told us where we were going” he recalled, but from then on everyone was confined to barracks. An elaborate operation was underway to persuade the Germans that the invasion would be much further east than Normandy in the Pas de Calais. Secrecy was vital to maintain the deception.

From early June troops moved from Wanstead Flats to the Royal Docks to board ships joining the invasion fleet.  A huge convoy of army vehicles was also assembled, and a resident of Latimer Road just south of Wanstead Flats remembers seeing the streets filled with army vehicles as a little girl. Another local resident recalled that after the Americans arrived, their heavy artillery was to be seen along Capel Road. Then overnight, they were gone, on their way to France.

Field guns and ammunition in East Ham High Street North, heading from Wanstead Flats to the Royal Docks

Throughout the summer, troops passed through the area to join the invasion force. Then, later in 1944, German troops began to arrive on Wanstead Flats – as prisoners of war. A small camp opened just south of Lake House Road, which housed some of the hundreds of thousands of troops captured in the months after D-Day.

Little remains of the wartime installations on the Flats, but it is possible to see one of the mess huts used by the crews of the anti-aircraft batteries. It is next to the changing rooms on Aldersbrook Road, now used as a store by the City of London ground staff. A peacetime use for a wartime installation. 

The hut used by anti-aircraft crews in World War II is now a store used by the City of London. It is on Aldersbrook Road between the changing rooms & the Esso filling station



1 comment:

  1. We lived at 94 Capel Road.As a six year old I remember the army camp opposite on the flats around D-Day time.,especially standing outside The Golden Fleece with my Mum,Aunt and Uncle and being given handful of coins by a soldier who I guess wouldn’t have needed them in France!


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