A GROUP of living historians were in Bridport at the weekend marking the 71st anniversary of the American troops leaving for the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

The enthusiasts were re-creating the American camps in Walditch as a way of honouring the 1st US army Infantry Division – or the Big Red as it was called – who suffered enormous losses on Omaha beach.

The historians, gathered outside the Literary and Scientific Institute at the start of the weekend to highlight the fact that the building was used as a medical detachment training centre and dental surgery.It was also a rest and recreation centre run by the British Red Cross throughout the war for the British, American and Canadian troops.

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The US troops numbered 1000 by the time the battalion left for the D-Day invasion.

Some were billeted with families, others lived in Nissan huts, the Masonic Hall, Drill Hall, the Hyde or cottages in Walditch and West Bay.

There was some fiction over the GIs muscling in on the local girls, says local expert Robin Stapleton, but the overall impression was they settled in quickly and got on with the locals.

Living historian unit commander Ian Malugani said: “The weekend was one of the best.

“We had quite a few of the village come up and have a drink with us on the Saturday evening and we explained why we there.

“It was very poignant because it was the 71st anniversary to the day when the 1st Infantry actually left Walditch.

“We do try to portray the life that they led not just the battles. These guys were 4000 miles from home and had quite an impact on the village and the local area.

“We also use the weekend for training. We do gas mask training, compass and map work and first aid for soldiers. We had a St John Ambulance man here who tailored it towards dealing with the sort of injuries you could expect on the battlefield.”

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Mr Malugani said the history group does shows all around the country but if they had to choose only one event it would be Walditch.

He said the special church service was also very moving.

“The fact that we can walk down Whitehall with our placards, moan about who was elected, that is what these guys died for.”

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