Are you aware of the role that the North Wessex Downs near Chieveley played in supporting D Day preparations?

2024 marks the 80th anniversary of the Normandy (D-Day) landings that began the liberation of Western Europe and ultimately tipped the course of the Second World War. A small area nestled in the North Wessex Downs, just west of Chieveley between Boxford and Leckhampstead, played a significant top-secret role in this world event.

The valley, close to RAF Welford, was used on 23 March 1944 as a site for what became known as ‘The Big Drop’ during which close to 3,000 troops and equipment of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment and 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion parachuted from Dakota C-47 planes onto farmland east of RAF Welford as a practice for the D-Day landings.

Prior to the Big Drop British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and General Dwight D Eisenhower inspected the American troops of the elite 101st Airbourne Division at Newbury Racecourse and a glider display took place with many of these aircraft manufactured at Elliotts of Newbury. The company was founded by Samuel Elliott in 1870 as a joinery works, Elliott's Moulding and Joinery Company Ltd. During the Second World War, a largely female workforce produced components for aircraft, including the Supermarine Spitfire and Supermarine Walrus, de Havilland Tiger Moth, de Havilland Mosquito, Airspeed Oxford and Airspeed Horsa gliders. Elliotts manufactured about one third of total Horsa production.

D-Day Practice Drop Zone

Why not walk along the Big Drop zone

A fascinating new walking route along existing and permitted rights of way close to Court Oak Farm, Leckhampstead has recently been established supported by the installation of a series of information boards with archive photos of the event as well as personal memories to enable walkers to learn more about this momentous occasion.

D-Day Drop Zone Info Board

Route distance & approximate duration: 2.6 miles (4.23 km)

Estimated walking duration: 01:15

Difficulty: Fairly easy (some gentle inclines, steps/stiles).

Accessibility: Not suitable for wheelchairs or prams/pushchairs.

Toilets: There are no toilets on the route

Nearest Parking is available in Boxford and Leckhampstead

D-Day Drop Zone Walk Map

A suggested start point:

At start of byway, Boxford, Welford, West Berkshire, RG20 8RH.

What3words: warblers.chefs.sides. OS grid reference: SU 433 734.

OS Maps:

QR code for Drop Zone walk