Sunday 22nd July 2018

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Pioneer Corps (at Compton Verney from 1940-1945)

Quest information

“During the Second World War the army took over Compton Verney. The Pioneer Corps were based at the house in 1940 and used the park to practice for smoke screen camouflage. The important officers stayed in rooms in the house with lower ranked officers up in the attics. The other soldiers lived in huts in the grounds. Later in the war the Belgian Special Air Services used the estate for training.

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The house suffered a great deal of damage from the army during this time. The soldiers also took pot shots at the Upper Bridge and its sphinxes were badly damaged and covered in bullet holes. The sphinxes were remade in the 1980s and restored to bridge in 2004.”

The owners of Compton Verney – the Lambs moved out when the house was requisitioned by the army when the Second World War broke out. From 1940 the park was used as an experimental station in its new role as an outstation for the Leamington based Camouflage Unit.

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Things got broken and as early as October 1941 an official report concluded that there was already significant damage to the walls, doors and interior decoration. Windows were smashed in the stables, water leaked into the hall and the plaster ceiling collapsed in 1944. The masonry on the North Wing was used for sharpening knives.

The Upper bridge was wrecked – a gardener reported soldiers were responsible for deliberately pushing over a section of the balustrading on the west side. Some say this happened on VE day.

By 1945 an estimated 300 tons of redundant barbed wire surrounded the site, whilst numerous smoke bombs littered the area – one was discovered as late as 1995.

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Compton Verney was one of many large houses requisitioned during the Second World War and many suffered considerably as a consequence. Compton Verney’s decline continued rapidly after the war.

The Pioneer Corps began as infantry and cavalry reserves were made into Works Labour companies in 1939. In 1940 they became the Pioneer Corps and were used for a variety of tasks in the Second World War including logistical operations, such as putting tracks on beaches and building Mulberry Harbour for the D-DAY landings.

The Pioneer Corps was the only unit allowed to include “enemy aliens” and included German and Austrian nationals – many who were Jews – who wanted to fight Hitler.

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