I walked over the Highcliffe Footbridge across the M3 during the rush hour last Friday. The South Downs looked gorgeous in the evening sunshine, but I’m sure the motorway drivers didn’t appreciate them. As usual, the southbound traffic was crawling – the tired commuters, a lorry driver returning to the docks and a weekender with a jet ski on a trailer must have been longing to reach the coast.
The scene can’t have been so very different in 1944, when the Winchester bypass was ‘repurposed’ as a tank park. One of the first dual carriageways in the country, the bypass was perfect for the job: the US Army lined up their tanks on one carriageway and set up camp on the other. More tanks were parked up along The Avenue, a staging post from Alresford Station, where they were off-loaded from the railway by the 47th Regiment (with Hambone Junior’s assistance, of course!) I doubt the tank drivers were as eager to push onwards as a motorist in a modern traffic jam, but as tension built up to D-Day, they must have been keen to get moving again.
There’s another memory from WWII days preserved in the name of the ‘Spitfire Link’, a road leading up to the modern M3. The boring concrete bridge spanning the motorway near here used to be an elegant parabolic arch – until a Curtiss Tomahawk fighter plane flew under it in 1941. The pilot clipped the bridge and left three feet of his plane behind, but walked away unscathed. Local folk assumed that only a Spitfire pilot would dare to do such a thing and so the name has stuck.
D-Day The Winchester Connection, Bill Yates & George Fothergill