I thought I heard bleating as I walked up Drove Lane last week: it was easy to imagine ghostly sheep filling the lane around me on their way to the Alresford Sheep Fair. And no wonder – shepherds and their dogs have been driving Hampshire sheep along that track since the middle ages. Harder to imagine though, was the use the GIs put the lane to in 1944.
The 9th Infantry Division were the US Army experts in amphibious warfare: they had already invaded the beaches of French Morocco and Sicily before they arrived in Hampshire. Alresford, with its branching streams and lakes, was the perfect location for the 47th Regiment to prepare themselves for the biggest amphibious invasion in history. On the map above, you’ll notice that Drove Lane crosses a branch of the River Arle, and it was here that the American soldiers dammed the trout stream to build a deep vehicle testing pool beside the bridge. (I’ve read they did some grenade fishing there, too.)
I’ve found three amphibious vehicles listed in service with the US Amy in 1944: the famous DUKW (Duck), a 6×6 wheeled armoured truck; the LV-2/LV-4 (Alligator/Water Buffalo), a tracked landing vehicle; and the M29 (Water Weasel), a personnel carrier. Wouldn’t it have been extraordinary to see these creatures being driven along the lanes of Alresford on their way to have their water-proofing tested? I just hope Hambone Junior liked swimming.
Alresford Around D-Day 6th June 1944, Colin Metcalfe