Address: Coleshill, near Swindon, Wiltshire, SN6 7PT
Price Band: FREE!
We were lucky enough a few months ago to visit the replica World War II Operational Base at Coleshill which is owned by the National Trust. As my 9 year old stepdaughter has got quite an interest in history I was keen to take up the opportunity to visit somewhere that really brings history to life.
The replica bunker was built by a team of volunteers and National Trust staff to show people what life was like for Churchill’s last line of defence, the Auxiliers. The bunker is only open on certain days and to view it you have a guided tour by one of the knowledgeable volunteers.
We arrived and parked in the village car park which was literally metres from the bunker. We spent some time looking at the display of World War II items and reading about how the bunker was built whilst waiting for our tour to begin. You don’t need to book a time slot for this. Just turn up and join the next tour to start.
The gentleman doing our tour was very friendly and clearly knew his stuff. His knowledge and the way he conducted the tour kept everyone captivated,even the children who were part of the group. His stories of how the bunker was built, as well as how it would have been used, were fascinating. We took a short walks through the woods and passed a replica ‘observation post’ along the way. This is where a soldier would have been positioned to watch for enemies approaching and had a telephone line through to the operational base so the soldier could warn the rest of the group.
When we reached the opening to the bunker we were met by a steep ladder going down into a dark narrow hole and I was a little unsure as to how we were actually going to fit down there but we all managed it, even our 3 year Cody (who thought it was completely awesome getting to climb down the ladder himself!).
The operational base was lit by candles and the tour guide’s torch. We stood in the main ‘living’ area of the base as our guide told us what life would have been like living in here and explained the layout of the bunker. There was a toilet in a small room, shelves for food storage and weapons by the entrance, then the larger living area which housed a table and bunk beds.
We exited the bunker through the emergency escape tunnel which leads out on to the track where we first started the tour. It is amazing how the entrance to the tunnel is concealed by a false wall which matches the rest of the wall and is completely invisible if you walk along the path when it is closed. This of course was very important for keeping the operational base’s location secret.
After visiting the operational base we headed up the road to the replica radio post which is cleverly disguised as a chicken coop. In here there would have been a soldier based to send and receive radio messages.
I really love places like this where children can experience first hand what it would have been like for soldiers in the operational base. It gives a much deeper understanding than simply reading about it in a book and they remember what they have learned because the trip really stood out as something different to anything they had done before.
Down the road there is the Coleshill Mill which is often open on the same days as the Operational Base so you could visit this as well while you are in the area. There are some lovely grounds for walking and exploring as well.
The Operational Base can only be visited during special open days so please check the National Trust website using the link at the top of this page to check dates/times. If you have mobility issues or small babies I wouldn’t recommend trying to get down into the Operational Base but you could still explore the rest of the area. If you want to bring history to life with your kids then this place is perfect. We had a great time and better still it was free of charge whether you are National Trust members or not. Of course donations are welcome and help with the upkeep of the displays and base. There is lots more information on the history of the Coleshill Estate here: http:/www.coleshillhouse.com/ghq-coleshill.php
Disclaimer: The National Trust and Coleshill Estate had no involvement in this review. All photos, words and opinions are that of my own 🙂
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