“After walking through the gate we were surprised at how big this camp is. We spent 4 hours looking around until we were stopped in our tracks by a lady in a black jeep”

History of Penhale Camp

The camp, near Holywell Bay about six miles outside of Newquay, was originally developed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 1939 as an emergency measure to train anti-aircraft gunners. Evidence of the gun sites, searchlight batteries and defensive positions, such as pillboxes and trenches, still remain today 

The majority of the site is currently occupied by abandoned Nissen huts, simple pitched roof concrete block-built huts, workshops, ancillary buildings, a farmhouse and areas of hard-standing. During the Second World War on July 7, 1940, only months after the site opened, 23 servicemen recuperating at Penhale following the Dunkirk evacuation were killed when the camp was bombed by the German Luftwaffe. It was a sunny, pleasant afternoon that day, and soldiers who had just escaped from one of the most hellish experiences of the early war years were relaxing. 

A single German aircraft flew over Penhale Camp, probably looking for the nearby St Eval airfield, and dropped four high explosive bombs. Fifteen soldiers were killed instantly, a further eight died from their injuries, and many more were seriously wounded. Three years later, the camp was occupied by American Army combat engineers as part of the build-up to the D-Day landings. They built the 14 Nissen huts on the site. 
For the majority of the next 70 years, Penhale was used intensively for 24 hours a day by up to 700 people at any one time, most recently for soldiers returning from Afghanistan for training and recuperation. The end of an era came in 2010, when, after seven decades of MoD occupation, Penhale became surplus to requirements.

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