Saunton, of course, did not escape the effects of World War II and, apart from the role of Braunton Burrows in training for the D-Day landings, Saunton Sands Hotel had its own part to play.
The Duke of York’s Military School was usually based at Dover, on the English coast, but during 1940 it had to be emptied of children to make space for troops, who were then being evacuated from Dunkirk.
During that time, Saunton Sands Hotel was requisitioned and given over to the Duke of York’s School but, in observance to wartime secrecy, its location was always referred to as ‘somewhere in the West Country’. The guest bedrooms were converted into dormitories with bunk beds for the children, who were traditionally the orphaned children of military personnel.
The sound of the school’s military band became a regular sound in the locality as, most Saturday mornings, the 80-strong band and drums led the companies on a route march along the coast road to the village of Croyde. It proved a great hit with local people who, tired of wartime hardships, were cheered by the band’s presence at village events and rewarded the young musicians with sweet treats.
So popular was the School's first-rate marching and concert band in the West Country that British Pathé News made two stirring news reports, which gave the School national coverage. One (Oh Buoy!) shows the band leading the route-marches back to the Saunton Sands Hotel along the Croyde road; the other (One of These Days), a general interest piece, shows a slice of the life the boys led. The latter clearly shows Saunton Sands Hotel but, eagle-eyed viewers will note that the Hotel is painted green instead of its usual bright white. This was a necessary change in order to camouflage the Hotel, as it was thought that enemy bombers used it to line up for their route over Cardiff.
After the war, the building was renovated and restored to serve its original function as a first class Hotel.
Saunton Golf Clubhouse was used to house the Beachmine Clearance Detachment after the war, when Polish troops and German Prisoners of War were employed to clear the mines left on the beach. The area had not only been used for training but was also vulnerable to attack and, as well as placing mines on the beach, stout posts were driven into the beach to prevent enemy planes from landing there.
To hear more about the beachmine clearance, from Mike Inglis (Major, retired, Bomb Disposal) please see the section about World War II in the Braunton Burrows section.
Modern-day military training occurs frequently at Braunton Burrows and there have been times when Saunton Sands has become an air-strip – it’s an ideal place for troops to practice landing planes in sandy places such as Iraq. Footage has made it onto YouTube.