Last living resident of village that ‘died for England’ returns – at the age of 99

THE last person to have been born and raised in a now-deserted Purbeck village has made a final visit to his family home.

When Peggy Read died before Christmas in Australia at the age of 94, it left her childhood pal Peter Wellman as the last living connection with Tyneham – the “village that died for England”.

Peter, 99, recently returned to the tiny settlement that was evacuated just before Christmas in 1943 to enable the army to extend its ranges.

Around 250 people from Tyneham and the valley farms were forced out, but promised they could return when Hitler had been seen off. But they were never allowed back.

While still on MoD land, the ruins of the village and the walk to the beach at Warbarrow Bay are open to the public for 160 days of the year and remain frozen in time.

Tyneham village is open to the public for 160 days each year

Tyneham village is open to the public for 160 days each year

The school that Peter went to, and the church at which attendance was mandatory, have been restored, but the rest is decaying with time.

Peter, who was born in Tyneham in 1924, had attended the village’s annual memorial service until last year when he had a fall. But his daughter Lynne and son Michael drove him back for a look around as the last remaining villager.

Peter said: “I don’t suppose I’ll ever come back, which is a shame. After Peggy died I am the last person to have been born and raised here.

“I do love it here, and people are always very interested in hearing about what life was like. But we knew no different.

“We had no electricity, no mains gas and no running water – we had to pump that from near the church. There’s a tap there now.

“I remember going to the beach and fishing and we often had mackerel. We were happy until we got moved out.”

Peter, whose family connections to Tyneham go back many generations and whose grandfather was the shepherd, attended the tiny, single-room school.

He said he “scribbled like anyone else would” and when the school closed in 1933, when he was nine, he spent several years attending another school by bus.

At 14, he started work on a nearby farm where he stayed for 36 years and then he had a job in the clay industry until retirement.

Many of the villagers enjoyed long lives and Peter put it down to the lifestyle.

“Fresh air is the main thing,” he said. “And hard work with a good heart and a contented mind. That’s how you live. Now I’m the only one left. They’ve all gone.”

Peter said he didn’t regret leaving the village because there was little there for younger people, but would have liked the residents to return.

“They were told they could come back,” he said. “But they were never allowed.”

Peter, second from left in the front row, at the age of four outside Tyneham school

Peter, second from left in the front row, at the age of four outside Tyneham school

Peter recalls watching a dogfight in the sky above the fields he was working in during the war, and waving at the Spitfire pilot who downed an enemy plane.

The village was owned by the Bond family who lived in the grand Tyneham House that is now mostly gone.

They were resistant to modernity, meaning life in the village in 1943 was much like it had been a century earlier.

After a campaign led by Rodney Legg to allow the residents back, the MoD in 1975 permitted people to visit what was left, and it has become an increasingly popular place for day-trippers and tourists.

Peter, who now lives in nearby Swanage with his family close by, is also the last person to speak with an authentic Tyneham valley voice, which has a rich, velvety Dorset burr.

The widower has two children, two grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

Mark White, the grandson of Peggy Read who was the second last Tyneham resident and who has researched the village for years, said: “Peter is the last living link to the village.

“Tyneham was completely unremarkable until December 1943 when the residents were forced to leave.

“They were promised they could move back but the place was compulsory purchased in the late 40s and the only ones who returned were those who were allowed to be buried in the churchyard.

“People like my nan and Peter have unintentionally become immortalised in history.”

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