Military History

Since the end of the Ice Age, man has fought over South West England – first to survive and, over time, to defend their land from invaders.

First, the Celts. Next, the Romans. Then the Saxons, but they were no match for the Normans. After William the Conqueror’s victory in 1066, South West England was carved up in a series of strongholds, monasteries and baronial estates.

Over the last 1,000 years, the region has been rocked by conflicts. The War of the Roses, The Civil War, The Great War and the Second World War all left their mark. Even during times of peace, the threat of war made an impact. Henry VIII’s coastal defences are testament to the fear of invasion.

There are key dates: Sir Francis Drake’s game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe before destroying the Spanish Armada in 1588. Cromwell’s siege of Corfe Castle in 1646. The Duke of Monmouth’s defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685 - one of the last major battles to be fought on English soil. William of Orange’s landing in Brixham on November 5th 1688 – the turning point in the ‘Glorious Revolution’.

The landscape is strewn with reminders. From the obvious - Dartmoor Prison, built to house prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars – to the often missed, memorials in every village, town and city naming those who gave their lives in the 1914-18 and 1939-45 wars. Sixty years on from VE Day and VJ Day, the military history of South West England has seldom been more poignant.