During the build up to D-Day many senior military figures were regular visitors to the New Forest including US General Dwight ‘ Ike’ Eisenhower who was the supreme commander of the Allied Forces. In particular, he is known to have used the Balmer Lawn Hotel in Brockenhurst during the planning process for D Day.
Shortly after the end of the war Ike returned briefly to Stoney Cross and some photographs of his visit remain. Following a period as Military Governor of the United States sector of Germany he returned to the United States to take up the position of Army Chief of Staff. It was in this role that he made his visit to Stoney Cross during September 1946. He and his wife Mamie travelled from New York to Southampton on the Queen Mary. After disembarking from the Queen Mary in nearby Southampton they travelled by car to Stoney Cross where they boarded the presidential plane for the short flight to Frankfurt which was the HQ of the US Forces
The photos of his visit were taken on a large concrete aircraft parking area called the Transport Command Parking Area (below left – 1946) which is now just opposite the entrance to Longbeech Campsite. After the airfield was returned to the Forestry Commission the concrete area was split in two to form Stoney Cross and Stoney Cross Plain car parks (below right).
The photographs below show part of the welcoming party. It must have been a significant meeting as the ‘stoutish’ gentleman in the group of four by the official car is Hilary St George Saunders who was the official historian for the Air Ministry. The control tower is also visible in the background of one of the photographs as are some US Military Police, who the British nicknamed “snowdrops” because of their distinctive uniforms and white helmets. The visit was obviously extremely high profile judging by the number of British and American officers and the ladies in their ‘posh frocks! In one picture Ike is talking to a senior British Army officer with Hilary St George Saunders looking on. It is clear that there were a tremendous amount of people there to meet the iconic Eisenhower that day.
None of the buildings remain today but the airfield’s No.1 hangar was situated in the trees behind the car in the above pictures. The hangar was just alongside what is now the entrance road to Longbeech campsite and the concrete strip foundations are still clearly visible. The photograph (below right) shows the view from the same spot taken in 2012. The tree line has hardly changed. The photograph (below left) shows this hangar in 1945, housing a Douglas C47 Dakota.
The following pictures show the Eisenhower’s presidential plane, a Douglas Skytrain named Sunflower II, waiting for the flight to Frankfurt on what is now Stoney Cross Plain car park.
After the Second World War, General Eisenhower went on to serve two terms as the 34th President of the USA.