Lepe (pronounced leap) is an area of coastline between the mouth of Southampton Water and the mouth of the Beaulieu River in Hampshire.
It’s not a particularly well-known area in its own right and is more often than not referred to as ‘somewhere near Beaulieu’ or as being ‘close to Exbury’. The latter is world renowned for its gardens and its history of wartime service as a naval establishment.
Yet Lepe is as equally rich in wartime history and possibly more so because of the diversity of activities both on and off shore. Visitors to what is now a country park managed by Hampshire County Council are immediately made aware of what happened here because remains of the Mulberry Harbour construction site are clearly visible, with information boards telling the story. The story also includes that of PLUTO (pipeline under the ocean) the purpose of which was to transfer vital fuel from England to the Allied Forces in Europe after D-Day. Not included on the storyboards is the fact that a contingent of volunteer Canadian Firefighters, who were in England to support our own National Fire Service, had been detailed to work on trials of PLUTO at Lepe in the months preceding June 1944.
Lepe was a major hub before and at the time of D-Day and the hundreds of personnel here were attended by members of the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) with food and drink including pies under what was known as the Pie Scheme.
Then, on the eve of D-Day, 6,000 American troops assembled at Lepe ready for embarkation via small craft to the larger LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry) moored in the Solent, the waters of which lap Lepe beach.
In 2019 Lepe will host a major D-Day + 75 Year Commemorative event drawing on its significant wartime history to present a unique focus on and reminder of the people who served there and who contributed to the war effort.