FOR a village of just 350 people, Talacre has had a huge impact on the lives of thousands of people over the last 70 years.

Situated near Point of Ayr on the west side of the River Dee estuary, Talacre is best known as a typically British beach resort, with its sandy dunes and caravan parks dominating the area.

But during the Second World War, the settlement was used by the armed forces as an RAF firing range, with Spitfires flying over its remote beach every day, shooting at wooden targets in the dunes and at drogues towed by other aircraft. It was also used for testing new devices, such as 'window', the anti-radar foil that, on occasion, covered the whole village with silver.

Add in the fact it's one of Wales' most Anglicised villages, with less than half of its residents being born in the principality, and you have a melting pot of influences and back stories that make for a fascinating history.

Trying to bring all these elements together, the Talacre Then and Now project launched this week with an exhibition relating to its history, stories and people. Led by Flintshire Countryside Service and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Armed Forces Covenant Fund and Outdoor Learning Wales, the exhibition, known as the Story Shop, takes place until Sunday, April 29 at Talacre Community Centre, where a team, led by Lisa Heledd Jones of Storyworks, has been gathering stories and photos from local people which paint a picture of this fascinating village.

"In the months leading up to exhibition I've been recording people's memories about Talacre and what the place means to them, which has helped me design our Story Shop," explains Lisa. "It's allowed me to work out the themes and what's important to people locally and then create a space where people can walk in and see an object, a photograph or quote which reminds them of something else and the exhibition grows as the week goes on."

Lisa, who lives in Llangollen, knew little about the village beforehand but walking into the main hall of the community centre, one is bombarded with old photos, drawing, objects and ephemera, all supplied by people who's lives have been touched by the coastal resort.

"We encourage people to share," continues Lisa. "Whether it is memories or photos of them on holidays there, living there, or what it was like during the war.

"Talacre is a really interesting place. There is a small population of people living there, but it has touched hundreds of thousands of people who have been on holiday there or were evacuated there during the war.

"When you look at the sand dunes, they did have homes on them - all the buildings are now gone, but people lived up there until the 1980s, without water and electric in those shacks. Even now you see flowers coming up though the sand where there were gardens, where people had lived."

Wildlife is also an important part of the exhibition with Talacre's dunes home to some of Wales' rarest wildlife species, such as the natterjack toad, the Sandhill rustic moth and the pink-flowered Seaside Century.

"There's a lot of things people don't really know about Talacre when it comes to nature but there is so much to celebrate," says Lisa. "Holidaying, caravans and what those trips away have meant to people has been a huge part of it. For many people their only holiday was coming to Talacre every year from Liverpool or Manchester because they knew someone or had family with a caravan and they would come back every year.

"This place meant a lot to a lot of people and out of all the places I've worked and recorded community histories and memories, I don't think I've ever met people being quite so compassionate - it's a community of people who have chosen to be here and that makes them real firecrackers when it comes to memories."

Talacre, during the war, was a very different place, with many evacuees escaping the bombing in Liverpool to stay in simple huts built in the dunes. The war was heard and seen in the skies above them, with dog fights and views of the bombing of Merseyside's docks across the water. The dunes and beach areas were used for Spitfire training and the remains of pill boxes and rows of larch posts, originally put in to deter enemy invasion, can still be seen.

As a result of the target practice and occasional dogfight overhead, the beaches were littered with spent ammunition and generations of youngsters have excitedly gathered these and they can still be found today.

"It's been overwhelming," says Lorna Jenner, of Flintshire Countryside Service. "We knew there was a great deal of interest in Talacre but we even had one chap who came up here from Milton Keynes who used to come here with his family in the 1960s.

"A lot of people who still come to the caravan parks came here when they were children on a family holiday and then in later life they've brought a caravan themselves. It just seems to have a special place in people's hearts."

A grant of £15,400, from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund, has helped fund the Second World War elements of the project and the culmination of the activities will be a Second World War weekend on July 27-28, with re-enactors, a replica Spitfire, military vehicles guided walks and family activities.

Air Commodore Adrian Williams, representing the Armed Forces, said: "The Armed Forces have been delighted to support the Talacre Now and Then project. The area has a rich Second World War history, with RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes dogfighting in the skies above while defending Liverpool from the heavy Nazi bombing blitz in 1941, together with all the pillboxes and defensive fortifications that were in place on Talacre beach at this time to protect our country from invasion.

"It is fantastic that this story can now be told again, particularly to new generations."

"It's been a wonderful week so far and really successful," adds Lorna. "We are encouraging as many people as possible to come down and help us find out more about this magical place."

For more information about the Story Shop, contact Lisa Heledd Jones on 07475931831 or email