Country mouse visits the Southwick estate

Many country houses were requisitioned in the Second World War for important military uses and, once that crisis was over, they were handed back to their owners with a gushing note of thanks from a grateful nation.

Blenheim Palace was home to MI5, Parham House in West Sussex hosted a Canadian regiment of engineers and Longford Castle in Wiltshire was used as a headquarters. But not all of them did return to their owners, as I discovered when I was a shooting guest of an old university friend in Hampshire last week.

The village and farmland have the timeless appearance of a carefully nurtured estate, but the main house at Southwick-and 300 surrounding acres-is still deployed in the nation’s defence. Its location near the south coast was perfect for planning D-Day, but what could possibly require the Ministry of Defence to apply every year, as it must do, to renew the requisition order in the 21st century?

The Naval Riding Centre is there, it’s true, but, as my friend points out, the last fully fledged cavalry charge was at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. And it’s doubtful the 21st Lancers were affiliated to any ship. Is the Government planning to replace the mothballed aircraft carriers with sea horses? The nation should be told.

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