SURVEYING the rolling hills of tranquil Teesdale, General Sir Bernard Paget, the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces, said: "Here was forged and tempered the spearhead of victory which was so necessary on D-Day."

From late 1940, the Army began creating six camps in Teesdale at Stainton, Streatlam, Westwick, Barford, Deerbolt and Humbleton. As D-Day neared, each had more than 1,000 men in it.

Nowadays, a road sign off the A67 between Barnard Castle and Darlington points to Humbleton, which it says is half-a-mile away, but the road only leads to a dead end in a haulier's yard.

But it was at Humbleton that the School of Infantry prepared the "cream of the assault forces" for D-Day.

Rail operations to service the camps were immense. Two hundred officers arrived every three weeks to take the course at Humbleton; during one fortnight, 30 special trains containing "men, tanks, equipment, furniture, stores and even livestock" arrived at Barney station, according to the stationmaster Percy Wrightson in his book, Barnard Castle in War Paint..

As the war progressed, the tanks got bigger and bigger, hanging over the sides of the railway wagons, until in 1943, the first Sherman tanks arrived on specially built wagons. "To see Sherman tanks being driven along a row of rail wagons is a thrilling sight, as they climb up and down the ramps in the wagons in the manner of horses jumping fences, " said Mr Wrightson.

On December 4, 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill arrived on a special train to inspect the camps.

"It was a cold but sunny day, and as Mr Churchill alighted, rays of sunshine poured through the station roof, spot-lighting his radiant personality, " wrote Mr Wrightson. "He wore a lounge suit and was smoking the famous cigar."

Churchill is said to have stormed straight over to shake Mr Wrightson’s hand, saying “my, you’re a big bugger”.

Churchill was taken to the suspension bridge over the River Tees at Whorlton where hundreds of troops were practising a water-based assault on a sheer cliff. He stood on the bridge looking down on what became the lido as crossed the ice cold river chest deep. You can apparently still see ironwork soldered into rocks on the riverbank which the troops used to ascend the cliffs on the Durham side.

From the bridge, Churchill gave his famous V-sign and sent a message congratulating the men on their “first class show”.

Then he returned to Barney station where a GPO telephone line had been attached to his carriage and he from it he received news from the Air Ministry that Turin and Milan had been successfully bombed on the first day of an assault on Italy.

Churchill was followed on October 22, 1943, by 70 generals, including the top brass from the US and Canadian armies, who arrived in a special US Army train to inspect the Teesdale camps. They visited Bowes Moor which had become a practise battlefield.

As D-Day approached, the training camps of Teesdale emptied and the men were shifted down south this was particularly bad news for Darlington Hippodrome which had being opening almost on a 24-hour basis, putting on shows to keep the boys entertained – and indeed titillated – in the run-up to the big day.