HIDDEN under the soil at Bushy Park on tranquil fields where deer roam, lie the remains of a site which played a key role during one of the most important moments in history.

For three months in 1944, a 60-acre site in the north east corner of the park, known as Camp Griffiss, was the home of the intense military planning for the D-Day campaign.

All that remains today is a plaque and flagpole marking the site where the Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord, General Dwight D Eisenhower, was based.

Historian Cliff Williams, who has extensively researched the history of the camp, explained how the site was transformed in 1942 and has since been imbedded in history.

The development began in early 1942 with the construction of four large rectangular buildings called simply 'A', 'B', 'C', and 'D' by the Ministry of Works to house London firms seeking relief from the Blitz.

The site was requisitioned by the USA in June of that year to become the headquarters of their Eighth Air Force, a strategic bombing force.

Camp Griffiss, codename Widewing, came into being, named after Lieutenant Colonel Townsend Griffiss, the first American airman to lose his life in the Second World war after his plane was shot down.

Along with the four long concrete buildings, accommodation sites sprung up along the Warren Plantation and Chestnut Avenue. All USAAF officers at 'Widewing' were billeted outside the camp with local families and an organisation called the Kinsman Club listed available accommodation and helped them find families to receive them.

Also in the summer of 1942 the Eighth Fighter Command headquarters was set up at Bushey Hall near Watford. With such a similarity in name and both housing an Eighth Air Force headquarters, Mr Williams said: "It is not surprising that both during and after the war Bushy Park and Bushey Hall were often confused."

Defence of the camp was a priority and conveniently the camp also housed the USAAF's school of camouflage. The various ponds in the park, which may have been useful navigational points for the flying enemy, the Diana Fountain, the Leg of Mutton pond and the Heron pond, were drained and covered with camouflage netting.

Some water was allowed back to create an emergency water supply in the event of a fire. Anti-aircraft guns were deployed in the park and a strip laid out for small aircraft. Buildings 'C' and 'D' were also camouflaged, although the effect was said to have been weakened by leaving A and B uncovered.

The camp's role as HQ of the SHAEF, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force began shortly after General Eisenhower became Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord, a job he took over in January 1944.

Soon after Eisenhower got his job he sent General Smith, his chief of staff to England to check out what arrangements had been made in England to find a suitable site for a HQ.

One story explaining why Bushy Park was chosen is that when Smith was looking for sites, his opposite number was in hospital, so the strong views of Leigh Mallory, the commander of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, that his and Eisenhower's headquarters must be close together, even in walking distance, were not passed on. Smith chose Widewing and by the time the full significance of the decision had been realised it was too late to make a change.

Mr Williams said: "Leigh Mallory was said to be furious and made an official complaint and even Smith was forced to concede his mistake, 'My God I've married the wrong woman' he exclaimed."

General Eisenhower immediately supported his plan of installing SHAEF at Widewing, he felt not only intermingling of officers and the joint messes would help to accelerate the welding of a joint command, but would also help to keep the staff officers away from the distractions of London's clubland.

SHAEF moved into the camp in March 1944, Eisenhower moved into C Block on March 5. The camp had 1,600 US and 1,299 British personnel.

The general's room is described as being 400 sq ft with three flags, his own star general flag plus the US and British.

His desk had two phones and a scrambler for secret conversations. It was adorned with pictures of his son, wife and mother and signed pictures of Roosevelt, Cunningham and Marshall. There were secret maps behind a silver screen. A swivel chair and two armchairs finished off the room.

It was an important site for a short time. Tenure at the camp was brief, barely three months, no sooner had Eisenhower moved in than plans were being made to set up both an advance and forward HQ at Portsmouth before the main HQ moved to France in September.

After SHAEF was moved to Versailles in 1944, Camp Griffiss was used by HQ RAF transport command and in 1948, at the time of the Berlin Airlift, the new United States Air Force came to the camp.

Following the departure of the RAF in 1951, General Eisenhower's old office was incorporated into the school and became a classroom for children of US service personnel.

The final closure of the base came in 1952, came against opposition of local authorities who wanted to preserve it because of its excellent local facilities. But was agreed that camp would return to parkland and in early 60s all buildings were demolished.

The sites of the camp's main buildings, A,B,C,D are marked with concrete commemorative plaques, shaped like open books, although they are difficult to find now as they are hidden by the grass which has grown up.

"But the history is there, just underneath the soil," says park deputy manager Bill Swan.

The park has a history room where an archive has been created to preserve war time memorabilia, helped by two volunteers.

"I think recent history is the most easily lost," Bill explains. "There are still local people who live around the park and remember the camp. You bump into people at events who talk about it."

recently I met a woman who had been born in one of the huts on Chestnut Avenue."