THE first major exhibition of an important part of Chipping Sodbury’s past will be held during a war-themed event next week.

A collection of rare photographs of the American signal company stationed in the town during World War Two will be on view to the public during this year’s 1940s-themed Chipping Sodbury Big Lunch on Sunday, June 1.

Put together by local historian Jim Elsworth in conjunction with Sodbury and District Historical Society, the exhibit will include 100 pictures taken during the seven months prior to the D-Day Landings of 1944 when 62 US Army soldiers from 165 Signal Photo Company made Chipping Sodbury their home.

The troops became familiar faces to many in the town and organised events including American film screenings and tea parties, the likes of which many residents had never seen before. They also brought Coca Cola, chewing gum and a smooth American drawl previously only heard on the wireless.

Jim, who has collated the exhibition with help from the 165 Signal Company’s official archives, said: “People who were children at the time will recall the soldiers being here, but did not realise the special role they played on D-Day and the liberation of Europe. All they knew was that ‘got any gum, chum’ would result in a gift of chewing gum and of course the soldiers organised films, tea parties and other entertainments for children.

“Around 100 photos and the associated stories will relate the events from their arrival in Chipping Sodbury, interaction with our town and friendships made, and their operations in Europe.”

He added: “A major part of the exhibition will tell the amazing story of those 62 men. It is a sobering thought that of the 62 men, seven were killed in action, 14 were wounded to the extent they had to be repatriated and three were taken as Prisoners of War.”

The exhibition takes place in 61 Broad Street and is open from 2-5pm. Also on display will be wartime memorabilia, military vehicles and photos which reflect life in the town at the time.

The Big Lunch, which this year commemorates 70 years since the D-Day Landings, takes place in Broad Street from 12noon-6pm when people are encouraged to bring their own picnics, tables, gazebos and chairs for a free afternoon of entertainment including 1940s vocal harmony trio The Cat’s Pyjamas, wartime children’s storytelling and free sampling of recipes cooked from rationed food made by local cookery teacher Ann Murray.

Bristol Samba Band, Sodbury Players, Razzamatazz, REDDS dance group and Yate Star Twirlers will also perform and Alfredo the Clown will be on hand to entertain children. A nursery rhyme and fairytales children’s fancy dress competition will be judged at 3.45pm and entries for a miniature garden competition are welcome until 4pm.

For further information follow @CSBigLunch on Twitter or search Chipping Sodbury Big Lunch 2014 on Facebook.