Winston Churchill

Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum appeals for county D-Day stories ahead of 80th Anniversary events and exhibitions

  • Many objects from the museum collection to go on display for the first time, never seen before outside of the museum’s archive
  • New objects on loan to the museum include Bond memorabilia and film props – such as a pair of Sean Connery’s shoes worn in Never Say Never Again – while recently acquired SOE weapons and equipment illustrate the work of real WW2 spies.
  • A new trail, We Need To Talk About War, asks visitors for their answers to the difficult questions that war poses
  • A new audio guide will be voiced by comedian Al Murray, also a serious military historian with particular interest in the Second World War

Throughout 2024 Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum will be celebrating its 10th anniversary with the addition of new and updated permanent displays, new exhibitions and events. A special 10th anniversary display will also open from 1 June to 1 October, a look back at some of the museum’s most significant moments and stories, as well as a showcase of the museum’s favourite objects from past displays and a few objects that have never been on public display before.

Since opening on Park Street, Woodstock in 2014, at the time the only museum of its kind in the county, SOFO has aimed to tell the stories of the county and its people, and the impact historic, global conflicts have had on them. This includes preserving the history of two renowned county regiments, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and Winston Churchill’s regiment, the Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars.

With the assistance of OxLEP Grant funding, the independent museum has embarked on an update to its permanent exhibition space over the past few months, which includes both brand new displays and expansions to existing key stories ahead of the anniversary.

Visitors will also find themselves guided by a familiar voice. A new audio tour of the museum has been narrated by comedian and keen historian Al Murray. Known for his Pub Landlord persona, Murray also hosts the popular Second World War podcast We Have Ways of Making You Talk alongside historian James Holland, as well as a growing annual history festival, We Have Ways Fest. Also providing voiceover for the new audio tour will be his father, ‘The Colonel’ Ingram Murray. The audio guide is available now.


The museum will also offer a special 10th Anniversary ale brewed by historic Oxfordshire beer-makers Hook Norton Brewery, who celebrate their own 175th anniversary in 2024. The D-Day-inspired ‘Horsa Hop’ will be sold from the museum shop and during museum events, proceeds from the celebratory golden ale will support the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Trust’s continued work collecting and preserving the county’s military stories and artefacts.

Hook Norton will further support the museum, providing a bar for a celebratory Garden Party in the grounds of SOFO and The Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock on 22 June 2024, from 12pm – 8.30pm. Marking the museum’s anniversary but also Armed Forces Day 2024, the party will feature living history displays, activities for all ages, opportunities for tours of the museum and object handling, as well as a performance by the Waterloo Band & Bugles of the Rifles in the evening.

The first of the museum’s updated permanent displays, Bloody Battles and Dangerous Diseases, presents a Horrible Histories-inspired look at wartime medical advances and the ways in which these, combined with new equipment, helped soldiers’ survival on the front lines. Like so many of the museum’s displays, the new exhibition pod is packed with engaging interactives especially for children, and opportunities for younger visitors to handle and try on real survival equipment, such as helmets, body armour and pilot’s lifejackets.

A revamped ‘Secret War’ display builds on the popularity of its recent Spy Oxfordshire exhibition and explore county connections to the real world of secret agents and espionage through the lens of Ian Fleming and James Bond. Visitors will be able to see Bond film props, such as a pair of shoes worn by Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again, alongside Fleming artefacts like his golden typewriter. A collection of real spy kit from the Second World War has also now been acquired by the museum, including rare equipment like concealed daggers and radio sets. A ladies hairpin is revealed to be a potentially lethal weapon in the hands of one of Special Operations Executive’s female agents.


Building on SOFO’s 2023 Women & War temporary exhibition, a brand-new permanent display, A Woman’s War, looks at the story of women in the Armed Forces, from Auxiliary services of the First and Second World Wars right up to conflicts as recent as Bosnia. Highlights of the display include a Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS or ‘Wrens’) hat which belonged to Enid Innes who served as a Cypher Officer during the Second World War, and worked on planning for Operation HUSKY – the Allied landings in Sicily – in 1943.

SOFO’s modern take on the classic military museum extends to how it approaches the difficult topics the museum’s many exhibits naturally touch upon. The We Need To Talk About War project sees visitors faced with ‘Big Questions’ tied to each exhibition pod, with responses from local students, schools, and academics, as well as an opportunity for visitors to submit their own. ‘What makes a hero?’ and ‘When is it right to fight your own rulers?’ are just two of the thought-provoking questions to encourage visitors’ reflection and discussion on the ethics of war and the dilemmas of conflict.

Global Army: From the Age of Empire to the Modern Day, another new permanent exhibition pod at the museum, offers visitors insight into the global impact and scope of deployments of the many members of the Armed Forces that have called the county home. Drawing on recent donations and objects that have never been on display outside of the museum’s extensive archive – such as a Japanese ‘woodpecker’ machine gun, captured by a soldier of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry serving in the Second World War’s ‘forgotten army’ in Burma.

One of the museum’s most acclaimed displays is The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen which brings together raw, personal accounts of both the liberating soldiers of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry and the liberated camp survivors. On Holocaust memorial day 2024, a new addition was opened focusing on one particular story. When the Oxfordshire Yeomanry liberated the camp on 15 April 1945, Naomi Kaplan was one of the survivors they found, having endured years in the Nazi camp system. She approached soldier Arthur Tyler and asked him to write to her family to tell them she was alive. The letters he exchanged with her family are now on public display alongside panels detailing the incredible story of a simple act of kindness with an impact that lasted generations.

A year of major anniversaries, 2024 also sees both the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the 110th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Both of these will be commemorated at the museum with new exhibitions. Highlighting Oxfordshire people’s stories from the Normandy invasion, and open from 18 May to 24 September 2024, Oxfordshire to the Orne will take in home front memories of the build up to the Normandy invasion to famous stories from D-Day itself, such as the county regiment’s capture of Pegasus Bridge. The Great War anniversary will be marked with an exhibition of collector John Noott’s The Art of WWI from 25 June to 29 September, featuring a collection of original pieces produced during, and depicting scenes from, the conflict. This will be followed in December with an exhibition of Winnie-the-Pooh illustrator E.H. Shepard’s sketches, including work he produced during his own Great War service as an artillery officer.

Often referred to as a ‘hidden gem’ in Woodstock, the independent museum can be found across the garden from Oxfordshire County Council’s Oxfordshire Museum and Woodstock Library. The 10th anniversary updates make it the perfect time to visit, for both regulars and newcomers alike. Holding the collections for both Churchill’s old regiment, The Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars and the famous Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, SOFO not only tells the story of the county’s soldiers, but of the many other Oxfordshire people impacted by historic and modern conflicts.

Awards & Partners

*Supported by The Visitor Economy Renaissance Programme grant funding, secured by OxLEP Business