At the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Britain had a full time army of approximately 100,000 men. By the time of the Armistice some four years later, some 10 million men would have been brought into service, with a million having fought and died. Recruitment, training, and accommodating these soldiers, like many other aspects to do with this war, turned into an industrialised process and huge swathes of the British countryside were turned over to the preparation of young men from all over the Empire for war.
With the advances in weaponry at the end of the 19th century, the British Army needed new locations for training and in the 1890’s had selected the wide rolling countryside of the Salisbury Plain in southern England to accommodate many of the training units. Furthermore, being close to the southern coasts and well served by the railways to the ports it was well suited for both the supply of troops to the continent and in readiness in case of invasion. The initial training camps on the Salisbury Plain therefore were greatly expanded at the outbreak of the First World War to train both the New ‘Kitchener’ Armies and those of the Dominions, notably Canada, Australia and New Zealand. From the Empire troops, the Canadians were the first to arrive in 1914, and they along with the
forming New Army British Regiments had taken all of the existing camps, many of whom had to stay in tented accommodation. With the lack of suitable facilities and the impending bleak winter conditions on the Plain, the decision was taken while the first AIF contingent were at sea to break their voyage and for the Australian troops to disembark, train and be billeted in Egypt. There they would remain, supplying front line troops for Gallipoli and training reinforcements arriving from Australia, until March 1916 when they would leave for France and the Western Front.
Australian troops in the UK
Throughout the period from Spring 1916 when the AIF was active on the Western Front in France or Belgium, the Administrative HQ in Horseferry Road in London was responsible for the administration of the AIF while overseas, including medical services and liaison with the British War Office. The AIF headquarters were located closer to the troops at Tidworth Barracks, on the eastern side of Salisbury Plain.
For the soldiers, the type of camp they were to be stationed in depended upon their circumstances. In simple terms, those that had been with an active unit and wounded or sick and needed hospital treatment in England, were sent to one of four Command Depots upon their discharge from hospital, whereas the newly arrived reinforcements from Australia were sent to one of the Training Groups. These two main feeds for the units fighting in France or Belgium would come together in one of the Base Depots once in France.
Australian Command Depots
Australian troops actually began arriving in England in mid-1915, prior to the AIF being deployed on the Western Front. During the Gallipoli campaign thousands of wounded Australian soldiers were shipped to English hospitals, but the question soon arose regarding what to do with the convalescing men once they had been discharged, as they, unlike their British counterparts, had no home depot to report to. In response to this a special depot was created in May 1915 at Monte Video Camp near Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England. The depot’s primary aim was to receive and train men who would likely be fit for return to the front. Men who were marked for return to Australia were placed at a second camp at nearby Westham. The Weymouth camp was therefore the first of what would be four Command Depots whose main purpose would be to receive Australian soldiers that had been discharged from hospital and deemed fit to return to the front line within a period of about three months. Having already been part of a fighting unit they would have already experienced training, so the focus was very much on getting the men back to fitness, hardening them up for return to the front line.
For the soldiers who had been wounded and shipped back to hospitals in England, there was a defined process for their recovery and training. As no Australian General Hospitals were established in Britain during the conflict (1AGH not arriving in England until after the Armistice), Australian casualties arriving from France went to British hospitals right across the country. Once well enough to be moved, they were transferred to the Australian Auxiliary Hospitals in Harefield, Middlesex, Dartford in Kent and at Southall in West London. Upon discharge from hospital they were then sent to one of the four Command Depots in Wiltshire and Dorset to convalesce and continue their recovery:
Command Depot No.2 –established at Monte Video House in Weymouth in June 1915, then expanded to include Westham and Littlemoor camps;
Command Depot No.3 – temporarily established at Bovington, Dorset, to receive overflow from Perham Down following the Somme fighting, then established March 1917 at Hurdcott;
Command Depot No.4 – established Wareham, moved to Codford in June 1917, then to Hurdcott in November 1917.
From mid-1917, those deemed fit enough to resume active service were then sent from the Command Depots to the Overseas Training Brigade to harden them up for life back in the trenches. The Overseas Training Brigade for the AIF was formed in Perham Down in June 1917 and then moved to Longbridge Deverill near Sutton Veny in October 1917. Those not expected to be fit within six months were sent to Weymouth, and in preparation for repatriation and Return to Australia.
Australian Training Groups
Early in June 1916, the training units began to arrive from Egypt where up to that point they had been training the reinforcements arriving from Australia and preparing the Gallipoli veterans for the new operational theatre of the Western Front. Between August 1916 and November 1917, Training Groups were established across Salisbury Plain in order to train the reinforcements that had arrived with just the basic training having been provided from their time in Australia. Each Division had its own Training Group:
1st Division at Perham Down, then moved to Durrington in July 1917, then to Sutton Veny in October 1917;
2nd Division at Rollestone, then Codford in April 1917 and Fovant in October 1917;
3rd Division moved between Hamilton, Codford, Lark Hill, Durrington and Fovant;
4th Division formed at Rollestone then moved to Codford in October 1916 where it remained until disbanded;
5th Division formed at Lark Hill and moved to Codford in October 1916 and finally to Fovant a month later where it remained until disbanded in November 1917.
Other units: the Artillery was located at the Lark Hill depot, the Machine Gun Corps at Tidworth, whereas the Army Service Corps, Engineers, Signallers and Army Medical Corps were all located at the Parkhouse depot (photograph left).
From November 1917 the Training Groups were replaced by three Training Brigades: the 1st Training Brigade at Sutton Veny; the 2nd Training Brigade at Fovant until it was transferred to Codford in December 1918; and the 3rd Training Brigade at Codford.
Australian Camps in England
The following camps were used by the AIF during the Great War. Some of the camps remain to this day and are now home to Infantry and Artillery Units of the British Army, whereas many were closed and demolished soon after the end of the war. Although practically all signs of the WW1 camps have now gone, the presence of Australians during the war is very apparent, particularly when visiting the local and military churchyards in the surrounding area, where many succumbed to their wounds or died from illness particularly the flu epidemic of 1919. Australian soldiers also left their mark on the hillsides at Codford and Fovant with ‘Rising Sun’ cap badges cut into the chalk hills.
Bulford camp was one of the original camps built on the chalky Salisbury Plain having been purchased by the army in 1897, its location ideal for training the Cavalry and Yeomanry. The original hutted camp was built in 1900 on the site of the present Sling Barracks. In 1916, an annexe to the Camp called Sling camp was occupied by New Zealand forces, then comprising four main sections: Auckland, Wellington, Otago, and Canterbury Lines. It was officially called the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade Reserve Camp, and trained reinforcements and casualties who were regaining fitness. A hospital was established at the army base, as a specialist venereal disease hospital. It was handed over to Australians in November 1916 and was known as 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital.
With its easy rail and road access to Warminster and Salisbury Codford made an attractive location for garrisoning troops. During the First World War, there were fifteen different camps built in and around Codford, at first to accommodate British troops before their deployment to France, but in July 1916 Codford became a New Zealand Command Depot for men who, as with the AIF system, were convalescing from wounds or sickness. The Australian No.4 Command Depot moved to Codford from Wareham in Dorset in June 1917 until November of that year when it then moved to Hurdcott.
The camp is no longer there but one of the most notable features illustrating the presence of Australian soldiers is found on a nearby hill outside Codford, where a ‘Rising Sun’ cap badge measuring some 175ft by 150ft high, has been cut into the chalk. Also an Anzac cemetery (photograph) is located in the village close to the church and contains the graves of thirty-one Australian and sixty-six New Zealander soldiers.
To learn about the Australians that are lying in Codford Anzac Cemetery, visit the WW1 Australian Soldiers & Nurses who rest in the United Kingdom project website.
Fargo was a Military Hospital that was also used for prisoners of war. It is likely that most of the 141 Australians and thirteen Americans buried in Durrington Cemetery would have been patients at Fargo. Included within the Durrington Cemetery is 6177 Pte HC Canham of the 22nd Battalion who died of pneumonia in January 1917. Also in the cemetery is a monument dedicated the men of the 1st Training Battalion (photograph right) that died and were located at the nearby Lark Hill training camp.
To learn about the Australians that are lying in Durrington Cemetery, visit the WW1 Australian Soldiers & Nurses who rest in the United Kingdom project website.
The Fovant military railway was built in 1915 from Dinton station enabling a series of camps to be built stretching from Compton Chamberlayne to Barford St Martin, and included the Hurdcott Camp. Australians were prominent at Fovant from August 1916, becoming the major occupants in March 1917. At the end of the war Fovant became a major
demobilisation centre handling thousands of British soldiers a day.
In 1924 a cross was erected in Fovant churchyard (photograph left) in memory of the forty-three Australian and twenty British soldiers buried there after dying in Fovant Military Hospital. An impressive reminder to the presence of troops in this area can be found on a nearby hill, where the ‘Rising Sun’ cap badge can be seen along with seven other regiments insignia carved into the chalk, known as the Fovant Badges (photograph below).
To learn about the Australians that are lying in Fovant Curchyard, visit the WW1 Australian Soldiers & Nurses who rest in the United Kingdom project website
Knook Camp, Heytesbury was an Artillery training base on the edge of Salisbury plain, with Heytesbury House used as the officers’ quarters. From 1916 Australians occupied the camp. Heytesbury House was the home of Siegfried Sassoon, the first world war poet, from the 1930s until his death in 1967, aged 80.
The camp located at Compton Chamberlayne and close to Fovant (and the Fovant badges, pictured right) became known as Hurdcott Camp as it was on land that was part of two farms, one of which bore that name. Australian battalions moved to Hurdcott in 1916, and in March 1917 Hurdcott House became the headquarters of No.3 Command Depot for the AIF. At the camp practice trenches were dug, together with a bayonet fighting assault course close to a bombing ground, and five huts were transformed into a camp hospital. In November 1917 No.4 Command Depot moved from Codford to Hurdcott. By January 1919 the command depots had all but ceased to function in their primary use and were now receiving men from France on their way back home.
A tented camp was first established in 1899 specifically set aside for artillery practice. In 1914, the first permanent huts were built and during the First World War, 34 battalion sized hutted garrisons were built for use by all different types of military forces. By mid-1916, Australian troops were the major occupants of the camp. A light military railway line was built from the established Amesbury–Bulford line, to carry troops to Lark Hill and on to an aerodrome at Stonehenge. The wartime hutments at Lark Hill Camp extended dangerously close to the World Heritage archaeological site at Stonehenge, which also included ancient burial mounds or ‘barrows’ in the vicinity which were vulnerable to being dug into.
After the war, the garrison became an artillery domain and in 1919 the Royal School of Artillery was established there. Today it is now one of the main garrisons on Salisbury Plain, along with Tidworth, Bulford Camp and Warminster.
Park House, situated close to Tidworth, became a depot for the AIF, housing training battalions as well as engineers and signallers, its Army Service Corps and Army Medical Corps.
Conveniently situated a mile from Ludgershall station, Perham Down was initially used at the outbreak of war by some of the new Kitchener battalions. In 1916 Australia’s No.1 Command Depot was established at Perham Down, accommodating 4,000 men, until it moved to Sutton Veny in October 1917. The Australian Overseas Training Brigade, designed to toughen up convalescent men prior to being sent back to the front and for combat was established at Perham Down from June to October 1917, when it was transferred to Sand Hill (Longbridge Deverill).
Unlike many camps built in Wiltshire during the war, Perham Down continued with many of the wooden huts being replaced by brick buildings and is now one of the major garrisons on the Salisbury Plain. Ludgershall station, once a key transport hub for arriving and departing troops has now gone, but the railway line remains (photograph showing where the station was located, with the platform having been on the right).
The camp, close to Fargo and Lark Hill, was taken over in 1916 by Australian training battalions, and it was here that the reinforcements destined for the AIF 2nd Division and hence 22nd Battalion were trained. With limited huts, some of the men lived in tents during the summer.
Sand Hill (Longbridge Deverill)
Situated close to the larger camp at Sutton Veny, Sand Hill camp was built in 1914 to accommodate infantry units. Australian troops arrived at Longbridge Deverill in October 1917, when their Overseas Training Brigade was moved from Perham Down and established there to train soldiers who had recovered from illness and wounds for a return to active service.
Sutton Veny’s proximity to the Warminster-Salisbury railway line made it an ideal choice for an Army camp when the Great War started, and the camp had its own railway with a connection at Heytesbury Station. Australian No.1 Command Depot moved to Sutton Veny in October 1917 from Perham Down. Prisoners of War were also detained here and a hutted hospital opened in 1916, providing beds for 11 officers and 1,261 soldiers.
In January 1919 staff of the 1st Australian General Hospital transferred to Sutton Veny from France, and at this time many patients were suffering from the Spanish influenza epidemic. At the end of 1919 other Australian depots in England were closing with Sutton Veny becoming the final assembling base for Australians from France, where they had mostly engaged in reburial work. Once all the troops had departed most of the huts were removed and the camp railway lifted. Given that 1st AGH had relocated to Sutton Veny, a large number of Australians are buried in the local churchyard (photograph), many of the 143 having died from the flu shortly before returning home. Included within those that died are 61868 Pte DC Higgins and 3904 Pte J Podmore of the 22nd Battalion.
To learn about the Australians that are lying in Sutton Veny, visit the WW1 Australian Soldiers & Nurses who rest in the United Kingdom project website.
Every year since the end of the war the village of Sutton Veny remembers its Australian visitors, with the annual Anzac Day service at the church attended by the Australian High Commission, and the village children laying flowers at each of the soldier’s graves.
Tidworth became the headquarters for the Australian Imperial Force in the UK from mid-1916, being close to the numerous Wiltshire camps where the Australians where based during the war. For most of 1919, HQ staff at Tidworth were busy in the repatriation of Australian troops, with at any one time up to 40,000 men in these Wiltshire camps. Tidworth Military Cemetery (photograph) contains 423 graves from the Great War period – 100 were from New Zealand and 159 Australians, many of whom died in the influenza epidemic during the winter of 1918-19. To learn about the Australians that are lying in Sutton Veny, visit the WW1 Australian Soldiers & Nurses who rest in the United Kingdom project website.
Situated at Worgret Hill near Wareham, the Dorset camp became in October 1916 the AIF No.4 Command Depot to receive the overflow from other AIF depots, caused by the influx from the fighting on the Somme. As with the others it was a depot for men likely to be fit in three months to resume active service. Sadly this would not be the case for thirteen Australians whose final resting place is in the churchyard of Lady St. Mary Church in Wareham. To learn about the Australians that are lying in Sutton Veny, visit the WW1 Australian Soldiers & Nurses who rest in the United Kingdom project website.
After the war the camp was relocated to Bovington, which is now home to tank regiments and training within the British Army.
The Dorset seaside town of Weymouth has had a long military connection, with the Portland Naval base and Napoleonic forts within is vicinity. In May 1915, with a question over how to manage the Australian Gallipoli wounded once discharged from English hospitals, Monte Video House on the outskirts of Weymouth was chosen with its relaxing seaside location as a place they could report to and convalesce. The depot was the joint Australian and New Zealand depot until the NZ depot opened at Hornchurch in Essex in April 1916, with Weymouth becoming the AIF No.2 Command Depot. A second camp was opened at nearby Westham where soldiers that were deemed no longer fit for active service and waiting for repatriation to Australia were accommodated. Most of the Australians repatriated as a result of wounds or sickness passed through Weymouth – it is estimated that during the
years 1915-1919 over 120,000 Australian and New Zealand troops passed through the seaside town. It is also recorded that there were over 50 marriages in Chickerell parish church between Anzac soldiers and mainly local girls, with many of the brides being taken back to Australia on repatriation.
An important aspect of the camp was the re-training for the men that would be returning home, allowing soldiers to pick a completely different job for when they went home, including professions such as architecture, motor engineering, electrical and carpentry classes. For some of the men, the injuries sustained meant that they would not be able to return to their previous professions – note that labourers, industry and primary production requiring physical activity were the main professions for soldiers within the AIF – so this training was very important for them. Entertainment was also very important to keep the troops motivated and in high spirits whilst they were injured or ill, with touring acting and music companies regularly visiting the town and the camps, including at the YMCA building in Westham.
In the town today the Anzac Memorial on Weymouth seafront (pictured above) commemorates the Australian and New Zealand troops who were accommodated in the three camps in the town (Monte Video, Westham and Littlemoor) during WW1. In Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Cemetery (pictured above), close to the site of the Westham camp, there are eighty-six graves of Anzacs who were never to return home. Also in memory of the troops that passed through Weymouth there are a number of roads in a housing estate built on the former site of the Westham camp that are named after Australian cities and states (example in photograph). Residents of these houses are still digging up remains of the camp such as bullets and cooking equipment to this day.
AIF Detention Centre
From November 1917 until 1920, Australian soldiers that were sentenced to a period of detention or penal servitude while in the UK were sent to the AIF Detention Centre on the south coast at Lewes, East Sussex. The main objective of the demanding prison regime was to retrain the soldier for return to action, though as service records show this did not work for everyone and re-offending took place.
The detention centre also had a separate hospital wing for soldiers with venereal diseases, as placing them at 1ADH Bulford often meant an easy means of escape.
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