Hurdcott Camp and what is the present A30 road.
In August 1914, Britain had a full time army of approximately 100,000 men. By the time of the Armistice four years later, some 10 million men had been bought into service. Salisbury Plain had been selected in the 1890’s as a suitable place to accommodate training units due to its close proximity to the south coast and being well serviced by railways to the ports. At the outbreak of the First World War, these initial training camps were greatly expanded to train the new ‘Kitchener Armies’ plus the ever increasing number of soldiers coming from overseas.
Hurdcott Camp was built on land requisitioned from Naishes Farm and the Hurdcott Estate. Camps also existed at Fovant and Sutton Mandeville.
British Regiments at Hurdcott
The first regiments at Hurdcott consisted of several British Units, mostly from the North of England plus some from London. What we know so far:
25th September – 19th December 1915 11th East Lancashire Regiment (known as the Accrington Pals)
October – December 1915 12th, 13th & 14th York & Lancaster Regiment (12th known as the Sheffield Pals, 13th & 14th known as the Barnsley Pals)
October – December 1915 10th, 11th, 12th & 13th East Yorkshire Regiment
January – May 1916 1st, 2nd, 11th & 12th Wessex Division Training Army Service Corps
January – Autumn 1916 London Regiment
January – March 1917 Notts & Derbyshire Regiment (known as the Sherwood Foresters)
Although some Australian Battalions had been at Hurdcott Camp since 1916, it was not until 12th March 1917 that the camp was officially taken over by the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF). During the Gallipoli Campaign (19th February 1915 – 9th January 1916), thousands of wounded Australian soldiers were sent to English hospitals, but then the question came as to where to send them to convalesce as they could not be sent home.
Command Depots were set up to solve this problem – somewhere where soldiers discharged from military hospitals could recuperate and then get ‘fighting fit’ again. The AIF had four Command Depots based in Wiltshire and Dorset:
No. 1 – Perham Down near Tidworth, Salisbury Plain, then transferred to Sutton Veny, Salisbury Plain in October 1917
No. 2 – Monte Video Camp, Weymouth from June 1915, then expanded to include Westham and Littlemoor Camps
No. 3 – Bovington Camp, Dorset to receive overflow from Perham Down following the devastating Somme battles, then at Hurdcott from March 1917
No. 4 – Wareham, Dorset then moved to Codford, Salisbury Plain June 1917, then moved to Hurdcott in November 1917
No. 3 Command Depot, Hurdcott Camp
The official AIF War Diaries contain some fascinating detail about life at Hurdcott Camp in 1917. The first entry into the diary dated March-December 1917 states:
“The Depot is situated on the main Salisbury Shaftesbury Road at Hurdcott, midway between the villages of Barford St. Martin and Fovant, and at its conception consisted of two camps, Nos. 5 & 6. The situation is an ideal one for a Convalescent Depot; the neighbouring country is rolling & well-wooded and watered with several small rivers, these providing the necessary drainage. Running parallel with the road fronting the camps on the south side and less than a half-mile away is a range of hills rising to 300 ft. above the road level, know as Compton & Fovant Downs.
There are several thriving villages within easy distance of the Depot; Compton-Chamberlayne, Fovant, Tisbury, Dinton, Barford St. Martin and Wilton are all less than four miles distant, whilst Salisbury, the county city of Wiltshire is 7 ½ miles away. The main London & South Western Railway line runs about one mile north of the camp and Dinton & Wilton Stations are those most used by the troops in the Hurdcott and Fovant area. Each of these stations has ample storage and yard accommodation, and the former is well provided with shunting facilities, making it well adapted for the handling of large bodies of troops.
The Camps are of the hutment type and each has, in round figures, accommodation for 1000 men. They are well laid out and drained, and each is quite self-contained, possessing shower-baths, ablution-huts, cookhouse, dining-rooms, recreation rooms, concert hall, Officers & Sergeants Messes, stabling, barber’s shop etc. Each camp has sufficient ground for training purposes and also covered sheds for use in inclement weather.
The huts are of corrugated iron, lined and floored with wood; each accommodates 30 men and has ample window space. The lighting of the camps is by electricity, supplied from a central power house, which serves the whole of the area; heating is by coal fires, each building having one or more stoves, according to its size. Specially worthy of mention are the camp kitchens. These are splendidly equipped, 12 large ovens and 3 boilers making it an easy matter for four thousand meals per day to be cooked in each.”
Digitalised versions of many of these war diaries can be found at Australian War Memorial website.
Mentions of Hurdcott Camp in Newspaper Articles
The following cablegram has been received from Hurdcott Camp, Salisbury, England: –
Arrived safely. Jinks (Curlewis), Willey Brother (Bellarine), Benham (Drysdale), Pigdon (Drysdale), Caithness (Queenscliff) – Willey.
Queenscliff Sentinel, Drysdale, Portarlington, Sorrento Advertiser, Vic – 11 November, 1916
Corporal L. H. Robinson, son of Mr George Robinson, of Minore Hotel, writing to Mr Charles Bear, of the Exchange Hotel, Dubbo, from Hurdcott Camp, England, on the 1st November, states that after the voyage from Australia he landed at Plymouth, and then took train for Lark Hill, Salisbury Plain. He and those with him had a very enjoyable trip across. He was in several camps and finally settled at Hurdcott which was a very decent camp. The men had huts to sleep in, and in each hut there was a stove. It had been raining for about a week, and he thought it was the greatest place for wet that he had ever seen. There were a number of Dubbo boys in the camp, but they would be leaving very shortly, as they had received order to proceed overseas to the firing line.
The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate, NSW – 18 December, 1916
Writing to his mother, Mrs Reed, of Calarie, Private R. E. Reed says he was in Hurdcott camp at the time of writing, October 25th: — “I got two of the papers you sent me, and found them very interesting, although they were old. The Allison and Anderson boys are in this camp and Arthur Allison and Bill Collits went to France about a week ago. We are all leaving for the trenches early next month (November), so with a little luck, I’ll be writing from France in a week or two. I was building on putting in Christmas in London, but there will be no such luck now. It is getting jolly cold here now, but nothing to what it is going to be. Give my very best wishes to all Calarie people.”
The Forbes Advocate, NSW – 22 December, 1916