The Map in Letters and War Diaries

Mentions of the Map of Australia at Hurdcott Camp aka “Australia Hill”

The extracts below have been taken from published letters, often printed in newspaper articles.  It gives an interesting insight into both the creation of the Map of Australia and life at Hurdcott Camp.  The first extract below from the War Diaries and Letters of Geoffrey Rose has given us the earliest date we know about so far regarding the cutting of the Map – that in February 1917 it has least been started.

All of the painstaking research below has been carried out by Cathy Sedgwick, from Australia to whom we are indebted:

War Diaries & Letters of Geoffrey Rose:

February 1917:  “…There being a layer of chalk very close to the surface some of the Tommy Regiments had emulated the White Horse idea by cutting out their regimental crests on the side of the hill. A huge map of Australia was commenced above our camp and the unfortunates in the “clink” were marched up daily to cut away more portions. Later in the year a “rising sun” badge was cut out at Fovant. Between our camp and the hill were trenches to practice in.” [page 100]

Letter home from Corporal J. E. Youlden, published in the Rochester Express, Victoria, Australia 3 July, 1917:

“Our present home is at Hurdcott, about seven miles from Salisbury, and very decent it is. The cold weather has been our worst enemy since we came here, and truly we did not know was cold was till we got to this place. Snow! We have seen heaps – in fact it has lain about for a week at a time, but the cold winds are worse than the snow. The country about here is rather pretty and not much of a plain in looks. On a hill opposite a huge map of Australia has been dug out by some enterprising Australian, and as we stood in the mud on the parade ground the first morning in camp, and saw the map gradually appear out of the fog, one feeling wag remarked that he would not give a square inch of Australia for the hole of the _____ country, and I think those were the sentiments of everyone. The camps are very comfortable to live in.  Thirty of us sleep in a hut, and we have huge mess rooms to eat in”

An extract from the Diary of Cpl Ivor Alexander Williams, Service number 538 of 21st Battalion Australian Imperial Force, dated 13th October, 1917:

“Our camp has been shifted so today I had to find them at Fovant (about 2 miles from Dinton) Oh! The scenery is just lovely.  We are in a basin with a heavy wood in the rear and enormous hills round us.  These hills are of chalk and every unit that has been here has cut their badge in the side of the hill by removing the green turf and filling up with white chalk. The Australian one is built on the scale of being 1,000 times bigger than our hat badge. Then there is a map of Australia twice the area of this big badge. They are a real work of art.”

 In a letter to his family, dated 27th January 1918, an Australian soldier named Thomas James Quinn wrote:

“I am enclosing a map of Australia on the hill here at Hurdcott. It is done with white chalk stone and is longingly watched by the troops camped here.”

In an extract from The North Western Advocate and The Emu Bay Times, Tasmania, written on 20th July 1918:

“… The country all around is very pretty, and both Hardcott [sic] and Fovant camps are well situated on a hill and very healthy.  Opposite, with a narrow valley between, there is another low hill; this is of chalk, with a thin coating of grass. The Australian badge, “The Rising Sun,” has been formed by cutting away the grass, it is beautifully done; also Y.M.C.A. badge, map of Australia and Tasmania, a kangaroo and various crosses, etc.  I was told that the owner had sued the Commonwealth for damages. He was offered £1500, but refused it, went to court, lost the case, and had to pay his own costs.  Truly a just punishment. He should have been well pleased to have his entirely useless hill turned into a work of art for all time…”

An article in The Maitland Weekly Mercury, NSW, Australia, dated 19th July 1919:

“One of the most striking souvenirs of the war is to be seen in Wiltshire on the ridge of chalk hills parallel to the Salisbury-Shaftesbury road and overlooking the camps of Hurdcott and Fovant.  In 1916, various London regiments were stationed there, and one day a party began to cut out their regimental badge in the hillside.  The result was so striking that the Post Office Rifles also cut their elaborate badge, which was beautifully finished and about 150ft. from end to end. 

Other London regiments followed suit and soon there appeared the badges of the 6th City of London, the London Rifle Brigade and the “Shiny Seventh.”  The London regiments were replaced by others, and on to the hill came badges, including the stately towers of the Devon Regiment and the graceful deer of the Royal Warwicks.

The Australians came and cut their Imperial badge, a kangaroo and a huge map of Australia. Then the staff at Fovant Hospital put the R.A.M.C. badge there, and the V.A.D.’s and the Y.M.C.A. followed.

The appearance of these enormous white crests of the steep hill-sides is so striking that the famous White Horse of Wiltshire will have to look to its laurels.”

‘Whizzbang 8’ writing in Smith’s Weekly, Sydney, NSW, Australia on 25th January 1930:

“We were camped at Hurdcott, Salisbury Plains. The R.S.M., suddenly appeared at the hut door.  ‘All of you men fall in at the toot,’ he said; then he passed on to the next hut. We duly fell in, about 50 strong, all wondering what the joke was.  After the Sarge had dressed us and numbered us off he said, ‘Now, listen carefully, all you chaps cannot go, but this is what it means.  Anyone wishing to go to Australia fall out.’

Well, the mob stated to move.  ‘Hold on, I can only take half of you,’ said the Sarge, and promptly picked twenty-four. ‘The rest, dismiss!’

I was among the dismissed, most of us saying unprintable words. A quarter of an hour later, down came our mates, armed with picks, bound for the big floral map of Australia cut out on the hillside opposite, their job being to dig out the weeds growing among the white pebbles forming the border.

The reception they received on returning was something never to be forgotten. 

Another memory of time spent in England during the First World War was printed in Smith’s Weekly from Sydney, NSW, Australia on 15th February 1936:

“At Hurdcott Camp, England, “Pudding,” a big fat Queenslander, was suffering from the cold winter.  He was told that if they could think of a ‘new’ one for General Ryan, he might get back to Australia.  Near this particular camp there was a huge map of Australia cut out of the chalk hill, and one day Pudding was missing.  After a long search he was found huddled up in his overcoat on the further-most part of Northern Queensland on this map.  Questioned later by Ryan, he said he considered ‘that was the only flaming warm spot in the whole of the frost-bitten island’.  Ryan thought that one was good enough.  So home came Pudding to his beloved Queensland.” Contributer:  ‘Fifty-first-ite’

This extract from Smith’s Weekly, Sydney, NSW, Australia, printed on 31st October 1942:

“Footprints:  One of Salisbury Plain’s (England) most prominent features is a large map of Australia delineated on a hillside and cut in the chalk, its white outline showing up strongly against the green grass.  This giant Australia encircling the letters AIF was carved by Australian Engineers in 1916, and is familiar to all old AIF men who were on the Plains.

Not to be outdone by their fathers the new Diggers have carved four Australia’s on the same cliff. These are much smaller than the 1916 model, and no doubt as a compliment to the old brigade are set one at each corner of the large Australia.  It would be interesting at this stage if men of both periods who were actually concerned with the work would furnish details and perhaps give names of moving spirits behind the projects.”   Contributer: ‘Clipper’

Note:  If anyone knows anything about the WW2 mentioned above, please let us know!

In response to the above article, Frank Male from Hughenden, Queensland wrote in the 28th November 1942 edition of Smith’s Weekly:

” ‘SMITH’S’ (31/10/42) contains a paragraph headed ‘Footprints’ mentioning the huge map of Australia, outlined in chalk on the green slope of a hill near old Hurdcott Camp, Salisbury Plain, England.  I enclose a photo of it taken in 1917.  Map was 120 yards across. I was one of 30 men (old 31st Bn) who erected the flagpole on it.”