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Remembered Today:

Chapperton Down Artillery School


ianjonesncl

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An intersting film I came across on the Imperial War Musuem collection features the Chapperton Down Artillery School. 

"Taken at the school on 9 March 1916, this film shows in detail the firing procedures for the 6-inch 26cwt howitzer, the 8-inch Mk VI howitzer and the 9.2-inch Mk I howitzer with the new Type 106 graze fuse (not shown). It shows the effects of the fall of shot, giving the distance and line of camera to the point of impact with the direction of wind for each firing. In each case the result is a surface burst."

CHAPPERTON DOWN ARTILLERY SCHOOL [Main Title] | IWM Film (iwmcollections.org.uk)

Source: © IWM IWM 108

It is always nice to see the gun detachments in operation to see how the drills that were needed to load, lay and fire the gun.

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Chapperton Down Artillery School 6 inch 26 cwt Howitzer

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Chapperton Down Artillery School 9.2 inch Mark 1 Howitzer

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Chapperton Down Artillery School 8 inch Mark VI Howitzer

Chapperton Down Artillery School 6in 26 cwt Howitzer Battery firing

Chapperton Down Artillery School 6in 26 cwt Howitzer Battery firing

Having observed many an artillery round landing on Salisbury Plain, the views of the shells exploding are timeless.

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Chapperton Down Artillery School obsering Fall of Shot - 9.2 inch Howitzer shell exploding

A little research into where Chapperton Down is located on Salisbury Plain (not near Aldershot as detailed by IWM), I found that I have been there. Head north on the A360 from Tilshead, tank cross F, turn left, through the vedette and head for Imber.

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An archelogical report militaryarchaeology2.pdf (multibriefs.com)   provides information about the Chapperton Down Artillery School.

The Overseas Artillery School (later called the Chapperton Down Artillery School) was set up west of the A360 in 1915 and in operation by 1916 with a mission to standardise methods of use, of terminology, of data acquisition, of air observation of fall of shot, and of the effects of weather on trajectory and gas dispersal (the latter likely to have been by use of visible smoke rather than by use of gas).

The Chapperton Down School had an establishment of staff and technical officers and its students were brigade artillery officers, battery commanders and battery captains, most of whom appear to have been accommodated in Salisbury and motored out daily to Chapperton Down.

The school was of minimal infrastructure, with trenches, tents, a few huts and observation towers on Chapperton Down itself. It was a technical school rather than a tactical school and in 1919 it moved to Larkhill as was collocated with the staffs of other dispersed artillery schools to be renamed in 1920 as The School of Artillery, Larkhill.

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The layout of the Chapperton Down School was linear, firing along fixed lines to facilitate the scientific monitoring by close observation and filming of impact and influence of weather and munition from towers and posts. Thus it centred on trench systems on the west (reverse) slopes of the high ground on Chapperton Down, east of the Berrill Valley, with two impact areas to its west and south of Imber Firs and Tinkers Firs (The Kite and the Diamond) and mock gun positions (Tinker’s Bottom, Well Bottom and Fore Down Batteries) with concrete features. To its east and across the A360 were seven battery positions at different ranges, using different calibres, including 18 pounder guns up to 9.2-inch howitzers etc. firing westwards over Chapperton Down (Berrill, Barrow, Rings, Peels and Field Barn Batteries).

Target features included a ‘dressing station’, two dug-outs, concrete targets and many trench systems. Especially constructed for the School was a meteorological station at Butlers Cross about 4 km east of Chapperton Down, and landing grounds for use by the Royal Flying Corps observer aircraft on any suitable flat and mown strips in the area.

 

A GWF Forum post by @Moonraker details the experience of those living near the range in the village of Imber recounted by the vicar, Charles Watling;

https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/297325-imber-open-a-nice-day/?do=findComment&comment=3111397

"We daily, and often nightly, suffered from the effects of concussion, our walls buckled, our glass cracked, so that we present to the world a shell shocked village … our population has dwindled, one shop remains and instead of our continuing to be a self-supporting community we have become dependent upon neighbouring villages for our thrice weekly supply of food."

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Imber Village -  Charles Watling's Vicarge to left of the picture

 

 

 

Edited by ianjonesncl

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Thanks Ian. Really interesting. I've seen several references to RFA officers being sent home from France to attend courses at the Overseas Artillery School and wondered where it might be. Do you happen to know if it would have been here, or, noting that the IWM film shows heavier guns, was Chapperton Down an RGA facility and the RFA school may have been elsewhere? 

David.

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Moonraker

Posted (edited)

Minor coincidence in that I was looking at my Chapperton Down notes only this morning and also emailed an Imber historian .  Very good summary and presentation, Ian.

Forty soldiers and six batmen were housed in the attic of Imber Court, with a major and five other officers in more comfortable accommodation. Concerts were held in the Court's great barn, with Gladys Dean, the lady of the house, singing and playing the piano. Everyone was encouraged to take part, doing a turn or signing a patriotic song. The army improved the road through the village, but the track from Heytesbury came under regular fire. Shells damaged some houses, and the intensity of the training meant that at times the villagers were virtual prisoners, being allowed out only three times a week to Warminster.

Dennis Wheatley (later to become famous for his black-magic novels) was a member of the 2nd battalion, 1st City of London Royal Field Artillery, and described his experiences in the Imber area in his autobiographical Officer and Temporary Gentleman. In August 1916 he was posted to Heytesbury Camp and in October was involved in an exercise near Tilshead. The men were accommodated in "old wooden huts" on an artillery range, the officers were billeted at the Black Horse Inn. In November Wheatley moved to a tented campsite 1½ miles south of Imber. (These references would seem to refer to the Chapperton Down ranges. The allusion to "old wooden huts" is puzzling as any military buildings in the Tilshead area would have been erected recently. They may have been farm buildings. But other contemporary accounts refer to hutments as being old, when in fact they had been put up in the last year or so. Such comments may reflect how they became shabby very quickly.) Wheatley recalled:

"The days that followed were sheer purgatory. The rain increased until it was continuous. Day after day it poured in torrents while the men, protected only by their mackintosh ground-sheets, laced around their necks, toiled at digging gunpits. Our chaps had never before been called on to live in the open, so our cooks had no experience of using camp ovens. Petrol and sugar was flung on the fires in vain, time after time wind-driven rain put them out. During lulls they managed to boil up kettles for tea but nearly all our food had to be eaten cold. On that desolate plain there was not a house or barn in which anyone could shelter even for a short while. Drenched to the skin, their boots sodden, unwashed and utterly miserable, the men crouched shivering in their bivvies …

The men began to cough; so did I. Scores of them developed bronchitis, then pneumonia and had to be sent to hospital. The infantry suffered even worse than we did, for two of their men actually died out there on the Plain and their bodies were taken away in small arms wagons. Out of a total force of 498 troops and 16 officers, 170 men had to be evacuated because they were coughing their lungs out."

At the same time that Wheatley was camped near Imber, the 173rd Brigade were in the same location digging trenches for the artillery practice ranges. On the night of its arrival, many tents were blown down and the ground became muddy enough to be worthy of Flanders. "This period was regarded as being as uncomfortable as any experienced during the war," noted Colonel E G Godfrey in The Cast-Iron Sixth (F S Stapleton 1938).

See this previous thread.

"Salisbury Plain Chapperton Down Artillery Range Byelaws 1916", available online through Googling.

A Treatise by Major RH Chapman on the calibration of guns and howitzers by the direct measurement of muzzle velocity, as carried out at Shoots of Artillery in France and England (Chapperton Down) 1917 and 1918. Military Document 2021 (location unknown). Available by searching www.theogilbymuster.com.

 

 

 

 

Edited by Moonraker
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14 minutes ago, Moonraker said:

On that desolate plain there was not a house or barn in which anyone could shelter even for a short while. Drenched to the skin, their boots sodden, unwashed and utterly miserable, the men crouched shivering in their bivvies …

A timeless description of Salisbury Plain in the wet.

18 minutes ago, Moonraker said:

Shells damaged some houses, and the intensity of the training meant that at times the villagers were virtual prisoners, being allowed out only three times a week to Warminster.

It was not only during WW2 where the villagers had to put up with a great deal to support the war effort.  Range Safety seems to have been mimimal.

25 minutes ago, Moonraker said:

The men were accommodated in "old wooden huts" on an artillery range, the officers were billeted at the Black Horse Inn.

The archelogical report I refer to on the blog post outlines "The school was of minimal infrastructure, with trenches, tents, a few huts and observation towers on Chapperton Down itself". Those huts may have already looked old when Dennis Wheatley observed them.

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Thank you both - that both clears things up for me and adds much colour to what those who attended the school experienced. 

David.

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Intrigued that Dennis Wheatley may have been at Chapperton Down, I had a google and came up with the Denis Wheatley museum. A web page outlines Wheatleys time on Salisbury Plain and the fact " DW was to put the knowledge he had gained of Salisbury Plain to a rather different use - as the background for some of the most important chapters in 'The Devil Rides Out'."

The Dennis Wheatley 'Museum'

 

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20 hours ago, ianjonesncl said:

This report  from SS157, Report on the Overseas Artillery School, Salisbury Plain, May 1917 November, 1916-March, 1918"The Infantry cannot do with a gun less": Appendix 20 (gutenberg-e.org) details that it was used by both RFA and RGA officers. Experimental work included field guns, and heavy guns.

The report notes the advantage of combining both RFA and RGA officers on the course.

 

 

Thanks Ian.  That's great to know.  

David.

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The 14th and 15th Canadian Field Companies, Canadian Engineers, were in the Tilshead-Chitterne area in mid-1917, building and repairing roads and laying tramlines and railways (presumably of narrow gauge to facilitate the transport of stores and shells to Chapperton Down). In their war diaries are references to the latter being laid at Five Down Dump, Hoopers Hollow and Middle Barn, this last being on the Tilshead-Chitterne road and referred to as the "Middle Barn Artillery Training Camp".

I can see no sign of infrastructure on the 1923 OS 25in map but I suspect that there wouldn't have much, if any, revision, of maps showing the remoter parts of Salisbury Plain.

 

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