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j malpas

Goodbye to Fovant badges?

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j malpas

As some will know, on the chalk hills facing the village of Fovant on Salisbury Plain there are a series of cap badges of regiments cut into the chalk. Most were cut by units which were stationed nearby during WW1. Over the years a few of the badges have been maintained at considerable difficulty and expense and now remain visible from the A30 road – for the BBC to photograph for their Remembrance Day coverage for example. The work required to restock and secure new chalk annually on the steep slopes is demanding and very expensive. The suggestion is that in present circumstances the money spent on these maintenance costs would be better used for soldiers’ charities, and the badges still visible, most of long-forgotten regiments, should be allowed to disappear gracefully.

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Chris_Baker

Where and how is this suggestion being made?

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Andy Wade

This from their website:

The restoration of the eight military crests on Fovant Down was completed by the end of June 2003.

However that is not the end of the story. The annual cost of maintenance is above the current, and projected future, income level of the Society. If we cannot achieve the necessary level of funding to carry out effective annual maintenance work then the long-term existence of these memorials as visible emblems on the Downs must be in doubt.

Problems with funding to maintain the badges seem to have always been present since the scheduling by English Heritage and the restoration work carried out in recent years.

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Chris_Baker

With respect that is not quite the same as "the money spent on these maintenance costs would be better used for soldiers’ charities". Who is saying that?

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Moonraker

... Problems with funding to maintain the badges seem to have always been present since the scheduling by English Heritage and the restoration work carried out in recent years.

One might almost infer from this that it was the scheduling by English Heritage that has led to funding problems! In fact the Society has been concerned about the future (even in the medium term) of the badges for a long time. There have long been funding problems with maintaining turf monuments, though elsewhere there's only one to concern the local community (eg the Bulford Kiwi, White Horses). Decades ago work of sorts was done by volunteer labour, and I wonder what sort of effort there must have been to restore the badges after the Second World War when they were neglected? Now the work on the very steep slope is done by professional contractors with fresh chalk being imported from some distance away and it not talking very long for the "new" appearance to become weathered.

Immediately after the Great War there were many more badges near Fovant, some little more than scratchings, and the least effective were allowed to become overgrown, resulting in an overall visual improvement.

Moonraker

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j malpas

With respect that is not quite the same as "the money spent on these maintenance costs would be better used for soldiers’ charities". Who is saying that?

Discussions over the future of these expensive time-expired badges and how to manage and pay for them have been both a local and national issue for years. The present issue is not about what to do with money saved. It is surely about the value of the badges as a national or local monument into the future against the heavy burden of their essential maintenance. Currently they only survive due to the enthusiasm of local retired army officers working through a Society hard put to it to find the essential funding (it is said that the number of officers and their enthusiasm are distinctly waning!). As a result the number of badges has gradually decreased and will continue to do so unless something is changed.

If the long term future of this rapidly wasting monument is considered nationally important then the only alternative would appear to be to remove the local amateur management of the badges into professional hands (English Heritage, Royal British Legion or the like) with the potential to develop the site and in the process secure the badges in perpetuity. But if no such organisation will accept this commitment then it gives a strong indication that this project is nationally unviable, and the present local management should continue until the last old badge disappears gracefully into the grass (the only extant badge, the Royal Signals 1970 addition, can presumably be funded by that Corps).

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Dragon

. The suggestion is that in present circumstances the money spent on these maintenance costs would be better used for soldiers' charities, and the badges still visible, most of long-forgotten regiments, should be allowed to disappear gracefully.

I'm sympathetic to your concern, but unless I'm misreading something, I can't find who is making the suggestion and where it says that, "the money spent on these maintenance costs would be better used for soldiers' charities." Please could you point to this?

I'm anxious to understand, but given that you believe that there is value in these landscape features, I'm not clear what you think should happen next. I mean, if people are concerned, do they write letters, lobby, send money, volunteer to do maintenance, or what? And I don't feel that people can do anything without a clear picture of what is already being discussed.

Gwyn

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j malpas

Personally I do believe in the value of the badges as a distinctive long-term memorial to soldiers of the Great War, but only if it can be put on a properly funded permanent footing nationally, as I explained. I wrote to show up the struggles of the local unfortunates presently tasked with trying to maintain the last six remaining WW1 badges at huge and increasing costs and reducing effectiveness. I am not of their number, nor local, although I am in touch with one of them, have walked the ground and discussed with interested friends what in present circumstances appears to be a bleak future for the remaining badges. The cost comparison with soldiers’ charities, which are now facing ever increasing demands, was just a part of the opposing views that have been expressed among us. And I have to admit my friends are not all of one mind, nor are we intent on “action this day” as your last comment suggests. My post was in part to see if there was the slightest concern in your special interest group as to the future of this interesting “local” memorial.

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Tonym

From what I gather from your comments the maintenance of the Fovent Badges is a rather costly excercise and I doubt, despite what interest the members of this forum might have, that we would be able to bear the cost of permanent maintenance of these badges.

I have no idea how well organised your group is but you refer to "properly funded permanent footing nationally". What action have you taken so far to draw national attention to this problem?

Tony

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j malpas

From what I gather from your comments the maintenance of the Fovent Badges is a rather costly excercise and I doubt, despite what interest the members of this forum might have, that we would be able to bear the cost of permanent maintenance of these badges.

I have no idea how well organised your group is but you refer to "properly funded permanent footing nationally". What action have you taken so far to draw national attention to this problem?

Tony

The badges are run by a local Society/Charity led by retired military. In their own words, “the annual cost of maintenance is above the current, and projected future income level of the Society” and “the long-term existence of these memorials must be in doubt”. The extreme difficulties faced in trying to maintain these badges, giving rise to the cost, is explained at http://www.fovantbadges.com/his_det.htm

In present circumstances, finding new long-term donors to fill a very large and increasing deficit is little more than a pious hope; hence our thoughts on transferring responsibility for the project to a national organisation like English Heritage. We think that unless the Society is successful in this (and it will itself activate whatever publicity is needed), the badges will soon disappear into the grass.

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j malpas

The badges are run by a local Society/Charity led by retired military. In their own words, “the annual cost of maintenance is above the current, and projected future income level of the Society” and “the long-term existence of these memorials must be in doubt”. The extreme difficulties faced in trying to maintain these badges, giving rise to the cost, is explained at http://www.fovantbadges.com/his_det.htm

In present circumstances, finding new long-term donors to fill a very large and increasing deficit is little more than a pious hope; hence our thoughts on transferring responsibility for the project to a national organisation like English Heritage. We think that unless the Society is successful in this (and it will itself activate whatever publicity is needed), the badges will soon disappear into the grass.

Whatever your view, if any, on the long-term future of the Fovant badges, they will be figuring in the BBC’s “COUNTRYFILE” programme next Sunday at 6.25 pm, 6th November 2011.

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Old Tom

I first recall seeing these badges in say 1945, in any case as a child, and some time in the 60's I recall making a donation to their maintainance having seen an article in, I think, Soldier. Some few years ago I became a member of the society. If all members of this forum felt able to lend support I am sure it would be appreciated by those who run the society, and would make a great difference. After all these badges were created by soldiers in the wartime camps north of the ridge and, I suppose, must be one of the few 'memorials' made by serving soldiers during the Great War. Royal Signals is the exception. I believe their's was looked after by soldiers from Blandford Camp in the days when soldiers were plentyful and had spare time. At one stage, again, I believe, prisoners from Dorchester prison worked on the badges, but 'health and safety' considerations put a stop to that.

Old Tom

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Chris_Baker

It's been clear for years that the cost and effort of maintenance of the badges was (or was likely to) outstrip income from traditional sources. Perhaps it needs a radical approach to finding some longer-term financial security. Lottery money? Commercial sponsorship? I am not expert in fund-raising but I would have thought that with concerted and well-applied effort something would be achievable. Do you know, jomal, what has been done to date with regard to these kinds of things?

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Moonraker

I believe that the energetic committee that has been in place for the last decade has explored every option. The Society has a membership of some 300. I am less sure of the annual maintenance cost but for what it's worth I think that it may £25K.

In 2000 the Society reluctantly decided it could no longer afford to maintain the badges of the 7th City of London Regiment and Royal Warwickshire Regiment at Sutton Mandeville. I wonder what traces of these can be made out today?

Moonraker

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j malpas

It's been clear for years that the cost and effort of maintenance of the badges was (or was likely to) outstrip income from traditional sources. Perhaps it needs a radical approach to finding some longer-term financial security. Lottery money? Commercial sponsorship? I am not expert in fund-raising but I would have thought that with concerted and well-applied effort something would be achievable. Do you know, jomal, what has been done to date with regard to these kinds of things?

No, Im not in the loop although I occasionally hear of dissatisfactions from within it. The Society is run by a retired military hierarchy who I am sure are well-intentioned, but they are local, amateur and temporary. Judging from the website it seems the long-term deficit problem was identified about eight years ago and has remained unsolved while the difficulties and costs of maintaining the chalk in place on shifting slopes have mounted exponentially. I suspect the Society are resigned for the badges only to see out the WW1 centenaries, if necessary by further reducing the number of badges. If this is the situation then perhaps, whether these memorials, which are in effect national (with an Australian badge too), should survive long-term and how, should be decided now by a wider forum, possibly by canvassing the public at large.

Reminder: The Fovant badges figure this evening in the BBC TVs COUNTRYFILE programme at 6.25 pm (Sunday 6th November 2011)

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Moonraker

Very good programme. There were some early images of the badges of which I was unaware (and the Slapton Sands WWII item was interesting).

With due respect to modern restorers (who perhaps are more concerned about renovation that endures), I've often felt that the original badges were more finely carved.

Moonraker

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j malpas

I believe that the energetic committee that has been in place for the last decade has explored every option. The Society has a membership of some 300. I am less sure of the annual maintenance cost but for what it's worth I think that it may £25K.

In 2000 the Society reluctantly decided it could no longer afford to maintain the badges of the 7th City of London Regiment and Royal Warwickshire Regiment at Sutton Mandeville. I wonder what traces of these can be made out today?

Moonraker

I am told the professional maintenance of the remaining badges currently costs £30,000 p.a. and this of course increases each year.

This website lists and illustrates the badges at a time when there were 9 extant badges, and also shows what was then visible of the 19 that were left to revert to grass http://www.hows.org.uk/personal/hillfigs/fovant/fovant.htm

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Neil Mackenzie

I always thought the badges were cut into the chalk but the Countryfile programme put me right as they are built up banks of chalk.

It would be a shame to see them go - they are effectively memorials built by the men they commemorate which makes them all the more poignant.

Neil

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Old Tom

Neil, I did not see the Countryfile programme, but my recollection of a talk by one of the officers of the society that seeks to maintain the badges is that the badges were first made by removing the turf thus exposing the chalk. Over the years the combination of natural erosion and deposit of the eroded material together with efforts at cleaning caused the badges to become distorted - the lines tend to move downhill - when a commercial firm was engaged to do the work, they adopted the practice of packing the lines with imported chalk.

Old Tom

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Neil Mackenzie

I must admit I thought the gentleman from the Society said that when the badges were first made the soldiers brought the chalk from another part of the hill. I got the impression they now use chalk from another location. But I may well have misheard/misunderstood him.

Neil

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Moonraker

Postcards of the badges show a large chalk quarry at the base of the hill, so that could have been the original source. The Fovant Badges Society annual report for 2009 said that a quarry at East Grimstead (about 14 miles away) had met its needs in 2008 but was likely to be exhausted in 2009, with material having to be hauled from Lyme Regis, 60 miles away. Delivered chalk had cost £7/tonne in 2004 and was likely to be £20/tonne in 2009. Two of the largest badges had required 70 tonnes of new chalk.

I believe that the practice of raising the level of new chalk above ground level was started a couple of years ago.

The badges are scheduled ancient monuments.

Moonraker

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Chief_Chum

This is a really interesting thread.

One thing puzzles me; if it now costs £30k per year to maintain them, and the supposition is that they will all disappear in a few years without spending £30k per year on them, how did they survive for 85/90 years, with no funding, until the excellent Fovant Badge Society (by no means all "ex-military") stepped in to help?

Nice piece on Countryfile - and good to see Khaki Chum Major Rob Yuill explaining the importance of the badges.

Cheers,

Taff

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Moonraker

The 2011 report was quite upbeat: society in very good order, excellent state of badges, membership healthy but fairly static, but income from assets falling, partly due to low interest rates.

Moonraker

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Old Tom

Taff,

See my post 13, labour used to be available.

Old Tom

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