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Salisbury Camps: arrival and departure


JuliaG
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I'd like to know a few details about the following, please:

1. If a newly recruited soldier (a blacksmith) from Northumberland travelled alone to Salisbury for training to be a shoe-smith in the RFA in February 1916, would he walk from Amesbury, or was the military light railway built by then?

2. Could he be in Larkhill Camp, or was that for Anzacs only?

3. If not, was there a particular camp that he would be in for training?

4. When he left in a draft of men in May 1916, again, would he march to Amesbury, or where, and thence?

Many thanks

JuliaG

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Hi Julia and welcome to the forum. You raise some interesting questions which made me think - and consult Rails Across the Plain, by Jeffery Grayer, which describes the Amesbury & Bulford branch railway and the Lark Hill Military Railway, but which appears not to directly address your first question.

1. The railway was built through Lark Hill Camp in the winter of 1914-15 - and later extended to the west of Stonehenge and beyond. It was used mostly for delivering goods and stores to various camps and airfields and I've seen no wartime references to a passenger service. There was a very short Royal train on it in February 1915, and in 1924 a regular Saturday service consisted of one coach which was hauled to Amesbury to be attached to a Salisbury train. Amesbury was the railhead for camps in the Lark Hill area, with Bulford and Sling camps being served by the Bulford branch. So I would guess that your man would have found his way to Amesbury, or perhaps Salisbury, in the former case walking or hitching a lift, either on a road vehicle or - perhaps - on a goods train.. There would have been regular road traffic from Amesbury to the Lark Hill area camps, and there may even have been a shuttle service to convey soldiers backwards and forwards. As you've probably worked out, the walk would have been under two miles - not much to expect from a soldier.

2. ANZAC soldiers did not arrive in the area until mid-1916, when they became the dominant nationalities. Lark Hill provided short training courses for many British artillery units prior to active service so the camp would have hosted several nationalities (and even RFC recruits).

3. Other nearby camps were Durrington (contiguous with Lark Hill), Hamilton and Rollestone, (these last two being to the west). Durrington and Lark Hill were sometimes regarded as one camp and by 1916 Hamilton's identity was being subsumed within that of Lark Hill. Your man could have been at any of these but, given its size, Lark Hill would have been the most likely.

4. By this stage in the war, transport might have been available, but a two-mile march wouldn't have hurt them!

Having said all this, though I have many accounts of the First Canadian Contingent arriving at Amesbury (and other Plain stations) in October 1914 and marching to their camps, I can't recall later references to people getting from Amesbury to Lark Hill. But there are various allusions to passenger services on the Amesbury and Bulford branch being disrupted by military goods trains and being unreliable.

Moonraker

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Two further snippets: A G Richardson had the "most awful night I ever spent" at Amesbury station in February 1915, when he waited from 6pm to 1.20 am for a train, which set off at 4.40, arriving in London at 9am. (IWM: PP/MCR/29)

Government officials intending to visit Lark Hill in late 1918 were advised that Amesbury was the nearest station, suggesting no scheduled passenger service on the Lark Hill Military Railway.

Julia's enquiry has got me thinking about other Wiltshire camps served by their own railway lines or sidings and whether these were used by passenger trains. Certainly troop trains arrived at Bulford Camp platform, between Bulford's civilian station and the "terminus" at Sling Camp on the line built before the war (off which the Lark Hill Military Railway branched). But I suspect that few of the wartime camp railways were able to take a full-length train, often being built on challenging terrain.

Ironically, at Fovant the camp railway was built after camp construction was well under way, after it was discovered that the road connecting the camp to Dinton Station could not cope with extra military traffic (or possibly vice versa). Usually the laying of sidings was one of the first parts of construction, to facilitate delivery of building materials.

National Archives file WO 95/5466 has a copy of the Fovant Military Railway timetable from June 1, 1919, at which time it was a demoblisation centre, processing hundreds of men each day.. On weekdays the service started from Fovant at 07.40 and from Dinton at 08.25, with last trains being at 20.30 and 20.50 respectively. On Sundays trains left Fovant at 12.15 and 16.55 and Dinton at 12.40 and 17.45. Ten minutes were allowed for the Fovant–-Dinton journey, with an extra five minutes being added for the return journey (presumably because of the adverse gradient).

Moonraker

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The diary of F W Miller describes arriving at Lark Hill in October 1914 and leaving for France in July 1915

"We marched from Grayshot to Lark Hill Camp (Salisbury Plain), in three and a half days. First nights halt we stayed at Alton, in a school. Next night at Winchester in a school, and the next in a loft at some small village."

"We left Lark Hill for France on July the 21st 1915. We marched to Amesbury station"

Various accounts of Australians at Lark Hill later make it clear that 'strolling' to Amesbury and back in an evening was quite common and when occasions permitted going on on foot to view Stonehenge was not unknown. People were used to walking in those days.

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I'm sure that battalions and other large bodies of men would have marched from Amesbury Station to Lark Hill - and the other way around. Even with full kit, it would have been a doddle compared with route marches as part of their training.

Soldiers in their memoirs and diaries often mention visiting places some way from their camps by walking to them. There were, and are, many delightful villages within an afternoon's walk of Lark Hill and Bulford

Still, it would be interesting to know how lone soldiers, such as Julia's, made their way from Amesbury station to a local camp - walking, hitching or catching a shuttle service.

Moonraker

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"Wagger" in his book Battery Flashes (John Murray, London 1916) described thus his arrival on Salisbury Plain in January 1915 as a member of the Royal Field Artillery: "We detrained at ––– , –– miles from Stonehenge, and had a five mile march to –––". One may guess that the station was Amesbury and that the camp was Rollestone.


The above was taken from my notes, and looking at them again I'm surprised that the RFA was at Rollestone in January 1915 as Canadians were then almost exclusively in the locality and at Rollestone Camp in mid-December 1914 Lieutenant Colonel Edward Shannon of the First Canadian Contingent was in charge of 810 carpenters building hutments in the area. The Contingent left the Plain in February 1915, so their camps would have become vacant then.


Perhaps either Wagger mis-remembered the month or I got a digit wrong when noting the date. And soldiers were inclined to over-estimate distances marched...


Whatever, we may take it that the RFA unit did march from Amesbury station to its camp!



Moonraker

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