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bootneck

Military Use of the Basingstoke Canal 1914-1922

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bootneck

I've been asked about the history of the canal during the war and so far have found very little. According to an article on Wikipedia it appears that it was used mainly as a training facility by the Royal Engineers Inland Waterways Division for training and that commercial use had finished about 1910; however, the article rather skates over the period.

 

Having consulted the National Archives catalogue I have found a number of references to the canal c. 1904 to 1922 and will hopefully find out more on a forthcoming trip to Kew. It appears that the Board of Trade when it set up the Canal Control Committee in 1917 they took control of the canal in the Aldershot area (possibly the whole length of the canal) and there is a map showing this at Kew and they also published a handbook in 1918 that might be useful.

 

I was wondering if anybody knew any more about its use during the war or where I might find any photographs of its military use.

 

regards

 

Bootneck  

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NigelS

A little more information is given in 'London's Lost Route to Basingstoke' by PAL Vine (ISBN 0-7509-0228-0) which, being a history of the canal, gives, among other briefer wartime snippets: 'During the First World War the waterway was used to convey government stores & munitions  from Woolwich to Aldershot as well as such items as beds, clinkers, flour, hop-strings, oats & oil cake. The main down stream traffic was timber from fleet and Frimley and horse manure from the camp at Eelmoore to the wharves below Brookwood. Control was vested in the Inland Waterways & Docks Department of the War Office and was managed by the Royal Engineers, under Lieutenant Wilder's command at the Stanhope Lines. At one time twenty-five boats were working and German prisoners-of war were employed on unloading and maintenance work. The tonnage to and from the Wey varied between 11,600 in 1915 and 18,000 tons in 1918. A perusal of the ledgers for 1919 show that the upward cargoes of the government narrow boats consisted entirely of oats, and that while Eliza & Anne, Elsie & Violet and Millie & Minnie were removing load after load of army boots and rubber tyres, and Mabel & Enid carried nothing more lovable than 'old tins'; Diana appears to have concentrated on empty drums and scrap metal.'

The book also carries a photo captioned 'German prisoners-of-war unloading timber from Dauntless at Frimley Wharf, 1916' who are likely to have been from the nearby Frith Hill camp. 

Shortly before the war the canal, which had already been in decline, had been taken over by new owners (The Basingstoke Canal Syndicate Ltd) who reopened it within weeks of the outbreak with Bradshaw's Canals & Navigable Rivers of 1918 giving that 'the work of reconstruction is in an advanced stage. All the lock gates have been renewed, and the canal has been dredged and is open for traffic to a point six miles beyond Aldershot and will shortly be opened throughout to Basingstoke.' However, post war, and with the syndicate going into liquidation in 1919, the decline of the canal continued  with its fall into disuse for commercial traffic from then on.  

Another indication of its possible wartime use is given in the statement 'The passage of twenty-two barge-loads of aeroplane parts during the summer of 1921 not only signified the end of the commercial traffic from Aldershot but also heralded the removal of army flying exercises from Laffan's Plain and recalled the fact that the town had been for many years England's cradle of military aviation'. (Although not Great War, there is a picture of an early seaplane on the canal during float testing with an inset of Cody, c1913)


Doubtless the canal, as it had  prior to the establishment of the permanent Army camps at Aldershot, Deepcut & Pirbright which it runs through, would have been used for training and exercises during the Great War, as it still is today.

 

The Basingstoke Canal Society (https://basingstoke-canal.org.uk) holds archive material from a number of sources, so getting in touch with its archivist (details in the websites 'contacts' section) might prove helpful. 

 

NigelS

Edited by NigelS

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bootneck

Nigel

Thank you for the detailed reply which has added a lot to my knowledge of the canal.

 

Bootneck 

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Mike_H

The photo in the book was produced as a postcard by Gale& Polden the Aldershot  publishers and printers. 

 

IMG_20191129_0001.jpg.f40d86370e7849210109bdf07fee220a.jpg

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Mike_H

In 1926 the canal was used during the making of the film "Mons" a silent recreation of the 1914 battle.

 

M

Edited by Mike_H
typo

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NigelS

 

More recently it was used as a location for the BBC3 series 'Our World War' (see  https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/214792-our-world-war-bbc3-series/?do=findComment&comment=2124853 ) The episode - The First Day -  is currently available on iplayer ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p022wq5k/our-world-war-1-the-first-day )

 

There are some British Pathe archive films of army bridge building during the GW: this one is definitely on the Basingstoke https://www.britishpathe.com/video/aldershot-recruits-taught-to-construct-bridges at Aldershot (The road bridge shown in the background at one stage is the one taking Queens Avenue over the canal) and I'm reasonably confident that this one https://www.britishpathe.com/video/soldiers-in-training-bridge-building is as well, but further upstream beyond the Farnborough Rd bridge of which there are some brief glimpses. 

 

NigelS

 

Edit: The 1926 film can be viewed using the BFI Player for a fee (£3.50) https://player.bfi.org.uk/rentals/film/watch-mons-1926-online

Edited by NigelS

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bootneck

Thank you everybody for all your useful contributions.

 

Having looked at P A L Vine's London's Lost Route to Basingstoke I have found that it provides both a framework of the canal's history as well as putting it in to context. It has also focused my mind on my line of research and also raised further questions.

 

Bootneck  

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