Blandford Camp

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Blandford Camp
Blandford Forum
Part of Blandford military Camp seen from nearby tumulus - geograph.org.uk - 229209.jpg
Part of Blandford Camp seen from a nearby tumulus
Blandford Camp is located in Dorset
Blandford Camp
Blandford Camp
Location within Dorset
Coordinates 50°52′00″N 2°07′00″W / 50.86667°N 2.11667°W / 50.86667; -2.11667Coordinates: 50°52′00″N 2°07′00″W / 50.86667°N 2.11667°W / 50.86667; -2.11667
Type Military Base
Site information
Owner Ministry of Defence
Operator  British Army
Site history
Built 1724
In use 1724-Present
Garrison information
Occupants Royal Signals

Blandford Camp is a military base comprising some 390 hectares of downland lying 2 miles (3 km) north-east of Blandford Forum in the county of Dorset in southern England.

Significant areas of the camp are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Blandford Camp is currently the home of the Royal Signals, housing both the headquarters of the corps as well as the headquarters of the Defence College of Communications and Information Systems (DCCIS), the Royal School of Signals (which includes 11 Signal Regiment), and the Royal Signals Museum. A number of other telecommunications-related units, such as the MOD Land Systems Reference Centre, are also housed on the site. Over the years, however, the camp has been home to Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Army and joint-Service units, as well as to a US Army hospital complex. The site has also been used as a road racing circuit.

History[edit]

There are numerous prehistoric sites within the camp boundaries, but the first recorded use of the site was as a racecourse, giving rise to the naming of part of the area as Race Down. Race meetings began in the late 16th century and an annual race week was held until the end of the 19th century.[1]

18th century[edit]

It is thought that the area has been used by military forces for many centuries but the first definite use of the site was in the 18th century when local volunteer units used it as a training ground. In addition, in 1724 a troop of the Hussars were stationed in the area for anti-smuggling duties.[2]

During 1756, to counter the threat of a French invasion along the south coast during the Seven Years' War, an army of some 10,000 men was formed near Blandford, at Shroton, with major exercises being held on Blandford Downs, on the site of the present-day camp.[3]

19th century[edit]

In 1806, an Admiralty Shutter Telegraph Station was built near the racecourse on the site now known as Telegraph Clump. The Blandford station was a link in the chain used to convey messages from the Admiralty in London to the Naval Dockyard at Plymouth.[4] The signal station was closed in 1816 after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but was retained on a care and maintenance basis for some time after this.

Blandford Race Down continued to be used during the 19th century as a training ground for the Yeomanry and Volunteer units of Dorsetshire and a permanent rifle range was constructed in the area of what is now Racedown Road.

World War I - Royal Naval Division[edit]

With the outbreak of the First World War a large number of Royal Naval reservists were called for full-time service, in excess of the numbers required to man ships. It was therefore decided that a Royal Naval Division would be formed to augment the army divisions. After its initial action in the front line in Belgium, the Division returned to the UK and established a base depot and training camp at Blandford. A German POW camp was also set up alongside it.

The RN Division had battalions named after the former naval officers Drake, Nelson, Benbow, Hawke, Hood, Howe, Anson and Collingwood, and the various encampments at Blandford took these names. Instruction on trench construction and trench warfare was carried out within the camp area and traces of the Royal Naval Division trenches can still be seen in the area beyond Drake East Lines.

The men of the Division left Blandford Camp to embark on the ill-fated Gallipoli operation. A memorial now stands at Collingwood Corner, on the main A354 Blandford Forum to Salisbury road, dedicated to the men of the Collingwood Battalion who lost their lives in the Third Battle of Krithia at Gallipoli on 4 June 1915 (see [1] for Collingwood Corner memorial).

Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force[edit]

During 1918, the camp changed from being the depot for the Royal Naval Division to being an 'Intake Camp' for the Royal Flying Corps which was at that time being reformed as the Royal Air Force, and a branch railway line was built to bring materials and personnel to the camp. The railway was linked with the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway line immediately south of Blandford Forum railway station and there was a daily passenger service to bring civilian staff to the camp from Bournemouth and the villages in between. At the end of 1919, however, the camp was closed and both the wooden huts built for the RN Division and the camp's railway line were removed. By the end of 1920 the site had been returned to agricultural use.

World War II[edit]

With the buildup of tension leading up to the Second World War, the camp was reactivated in 1939 as a mobilization and training centre for reservists, with a new wooden hutted camp being built on the sites of the RN Division encampments. There are still a few huts from the 1939 camp remaining, these being in Drake East Lines and in the Benbow Lines.

After the fall of France the British Army went through a period of reorganisation, and anti-aircraft units of the Royal Artillery trained on the site, as well as a reconnaissance battalion of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. The camp then became a Battle Training Camp, staffed by a cadre of officers and NCOs who organised the training of the units who passed through the camp. Each unit spent a month carrying out intensive training prior to being sent to a combat area such as North Africa, or preparing for the planned invasion of Normandy in 1944.

US Army hospital complex[edit]

Since, once the invasion of Europe was underway, Blandford Camp would no longer be required as a training camp, it was decided to convert the camp into a US Army hospital complex and, in April 1944, the first of five US Army general hospitals was established. The hospitals started receiving patients about two weeks after D-Day and many were brought from the combat area via the wartime airfield at Tarrant Rushton. The hospitals were often working at full capacity and receiving as many as 500 casualties during one night. The hospital complex closed after VE Day and the majority of the staff returned to the USA during October 1945.

The Roosevelt Garden and Memorial were dedicated on 30 May 1945 in the camp, and a memorial service is held there annually in November in remembrance of those who died.

Post-war years[edit]

Blandford circuit
Location Dorset, England
Time zone GMT
Opened 1948
Closed ?
Major events Formula Two
Road Racing
Motorcycle Racing
Length 3.247 mi

After the closure of the hospitals the camp was reconverted to a training camp, and from 1946 until 1962 it was used by the Royal Army Service Corps (as a National Service driver training camp), the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the Army Catering Corps and the Army Physical Training Corps.

In 1948, the 3 mile 247yd 6.75in perimeter road was used for the first 'real road' racing circuit[5] and motorcycle racing continued for over a decade. For two years (1949–1950), the Blandford circuit was also used for Formula Two[6] (and other) motorcar racing,[7] but after several serious accidents, including the curious accident when the Cooper of Major Braid ended up on the roof of the Guardroom,[8] and several fatalities, it was considered too dangerous to continue.[9]

Royal Signals[edit]

In 1960, 30 Signal Regiment moved into the camp from Middle Wallop. Blandford was then selected to be the future home of the School of Signals (then at Catterick) and the present-day camp was planned.

The School of Signals (now the Royal School of Signals) moved in in 1967, to be responsible for all management and technical courses for Royal Signals Officers and NCOs. It also ran ADP courses for personnel of other Services, which led to a separate joint-Service unit being established - the Defence ADP Training Centre (DADPTC).

In the early 1990s, under the Government's 'Options for Change' initiatives, DADPTC moved to Shrivenham and 30 Signal Regiment moved to Bramcote to make way in 1995 for Royal Signals soldier training to be moved from Catterick Camp. The Headquarters of the Corps also came to the site from London. All special-to-arm training is now carried out with 11 Signal Regiment at Blandford.

Future[edit]

Following the UK Government's 2001 Defence Training Review (DTR), the Ministry of Defence proposed handing over armed forces skills training to a private sector bidder for a 25-year term, and it was announced on 17 January 2007 that the Metrix consortium had been awarded Preferred Bidder status for Package 1 of this programme. As a consequence, it is anticipated that all communications training will move from Blandford to Metrix's main campus to be built on the RAF St Athan site over a 5-year period from 2008.[10]

The announcement did however stress that there are no current plans to close or sell off the Blandford site, and that it is anticipated that it will continue to have a Defence use.[11]

Notable connections[edit]

  • Sub Lieutenant Rupert Brooke (1887–1915), stationed at Blandford between November 1914 and February 1915. It is thought that some of his best known sonnets were written here.
  • Joe Fry (1915–1950), British racing car driver. He was killed in an accident at the 1950 Blandford hill-climb.

References[edit]

External links[edit]