|Owner||Ministry of Defence|
The Shrapnel Barracks was a British army base providing living accommodation in Woolwich in southeast London from the mid-19th century until the 1960s. Named after Lieutenant General Henry Shrapnel (who invented the shrapnel shell and was for some years based at the nearby Royal Arsenal), it was situated to the northwest of the modern-day Stadium Road, on the western edge of Woolwich Common; the site is now occupied by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
A "hutted camp" on the site "dating from the Crimea" (1853-1856) is recorded and was the base for cavalry units stationed in Woolwich, and later a field artillery brigade (the Royal Artillery Barracks are nearby). A contemporary account describing the so-called "Duke of York's cottages" talked of hundreds of "mud huts" of which the Government grew ashamed and had them replaced, though they continued to be called "the Huts". The camp was in place before 1869 as it is depicted on the Ordnance Survey 1st edition map of that date. After an outbreak of diphtheria, the insanitary and overcrowded camp was replaced with more permanent dwellings in the late 1870s.
In 1904, the barracks was the scene of a double tragedy in which a soldier shot his girlfriend and then himself.
In 1942, during World War II, the barracks was the location of two heavy anti-aircraft guns, helping protect areas of southeast London from enemy action. On 28 October 1944, a V-2 rocket exploded prematurely above the barracks without causing any casualties. The barracks was used by the Royal Artillery and the Women's Royal Army Corps before demolition in the 1960s.
The site was subsequently used for construction of the £16m Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital. A foundation stone was laid in 1972, with the hospital opening five years later, and being officially opened on 1 November 1978. The hospital had 456 beds in 16 wards, and cared for servicemen and their families, Chelsea Pensioners and Far East Prisoner of War survivors, plus local civilians. It closed in 1995 following government defence cuts. In March 2001 it was reopened as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and was later (2006) rebuilt and extended, though some original features, such as the main entrance, remain. The barracks name is recalled by a road, Shrapnel Close, skirting the western edge of part of the hospital site.
Notable people connected with the barracks
Spike Milligan's father Leo joined the army as a boy soldier in the Royal Artillery at Shrapnel Barracks in 1904, while journalist Bill Deedes was stationed there briefly in 1940. Terence Thomas, Baron Thomas of Macclesfield was also stationed at the Shrapnel Barracks, in the 1950s.
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