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Berwick St James Parish

The Great War

THE GREAT WAR.

The War Memorial in Berwick St James Church contains the names of those who gave their lives in the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War.

Those men on our War Memorial for the First World War are;

Frank Cecil Blanchard. Colour Sergeant in the Royal Marines Light Infantry, died 29th April 1915 aged 40. No known grave, on the Helles Memorial, Pas de Calais France

Frank George Brice. Lance Corporal in the 2nd Battalion Wilts Regiment, died 15th June 1915 aged 26. No known grave, on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais France

William Draper. Gunner with the Royal Garrison Artillery Duke of  Cornwall’s regiment, died 27th Sept 1918 aged 38. Buried in Queant Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France

Leonard Humphries. Gunner Royal Field Artillery. Died 23rd December 1918 aged 27, buried at The Mikra British Cemetery, Kalamaria, Greece

William Arthur Witchell. 9th Battalion Devonshire Regiment, died 26th October 1917 aged 33. No known grave, on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, Belgium

Herbert Cyril Smith. 2nd Battalion Wilts Regiment, died 24th July 1915 aged 18. Buried at St Vaast Post Military Cemetery,  Pas de Calais, France

 Further information about these men will be added to the Website.

BERWICK AND THE GREAT WAR – LAKE DOWN AERODROME

In 1915 the Furness family sold the Berwick St James Estate to Sir Cecil Chubb, and by 1917 it was in the hands of the War Department.

A series of aerodromes were built on Salisbury Plain, including one at Lake Down. This was on the Salisbury/Devizes road (now A360), by Druid’s Lodge, with the aerodrome covering 160 acres including 30 acres of buildings. It had a good surface (grass) though somewhat undulating with a slope towards the east, and the general surroundings were “excellent, open down country with a few small woods”

The Officers Mess and other regimental buildings were on the west of the Devizes road in Berwick Parish (just north of Druid’s Lodge) and the aerodrome on the other side of the road. The water tower, which is still there, was built for this aerodrome. Druid’s Lodge itself was used as The Headquarters of 33rd Wing.

Lake Down Aerodrome was a Training Depot station for SW area No7 group 33rd Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, and although it was mostly completed by 1917 it was closed soon after the end of war and was demolished in 1919 or thereabouts.

Lake Down aerodrome was a station for training in day bombing, and trained 90 officers and 90 NCO at the same time, with 36 DeHavilland 4 and 9 aeroplanes, and 36 Avro’s – 72 aeroplanes in total.

There were a total of 858 people (excluding hostel staff) at the aerodrome, and 47 at the Headquarters at Druid’s Lodge. As well as regimental buildings (including the Officers Mess and separate baths and latrines for Officers, Sergeants and men), there were 6 aeroplane sheds, workshops including carpenters, sailmakers, dope, machine, engine, coppersmiths and smiths – which reminds us of how the aeroplanes were built. The instructional sheds included those for Gunnery, photographic, wireless and bombing. On the 1st August 1918 most of the buildings were completed but water supply only 65%, and lighting only 30% complete.

Larkhill Military Railway was the longest railway operated by the War Department. The length of the main line (excluding sidings) was 7.31miles. It was built in autumn of 1914 and spring 1915 by Sir John Jackson, and it ran from Ratfyn near Amesbury via Larkhill and Airman’s Cross, and it included a branch to the Stonehenge Handley Page aerodrome and finished 600 yards north of Druid’s Lodge to serve Lake Down Aerodrome. It did not reach the water tower, which was built for the aerodrome not for the railway.

This line beyond Fargo was the first part of the Larkhill Military Railway to be closed as the aerodrome was demolished in 1919, the line had been lifted by 1923.  

Written and researched by Nicky Street.

 

BERWICK AND THE GREAT WAR – A CANADIAN PILOT

As I explained in the article about Lake Down Aerodrome, in 1915 the Furness family sold the Berwick St James Estate to Sir Cecil Chubb, and by 1917 it was in the hands of the War Department.

Many young men trained as pilots at Lake Down Aerodrome. One of them was Gavin Gibson Baird, a young Canadian.

It took Gavin Baird about six months to get his application for the Flying Corps approved and he finally joined up in May 1917. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in September 1917 in Toronto. Then he embarked from Montreal on the Canadian Pacific steamship Metagama with about 50 other young men, landing in Liverpool. The Canadians were sent to various different aerodromes to train on “Camels” or other scout machines, or on day bombers etc.  Gavin Baird was sent to LakeDown where he was to learn to fly the De Haviland 4’s which were large, fast, day bombers. He was really pleased to be lucky enough to fly one of these machines which could fly higher and faster than practically any of the German machines.

Gavin Baird wrote…. 

“We were given transportation from Waterloo Station in London to Salisbury, and it did not take us very long to get down there as the train service was exceptionally good. When we got to Salisbury we had to phone out to the aerodrome. They then sent a car in for us, and after getting out to the aerodrome we were told that we were to use an unoccupied country home as our living quarters. This was in a little village by the name of Berwick St James. It was about a mile and half from the aerodrome and the little village itself was very picturesque. It was getting on in the fall by this time, and the weather was quite cold, but on the whole, we were fairly comfortable. We used to go over to the aerodrome in the morning and take our training in flying, and in machine gun and actual firing practice and so on, and then after dinner at night at the mess, we uses to go back to the old house.”

The “unoccupied country home” was Berwick House,  Mr Delme Awdry living in Asserton House at that time.

Having been trained on day bombers at Lake Down Gavin Baird was surprised to be posted to Tydd St Mary near Kings Lynn where he flew night bombers and joined 148 squadron with which he was transferred to Andover and then Littlehampton.

In spring 1918 he embarked at Southampton on a Furness freighter (he presumably had no idea that he had spent a couple of months living in the house that belonged to the Furness family), and after reaching France went to Auchel aerodrome, moving in a hurry when the aerodrome was destroyed by shelling. They made bombing raids every night the weather was fit – Douai, Lens, Rumbeke and others. During the summer of 1918 there was quite a lot of flu in France and Gavin Baird spent a few days in hospital. In the autumn of 1918 he flew from an aerodrome at Camblain L’Abbe behind Vimy Ridge. Flying was restricted to the immediate vicinity of the aerodrome after the Armistice.

By 1927 Gavin Baird had returned to Canada, and when his 14 year old nephew broke his leg, wrote him a series of letters about his time flying in England and Franceduring the Great War.

These letters have been published on the internet by the “Canadian Letters and Images Project” www.canadianletters.ca

See also the book “The Canadian Army of Salisbury Plain” by T S Crawford

Written and researched by Nicky Street.

 

 

LOCAL HISTORY

 “ The oozing mud and constant rain

We well remember Salisbury Plain”

Major R H Tait.

I have recently read a fascinating book called “The Canadian Army on Salisbury Plain” by T S Crawford, which is about the First Canadian Contingent who spent the winter from October 1914 to February 1915 on Salisbury Plain before going to fight in France.

30,600 Canadians and 537 Newfoundlanders arrived in England in autumn 1914, they spent October to February mainly in tents on Salisbury Plain in one of the wettest winters on record.

The soldiers arrived in Plymouth in October 1914, travelled by train for 5 hours, arriving in Amesbury, Lavington, and Patney & Chirton stations. Steam traction engines hauled the waggons containing equipment whilst the men walked their horses, which had lost condition whilst on the journey from Canada. These camps on Salisbury Plain had no lighting, no baths, and a limited water supply and were remote from any large towns. The weather broke on 20th October before the last soldier had reached Salisbury Plain. This was the start of an exceptionally wet winter when 24 inches of rain fell, double the average, and fell on 89 of 123 days. Tented camps had been set up by the British Territorial force, but the Canadians had to build their own huts, roads and other infrastructure whilst training, and were hampered by continuing bad weather and endless mud. The water could not drain through the impervious chalk just below ground level and scraping the roads clean of mud just exposed slippery chalk. 

As Christmas 1914 came, thousands of troops continued to live in tents, and by the end of December the conditions were realized to be too bad for both men and horses, and as many as possible were billeted in nearby villages. The requisitioned billets included private homes.  The Royal Canadian Dragoons were billeted in Tilshead, Winterbourne Stoke, Berwick St James, Rollestone and Shrewton. The Royal Canadian Dragoons were part of Canada’s Permanent Active Militia of full time soldiers. However, they did not stay long.

The Canadian troops started leaving for France on 7th February, over 4 days 90 special trains left the stations on the Plain. The Dragoons stayed on in their billets until 1stMarch.  On the 28th February the Canadians started to relieve the 7th British Division in France and on 10th March took part in an attack on Neuve Chapelle village. The Canadians continued to show great fighting courage, including in the second battle of Ypres.

Canadians did not train in such numbers on Salisbury Plain again.

Written by Nicky Street.