Wiltshire and the Great War – Training the Empire’s Soldiers
By T S Crawford
Published by The Crowood Press (www.crowood.com)
RRP GBP £16.99
In the early months of the Great War (1914-18) there was a massive recruitment drive by the British Army and the armies of the Commonwealth and Empire. The pre-war Regular Armies were too small to face the growing threat from Germany and her allies. Kitchener launched his famous recruitment effort with evocative advertising and then the difficult task of training these fresh civilian recruits into war winning soldiers started.
This interesting book deals with the effects of training these fresh civilian soldiers. Shortly after the start of the war work began on building a series of hutted camps in Wiltshire for training these men. These camps were designed for more than 100,000 men and they became home to soldiers from across the Empire. Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and British personnel all passed through the gates of these camps.
These military personnel formed a third of the local population and they had a massive impact on the local economy. Even after the Armistice life in Wiltshire did not return to its pre-war normal standard as there were mutinies and riots in the camps. These events did not receive much publicity and still there is little attention given to these events. The slow rate of demobilization was the catalyst to these mutinies and even today few people are aware of these events. Hence the author has done a splendid job by uncovering and revealing them.
This volume describes how the pre-war training doctrine was inappropriate, the pioneering role of military aviation and the development of the necessary infra-structure support such as railways. Also included are accounts of shirkers, spies, escaped prisoners of war, the “landships” (tanks) and the system for pinpointing the location of the enemy’s Zeppelins.
This study is divided into two main sections namely the (1) Preparation and Reality of Wiltshire during the war and (2) details of the Camps themselves. The first section has a number of chapters dealing with the issues noted above and other anecdotal details such as “Postcards and Postmarks” whilst the second section has detailed notes / write-ups on about thirty Wiltshire camps.
The author has done an excellent service to this topic and his research skills are outstanding. This little known topic is expertly brought to life and he has done an admirable effort by publishing this volume. In short, if you are interested in the training of the Empire’s recruits during the Great War then this is a “must have” book.