Located just two-and-a-half miles east of the Georgian market town of Blandford Forum, the 225th arrived at Blandford Camp on 31 December 1943 after a two-day rail journey from Gourock, Scotland, where it had landed on 29 December 1943. As for many AAA men to follow, the camp was to be their first home in England, just as it had been for thousands of other Allied artillery and signal men that arrived there since 1940, awaiting mobilization. The camp was situated on top of a long hill with wooden spider huts for accommodation arranged around the camp cinema. [To the southeast and slightly east of the village of Tarrant Rushton was situated the airstrip where the glider-borne troops of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry took off on D-Day, towed by RAF four-engined Halifaxes, bound under great secrecy to carry out the capture of the bridge over the Orne River and Caen Canal ("Pegasus Bridge")].|
Training with Hamilcar gliders over Blandford Camp prior to D-Day. (Photo © Market Harborough R.B.L.)
After a quarantine of seven days duration, the 225th rapidly acclimated itself to its new surroundings. Strenuous and successful efforts were made to draw trucks, lights, radars, and other equipment, and while this was being done, the battalion's officers, under the supervision of Lt. Col. Terrill, were taken to visit numerous British antiaircraft sites, where they were given an opportunity of talking and exchanging ideas with British antiaircraft personnel and of obtaining information as to British combat techniques in the antiaircraft defense of the United Kingdom. While at Camp Blandford, the unit was assigned to the 49th AAA Brigade and to the 92nd AAA Group, and under their direction conducted additional training while awaiting an assignment. On 13 February 1944, in order to make room at Camp Blandford for constantly arriving new AAA units, the battalion departed by motor convoy for Dan-y-Parc in Brecknockshire, Wales.
There are numerous prehistoric sites within the camp boundaries, but the first recorded use of the site was as a racecourse. Race meetings began in the late 16th century and an annual race week was held until the end of the 19th Century.
The military use of the site began in the 18th century when local volunteer units used it as a training ground. In 1806 a Royal Navy (Murray) Shutter Telegraph Station was built near the racecourse on the site now known as Telegraph Clump, to connect the Admiralty with the south coast naval bases. This signal station was on the London to Plymouth route and was closed after the Napoleonic War, though the site remained occupied until 1825.
In November 1914 the Royal Naval Division (RND) established a base depot and training camp on the site and a German POW camp was set up alongside it. The RND moved out in 1918 but was replaced by the Royal Air Force Record Office, Equipment and Personnel Depot and Discharge Centre.
At the end of 1919 the camp was closed and both the wooden huts built for the RND and the camp's railway line were removed. The site returned to agricultural use.
A period photo of the type of barracks built at Blandford Camp in 1914. All the hutted accommodation
erected at that time for the Royal Naval Division was demolished in 1920, some of the buildings
being sold to nearby villages for use as village halls. (Photo © http://www.1914-18.co.uk.)
In 1939 the camp was reactivated as a mobilization and training center for reservists called up to meet the threat from Nazi Germany. Later antiaircraft units of the Royal Artillery also trained on the site and it became a Battle Training Camp. The King visited Blandford Camp frequently during the Second World War on board the Royal train.
In April 1944 the first of five U. S. Army hospitals was established in the camp ready to receive the wounded from the invasion of Europe. (These hospitals were closed after V-E Day, having treated some 20,000 patients.)
From 1946 until 1962 Blandford Camp was used to train National Servicemen by the Royal Artillery, the Royal Army Service Corps, REME and the Army Catering Corps. The camp was also used as a venue for motorcycle racing until the circuit was adjudged unsafe. In 1960 the 30th Signal Regiment moved into the Camp to be followed in 1967 by the School of Signals which moved South after over 40 years in Catterick. The School (now the Royal School of Signals) was responsible for management and technical courses for Royal Signals Officers and Noncommissioned Officers. The School came to Blandford Camp in 1967 so that its students could take part in joint exercises with other Corps in the South of England and its engineering officers would be close to the centres of research and development.
Under the Government's "Options for Change" initiatives of the early 1990s, the face of Blandford Camp changed considerably. 30th 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. Blandford Camp is now the home of Royal Signals, which maintains a museum at the site. There is, however, an American presence in the shape of Roosevelt Gardens, a United States memorial, which was designed and constructed by a U. S. soldier at the time when the Camp was occupied by a U. S. General Hospital in 1944-45.
Historical text reproduced from A Brief History of Blandford Camp.
Sixty years ago, they came this way ...
A timeless shot of downtown Blandford Forum. Save for the modern
cars, it could be Spring 1944. Close your eyes and listen ... Can you
hear the rumble of GMCs loaded with Yanks? (© John P. Allen).
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