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Bovington Camp


October 28, 2016

October marks the 100th anniversary of tank training being based at Bovington Camp in Dorset, where The Tank Museum also resides.

A New Home for the Tank Corps

Bovington Camp, 1914

Bovington Camp, 1914

The previous homes of the Tank Corps, at Biseley and Elveden had proved to be unsuitable in the long term due to their close proximity to populated areas, and so a new home had to be found.

When, in October 1916 the centre of tank training moved down to Bovington in Dorset they found just what they were looking for nearby. It was said that “the rolling downs, the woods and the small streets being very similar to, and equally as deserted as the battlefields of France.” The unproductive heathland around Bovington was ideal for training tank drivers.

Bovington had been used as an infantry training area by the Army since 1899, with a relatively small number of troops. Bovington was ill-prepared for the influx of troops, caused by the First World War, and 11,000 recruits were sleeping in tents or in the open. When the Tank Corps arrived in 1916, the area used by the camp had to be expanded even further.

In order to accommodate these new training areas the tiny fishing village of Tyneham had to be evacuated, otherwise the residents were mostly sheep who could easily be moved.

Tank Training

Bovington Camp, 1920

Bovington Camp, 1920

In addition to the obvious tasks of driving a tank, the men were trained in maintenance, in the use of the revolver and even in the care and handling of pigeons as message carriers. Previous to 1916, a complex trench system had been constructed at Gallows Hill, which soldiers used to train day and night.

By 1918 the Tank Corps had expanded into many towns and villages in the surrounding countryside. There were camps, for example, in Wareham and Swanage, and of course Lulworth where tank gunnery was taught and practised.

Soldiers under instruction lived in tents, buildings were slow in arriving. When a strong sou’ westerly gale was blowing even the tents were vulnerable but they didn’t travel very far, a row of trees along the northern edge of the Camp stopped most of them and their occupants were able to retrieve their temporary homes and their belongings.

And this, more or less, is how things remained until the end of the First World War.

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