One hundred years ago 33,000 men of the First Canadian Contingent were encamped on Salisbury Plain. On the southern edge, very near Stonehenge lies Amesbury in Wiltshire. Although this photograph is undated it is labeled on back: The Canadians landing in Amesbury. The town’s train station is long gone but in 1914 it was located on the London Road. I suspect this photograph may have been taken on the Countess Road just after the men turned north and began their march out of town.
This photo captured from Google Streetview (click on the image to view it in Google Streetview) shows where I think the soldiers were when this photograph was taken. I suspect someone with local knowledge will correct me if I’m wrong. While the brick building in the background has undergone many changes there are some striking similarities.
Initially the Canadians were divided into several tented camps spread out several miles to the northwest of Amesbury. The 1st Brigade was at Bustard Camp as were the Divisional Mounted Troops and the PPCLI. The 2nd and 3rd Brigades were at West Down South Camp while the Divisional Supply Column and the Artillery set up at West Down North Camp. The 4th Brigade, the Cavalry, the 17th Battalion and the Newfoundland Contingent were farthest along at Pond Farm Camp.
The photograph was taken by 30-year old Thomas Lionel Fuller, an Amesbury-based photographer / entrepreneur. He snapped thousands of photographs and sold them to the soldiers as souvenirs to send home to loved ones back in Canada. An article earlier this year by Toronto Star reporter Katie Daubs provides more information on T.L. Fuller and the Canadian experience on Salisbury Plain.
On October 21, 1914 a quarter-inch of rain fell on Salisbury Plain followed by another inch in the next five days. In total it rained on 89 of the 123 days the Canadians spent in camp, a miserable existence which ironically helped prepare them for the waterlogged trenches of France and Flanders. Construction of huts began in October and by mid-November some units of the 4th Brigade moved out from under canvas and into wooden huts. Most of the other units, with the notable exception of the 1st Brigade, had moved into huts by Christmas. While a solid roof kept the soldiers dry and warm it also aided the spread of diseases which led to a dramatic rise in the number reporting sick. By the time the Canadians left for Flanders in February 1915 more than 50 soldiers had succumbed to illness and accidents. They are buried in cemeteries and church yards throughout the area.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Canadian experience on Salisbury Plain I recommend you be on the lookout for a small booklet written by Len Campbell entitled 1st Canadian Contingent on Salisbury Plain. I’m unable to determine the date of publication although I suspect it was some time ago and is likely out of print. I have seen copies for sale on eBay which is where I obtained my copy.
I just recently placed an order on Amazon.co.uk for The Canadian Army on Salisbury Plain: The First Canadian Contingent October 1914 – February 1915 by T.S. Crawford. This hardcover book was published in 2012 and I’m looking forward to receiving my copy. I’ll post a short review when I do.
In November and December I will also publish a few personal photos of life in camp taken by Private John Denholm of the 16th Battalion (The Canadian Scottish).