The camp was established in August 1914 on the outbreak of the Great War. Between then and 1918 it was used primarily for infantry training, with up to 10,000 men in the camp. The surrounding downland was extensively used for training, with grenade ranges and rifle ranges below Liddington Hill, and an extensive trench system was constructed near Lower Upham.
In 1915, a 400-bed wooden hospital was built in J lines to deal with casualties evacuated from France. This was later increased by a further 100 beds under canvas. A second 1106-bed hospital was established in L Lines in late 1917, solely for the treatment of venereal disease.
After the Armistice the camp became a demobilisation centre and a holding camp for Commonwealth troops awaiting ships for home.
In 1922 most of the camp was sold by auction, leaving only A, B and C lines, then occupied by the School of Military Administration and a Cookery School.
Five years later the Army Vocational Training Centre was established at Chiseldon to give long-serving soldiers leaving the colours a civilian occupation. The men were taught by civilian instructors who lived in quarters in the camp. A mixed farm was leased at Draycot Foliot and a dairy, greenhouses and workshops were built, and the skills being taught were utilised around the camp. The skills available allowed modern buildings to be built on the farm and a series of formal gardens to be created in the south of the camp. During the 1930s produce from the farm and greenhouses were either used in army kitchens or sold on the open market. A dairy herd was kept on the farm and surplus milk was churned into butter and cheese.
The outbreak of war in September 1939 brought all this to an abrupt end and saw the arrival of the Motor Training Battalion of The Kings Royal Rifle Corps, one of the first motorised regiments of the British Army. Following their initial training, men came to Chiseldon and were taught to drive either a motorcycle, truck or Bren Gun Carrier, extensive use being made of the surrounding downland. In 1943 the KRRC left for Yorkshire and the camp came under the control of the US Army for the build-up to the invasion of Europe.
For the next two years both Chiseldon and Ogbourne camps were used to finish the training of the many thousands of US soldiers coming into Britain. Among the major American units were the 28th Infantry Div. 5th Armored Div. and the 17th Airborne Div.
From 7th of June 1944 the US 130th Station Hospital was based there as a receiving hospital for casualties evacuated from the fighting in France. Locally-based Dakotas flew daily supply flights to the forward areas and returned with men injured only a short while earlier. On arrival, they were examined and any urgent treatment was administered. Having been cleaned and made comfortable, they were assessed and their dispersal arranged to specialist hospitals. During the seven months from June 1944 to January 1945 over 30,000 US casualties were handled by the 130th Hospital, with only twelve deaths - testimony to the speed and effectiveness of the whole operation.
At the end of the European war in May 1945 the camp returned to British control, the occupants being German and Italian prisoners of war. By December it had returned to its pre-war function of preparing soldiers for their return to civilian life, with of a number of 4-week courses. A further college arrived in October 1946 when the secondary school for the Polish 5th Infantry Division was located in the vacant Nissen huts of the 130th Hospital. Many of the young Poles fighting in the British Army had received little or no secondary education since 1939 and this school provided an intensive series of courses that brought the pupils up to matriculation standards in two years.
By the beginning of 1948 these units had all ceased to operate or moved on, and Chiseldon became a transit camp for units between overseas postings, their usual stay being between 2 to 6 months. In November 1956 it became a Reception Centre for Hungarian refugees fleeing from Russian oppression in Hungary.
In 1962, with the end of National Service, the camp was closed, quickly becoming run down and neglected. In 1972 it was finally demolished. A memorial stone was erected by CLHG in 1999.
We are always very interested in any photos, cuttings, recordings or other memorabilia for these exhibitions. We copy these memorabilia and return the originals. Or you can send us your memories, photos etc. through the Your Memories webpage on this site.
For more information on the Chiseldon Camp, please see our two books on the subject by CLHG member David Bailey under Publications.