Wiltshire is well known for its military connections. The presence of the armed forces in the Salisbury Plain area has shaped the place. Literally, sometimes.
Not just the British; during in WW1 the area became a temporary home for tens of thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops prepared to fight in Europe. The war years gave this rural corner of England a touch of Antipodean character.
Come and explore some of Wiltshire’s ANZAC history with me.
Codford & St Mary’s
Once upon a time, Salisbury Plain was a sleepy place. The land was used for sheep grazing and scattered villages got by on agriculture and the wool trade. By the late 1800’s the wool trade was in terminal decline and many a Wiltshire village was under threat.
An economic boost came unexpectedly from the British Army. The War Office bought up land for large scale training, laid in the railway and sleepy Salisbury Plain became the Salisbury Plain training area.
Codford was catapulted from a village with a population of around 500 to a transit camp for thousands.
Records of the time recall basic camp facilities, pushing soldiers to find comfort in the village. Shop takings were up, enterprising locals cashed in. Then as now, the army might not always make good neighbours. But they are good for business, everywhere they go.
Not every ANZAC soldier who came to Codford made it home. Just under 100 were laid to rest here adjacent to St Marys Church. Some died of battle wounds, many of sickness. Codford is keeper of the second largest ANZAC war graves cemetery in the UK.
The ANZAC war graves can be found at St Mary’s; a postcard-pretty, a quintessentially English country church. They sit in their own section, behind iron railings, beautifully tended. Each ANZAC day (25th April) a dawn remembrance ceremony is held here.
Far from home but far from forgotten.
The Lamb Down Chalk Badge
Wiltshire is famous for its white hillside horses, but the Antipodean visitors have left a couple of hillside icons of their own behind. One of them being the Lamb Down Chalk badge.
The badge dates back to 1917 when an Australian Brigade Commander wanted to leave a touch of Australia on the English countryside. Said Commander was lodging at Stockton House and settled upon the idea of carving out a Rising Sun badge on the Lamb Down hillside. The idea was his, the work fell to the regular soldiers.
Initially carved by one 13th Battalion Australian Imperial Forces, the carving and upkeep of the badge became the work of punishment parades. This earned Lamb Down the nickname, ‘Misery Hill’.
Stockton today is a quiet but friendly village of pretty lanes, cottages and a cosy pub at the heart of it all. The Rising Sun badge can be seen up on the hillside above Stockton House.
The church of St John the Baptist is also worth a visit. Look out for the memorial in the church yard. It’s slightly unusual in that it has a dedication to, ‘men who served but whose lives were spared’
Tidworth Military Cemetery
A military cemetery surrounded by open countryside and training area. Tidworth being part of working garrison, this is a place where you can find British Military history and see the modern army going about its business.
Tidworth Military Cemetery is keeper of many interesting graves from and a mix of nationalities. During WW1, the cemetery was used for burials from Tidworth and Fargo Military Hospitals.
There are many ANZAC graves, but one in particular stands out: that of staff nurse Esther Maude Tubman.
Born in New Zealand as the fourth of six children, Esther began her nursing career as a midwife in 1913. She went on to work in district nursing until 1918, when she enlisted with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service and sailed for England with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force troops.
Sadly, a wave of Influenza raged through the ship and Esther became seriously ill. Once on English shores, she was transferred to hospital in Codford and then to an isolation hospital near Tidworth.
Esther Maude Tubman was given a full military burial and laid to rest in Tidworth Military Cemetery.
The Bulford Kiwi
The Kiwi was carved by New Zealand soldiers who were stationed in Bulford awaiting repatriation. While they waited, overcrowding, illness and the grind of a military regime led to trouble. In this case, a riot. One involving the liberation of booze from the officers mess.
Soldiers with nothing to do, will find something to do. Boredom leads to trouble. The idea of carving out the kiwi was born. Part discipline, part national pride, part make-work task.
Carving the kiwi kept them busy and created a cracking bit of Kiwiana on a Wiltshire hillside. I wrote in more detail about the Bulford Kiwi here. It’s now a much loved local landmark cared for by local military units.
Locations & Directions
Find St Marys church at Church Lane, Codford, BA12 0PJ.
The church and war graves can be visited as part of the circular Codford and Sherrington circular walk.
The easiest way to get into the heart of Stockton is to head for the pub, The Carriers Arms, BA12 0SQ. A walk out of the village past Stockton House will take you to a viewing point for the badge, but be aware the turn off through a metal kissing gate is very easy to miss!
You’ll find the viewing point for the Bulford Kiwi brown sign posted on the Bulford Droveway. The postcode is SP4 9FB.
Use postcode SP9 7JT to find Tidworth Military Cemetery.
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