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Construction of Tweedsmuir Camp

Background Information

The 1 Canadian Infantry Division landed in England on 17 December 1939 with the intention of joining operations with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the summer of 1940. By 23 May, however, it became clear that events in mainland Europe were not going according to plan hence the decision was taken to set aside this blueprint and to launch instead Operation "Dynamo", dubbed by the British press as the 'Miracle of Dunkirk'. "Dynamo" lasted eight days (28 May to 4 June) and was successful in saving the lives of an Allied Force that numbered 338,000 strong. The safety of Britain now became of paramount importance for two reasons; first to provide a comparatively secure haven for training and holding fighting units and second to plan how best to rescue Europe from the continued tyranny of Nazi Germany.

When, on 10 September 1939, Canada 'signed up' to WWII it had committed several thousand of its men to augment those already enlisted as guardians of world democracy. The increase in number of Canadian field formations in the UK placed a tremendous strain on accommodating a much enlarged fighting force, which was to swell to an estimated 112,500 Canadian personnel by the end of 1941 and to over 200,000 by D-Day. Whilst it was considered reasonably practicable for the Dominion Forces to be quartered under canvass during summer months, winter conditions necessitated more substantial quarters. Consequently, as Major CP Stacey (Historical Officer based at Canadian Military Headquarters [CMHQ] London) wrote in his 38th report on 28 July 1941,

"on 28 October 1940 the War Office authorised construction of five 'Yukon' hutted camps (in the Aldershot Area) [...] at Bramshott North, Bramshott South, Ludshott, Thursley and Headley, each of about 1000 men."
So started the history of Tweedsmuir Camp. In actual fact the camp's original name was 'Thursley' after the village to which it was closely located. It only became known as Tweedsmuir Camp following Routine Order 761, issued 6 June 1941 with approval from the War Office London, which instructed the renaming "of the various camps being constructed by Canadian troops." From then on the new title had to be "used in all references."

The decision to erect the five camps was not without its difficulties. Building materials such as timber, steel, concrete and glass were very hard to obtain. Moreover, a far more serious problem was the lack of a competent workforce due to the expansion of the fighting forces and the demands made by the munitions industry.

Four civilian companies had been contracted by the War Office to erect the five camps by 31 May 1941. Although in January the projected number of workmen required to complete the work was 2,900, in February 1941 only 76 were available, comprising 9 carpenters and 67 labourers. In March 1941, since only 300 labourers in total were working on the construction of the camps, it soon became apparent that these few would experience difficulty in meeting the contract by the specified date; another more substantial workforce had to be drafted in to construct the camps, Tweedsmuir included.

In an attempt to resolve the situation, a meeting (one of many it should be added) was held at the War Office at 11.00 am on 19 March 1941 the sole purpose of which was to discuss

"questions pertaining to the accommodation of the Canadian Army in the UK."

{Memorandum: Accommodation of Canadian Army in the UK, 20 March 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
Among those present were
  • Major-General Naylor:- DQMG (A) War Office, Chair
  • Lieutenant-General McNaughton :- GOC, Canadian Corps in the UK
  • Lieutenant-General Sir Wilfred Lindsell:- LGA, Home Forces
  • Major-General Montague:- Senior Officer, CMHQ
  • Major-General Cave-Browne:- DFW, War Office
  • Brigadier Wingfield:- Director of Quartering, War Office
  • Brigadier Nurison:- DA and QMG, Canadian Corps
  • Brigadier Turner:- BGS (Canada), Canadian Corps
  • Colonel Young:- DCE, Aldershot Area
  • Lieutenant-Colonel MacDonald:- AQMG(ST), CMHQ.

In one of the opening statements, Brigadier Wingfield noted that Canadian Forces should be assigned as much accommodation as possible within the Aldershot Area and that the only sources of labour for completing the camps were a civilian worforce, Canadian troops already present in the UK, or Canadian Construction Units brought over from Canada. General Cave-Browne was of the opinion that contracts with each of the civilian contractors could be legitimately broken because they could not supply "even semi-skilled labour." He added that the War Office could supply all the required material for building the camps, in addition to that already in place on the sites, but that septic tanks would have to be manufactured and supplied under contract. Given the circumstances, General Montague was sceptical as to whether the camps could be completed "even by the end of the spring of 1942." As the meeting of 19 March progressed, General Cave-Browne advised that special arrangements with the Ministry of Labour could be made to focus the available civilian workforce on completing one of the five camps. He went on to suggest that since Bramshott South and Bramshott North were being erected by "the most satisfactory of the four contractors" and that this contractor was "the best prospect for retaining the maximum of civil labour" either of these sites should be chosen over the others {1}.

Acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, General McNaughton stated that

"as it was essential to adhere to the plans for the arrival of 3 Canadian Division, the Army Tank Brigade and the Armoured Division"
he was prepared to allot Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE) to the task and establish
"a special RCE Works organisation under a full Colonel to direct this work and command the Engineer units employed thereon as soon as authority is obtained from Canada."

{Memorandum: Accommodation of Canadian Army in the UK, 20 March 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)} and reiterated in Major Stacey's 38th Report of 28 July 1941)
On the 7 April 1941, CMHQ received authority from National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) Canada, to form a 'Works Directorate' under the command of Colonel Mackenzie, CMHQ, who became responsible for overseeing the required work.

Our finding of inscriptions made by RCE personnel in concrete rendering on one of the three water treatment beds in Tweedsmuir Camp is evidence that part, if not all, of the camp was erected by personnel of the 13 and 14 Field Companies, RCE. From the 20 March 1941 memorandum, and Stacey's 38th report, it is clear that a portion of 2 Road Construction Company, RCE and 1 Road Construction Company, RCE were also involved in the camp's construction. Using these clues we were able to locate in The National Archives, Kew, reports written by Lieutenant-Colonel JL Melville, which state that two of the four Companies of 1 Battalion, RCE, Canadian Corps Troops Engineers, namely "B" Company and "C" Company, together with 1 Road Construction Company, who took over from 2 Road Construction Company at the end of April 1941, were all instrumental in completing the camp.

By the week ending 19 April 1941,

"normal repairs and maintenance of vehicles and assistance in the move of "B" and "C" Companies to Thursley"

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
had been finalised. In that week, on 14 April, detachments from "B" and "C" Companies were preparing the camp site for the arrival, by 16 April, of the remaining personnel from the two Companies, comprising the workshop section and other details. Between 16 and 19 April, time was spent on
"preparation of (the) camp, drawing of equipment, and making arrangements to commence (the) construction program."

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Directly 1 Road Construction Company arrived on 21 April 1941 from Canada, and their equipment "unloaded and delivered to the Aldershot Area", the intention was that detachments from this Company would

"take over from those of No. 2 Company (Road Construction) at the hutted camps at Ludshott - Thursley area."

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
Up until then "B" Company, "C" Company, 1 Road Construction Company and 2 Road Construction Company were under the command of 1 Battalion, RCE Headquarters at Wentworth Hall, near Virginia Water. Once the Companies began building Tweedsmuir Camp however, they came under the orders of CMHQ.

Interestingly, rather than keep Canadian troops employed on the building of a camp to which they were initially assigned, CMHQ encouraged troops to be rotated between construction sites. This may have been a conscious response to the problem of maintaining morale, which on 23 February 1940 was reported to the Senior Officer, CMHQ by the Chief Postal Censor who wrote,

"Boredom, homesickness and a feeling of not being really needed, appear to be the main reasons why nearly all these Canadian soldiers grumble. The majority of the writers (Canadian soldiers writing home) warn their friends and relations not to join the Army."

(Colonel Stacey in his 119th Report made on 30 June 1944)
Moreover, Canadian Corps Headquarters Reports provide an account of some of the changes made in construction personnel. For example, in his report of the week ending 26 April 1941, Colonel Melville wrote
"1 Battalion less "A" and "D" Companies (ie "B" Company and "C" Company) moved from Thursley to Wentworth Hall on 23 July and for the first two days, were busily engaged in settling down."

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
23 July was a Wednesday and seven days after a sapper inscribed the date "16 July 1941" on one of the three water filter beds we mentioned earlier.

From the Works Directorate Diaries, also lodged at The National Archives, "B" and "C" Companies were replaced by Royal Canadian Engineers from 18 Field Company. A further changeover of construction personnel took place on 18, 19 and 20 October 1941. For instance,

"a section of 1 Road Construction Company, RCE (were) removed from Tweedsmuir Camp who have relieved 6 Field Company (at Erie Camp), and 18 Field Company were relieved by two companies of 4 Battalion RCE."

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Liaison between Military and Civilian Authorities

To build Tweedsmuir Camp successfully it was essential for Canadian military commanders to liaise extensively with civilian authorities while both planning and constructing the camp. Colonel Mackenzie, for example, met with Mr Satchwell (Supervising Civil Engineer) on several occasions to discuss the supply and transportation of materials. He also met Messrs Hall and Wright (civilian contractors) on 16 June 1941 in connection with the supply of hardcore, delivered via Milford Station, for the parade ground.

On 6 May 1941, Mr Teale (Wey Valley Water Company - named after River Wey that runs through Guildford) met with Major Kerry, RCE, advising him that the company would have problems in supplying water to the various camps RCEs were constructing at the time. Records of the meeting confirm Teale's concerns that on completion of the five camps (Bramshott North, Bramshott South, Ludshott, Thursley and Headley), the Wey Valley water system would "be loaded to the limit." For instance, in the planning phase, Bramshott Hospital was designed to consume 40,000 gallons per day. On 6 May 1941 however, when the hospital was partially finished, consumption was 70,000 gallons per day and predicted to rise to 100,000 gallons per day. In discussion, Teale suggested that he would have "great difficulty in getting the equipment necessary to increase capacity." Notwithstanding his concerns, Tweedsmuir Camp's water consumption rose steadily during its occupation by the Canadian military. Meter readings show, for example, that 505,400 gallons were consumed in the month ending 31 December 1943, rising to 602,000 gallons in the month ending 29 February 1944.

Captain Darey met with Mr Prichard of 'Davison and Prichard Building Contractors' on 15 May 1941. Mr Prichard was "very apprehensive lest the speed with which we (Canadian military authorities) are forcing things through get him into trouble with dealers and through their actions with higher authorities."

A contract was placed with the 'Guildford Glass Company' for the supply of steel (Crittle) window frames and glass panes. On 9 June 1941 however, the contract was cancelled "due to non-delivery on time." The contract was subsequently "let [...] to another firm." One reason why steel window sashes were not delivered on time could have been due to a shortage of steel in the UK; the same reason why steel columns for long-span buildings, such as the maintenance garage, had to be redesigned by Satchwell and made from either brick or reinforced concrete.

In September 1941 construction work "proceeded as rapidly as possible. In an emergency personnel" could have been "housed in the camp but, due to the delay caused by the lack of sanitary and plumbing fittings, bucket latrines" would have had to be used. During November, although "slow progress" was still "being made by civilian contractors on the sewage disposal plant", cinder paths were being laid, blackout screens fitted to barracks' windows and other "miscellaneous items" attended to. It wasn't until 26 November 1941 that barracks in Tweedsmuir Camp were deemed ready for occupation.

Clearly this is not a complete account of all liaison activities held between military and civilian authorities, but the above does illustrate the nature of such meetings and discussions.

Tweedsmuir Camp Layout

Although we are able to provide some detail of the layout of Tweedsmuir Camp by way of a simple sketch map, we should stress that most of it is from memory, information provided by other people who lived in the camp with us, and from observations we have made of the present site. Our intention is to both continue researching this issue and include our findings at a future date. For a larger sketch of our plan of Tweedsmuir Camp, please click the small image to the right.

Construction Details

In the summer of 2003 we made a transection of the camp, which started at the very peak of Beansides Wood, continued across the parade ground, and finished at the edge of the the stream; an activity that provided some extremely interesting information. Besides filling in some 25% of the 19th Century canal (see 'Site Before World War Two' section of this website), it is obvious that the RCEs terraced much of the mid portion of the site, creating an environment that lent itself to the erection of wooden huts and brick outbuildings, and the laying of a parade ground and a simple road network system.

There are many military camp sites in the area surrounding Thursley. Heading south along the A3, for example, just before the turn off for Thursley village, are the remains of Witley Camp, comprising Algonquin, Laurentide and Jasper. Interestingly, however, none of them have a road structure such as that found in Tweedsmuir Camp.

Like the nineteenth century canal we describe in our rendition of the site's appearance before Tweedsmuir Camp was built, the layout of the road system seems to have been dictated by a terrain that followed the land's natural contours. For instance, from Dye House Road to the south of the camp, the road was made to head northwards in a straight line then bend north-west along a ridge 76 meters (250 feet) above sea level and more or less parallel to the canal, which is shown on maps published before, and up to, 1941 (click the small maps to the right for a larger image).

Road Construction in Tweedsmuir was driven by expediency, providing easy access to, for example, the maintenance garage, parade ground, fuel pumps and parking for military vehicles. Incorporated into the road design were features such as kerbs, expansion gaps and drainage; features one does not necessarily expect to see in a build that was to have been of a temporary nature {2}. Once the land for the road system was levelled it would appear that a bed of flint stones, on average 50 mm in diameter, was first rolled flat onto which was poured aggregate cement to complete the road network. Unlike roads found in most cities, which often include gently sweeping curves, Tweedsmuir Camp roadways comprised sharp, unpretentious corners; pragmatism seems to have been the watchword when the camp was designed.

To the left of the camp's main road, as one walks southwards towards Dye House, is a meadow that we have described in the 'Site Before World War Two' section of this website (click the button to the right for a reminder). At first glance it seems to have nothing to do with the camp but next to the road kerb in this field are foundations which we shall show in due course as being the remains of the Officers' Mess (No. 24 on our sketch map). Immediately north of these foundations stands a brick structure that was almost certainly a bunker. To the western elevation of the bunker are the remains of a small spetic tank (No. 20 on our sketch map) that was once dedicated to the removal of grease and other waste material from washing-up water disposed of by chefs working in the Officers' Mess.

Positioned strategically in the meadow is a structure that has interested us for as long as we can remember; a one roomed, brick building, which was once furnished with a cold water tap and a coal burning stove; features that suggest the building was used 24 hours a day (No. 22 on our sketch map). Although we have been unable to ascertain its purpose for quite some time past, following a conversation in July 2007 with Major (Retired) M Jones, Commander of a CCF unit in London, we have agreed that the brick building was most likely a range warden's security post. The evidence for this conclusion is as follows.

On the eastern perimeter of the meadow is an austere, corrugated sheet steel structure (No. 25 on our sketch map) that resembles a shed. Indeed just after WWII, in the 1950s, it was used to house cattle by a local farmer. From observation, however, and an entry in the Canadian War Diary for 10 August 1942, we have evidence that the 'shed' was in fact an indoor firing range used for revolver practice. Adjacent, and arguably the most easiest of the remaining structures in the derelict camp to interpret, is an outdoor rifle range (No. 26 on our sketch map). The one roomed brick building is situated immediately north west of both the indoor firing range and the rifle range. From the aerial photograph provided to us by British Heritage (see 'Aerial Photograph of Tweedsmuir Camp' section of this website) there is evidence that the brick building, or range warden's security post, once formed part of a cordon that isolated the two firing ranges from the other parts of the camp. The only way in or out of the area would have been through the doors of the security post.

Major Jones has also informed us that from his experience present day range wardens are usually civilian officials hired by the War Office. This is because continued security cannot be guaranteed by army personnel who are on short notice to be drafted elsewhere. From this it is safe to assume that the range wardens who manned Tweedsmuir Camp's security post would have been civilians from the local area.

The meadow, or field, has always been somewhat of an enigma. An apparent lack of soldierly activity in it, on a scale noticeable in other parts of the camp, has presented many questions none more teasing than what purpose did the field serve during the camp's occupation by Canadian Forces in WWII? Having read reports written by senior Canadian Officers of the time, which clearly illustrate the rigourous training programmes Canadian troops were expected to complete (click the small image to the right for a larger example of one such report), and taking into consideration the existence therein of two firing ranges, it is tempting to suggest that the meadow was used for a wide variety of training exercises such as instruction in the use of firearms, drill to develop bayonet and camouflage skills, and activities such as field levelling and tying knots and lashings. However, given the nature of the camp (a transit depot for non-effective personnel), this is highly unlikey. It is more probable that the meadow served the less exciting function of a lawn. Two enteries in the 1 Non-Effective Transit Depot War Diaries support this thesis. The first records that on 1 July 1943 Sir Bruce Thomas, who owned and lived in Dye House at the time, helped to "cut the grass in front of the Officers' Mess to make it playable for golf practice." The second, made on 20 August 1944, catalogues a Garden Tea Dance, which was held in the Officers' Mess and marquees specially erected for the occasion "on the lawn." Over 100 guests were present who danced in the Mess to the music of an orchestra and afterwards served tea in the marquees. Having lived in the camp for nine years we cannot place any other venue there, which would have lent itself to either practising golf swings or erecting tents large enough for entertaining over 100 people.

In the now deserted camp are the remains of an elaborate water system. Running along an imaginary centre line through the camp site are three filter beds (No. 5 on our sketch map) and on the western boundary, in Beansides Wood, stands a water tower (No. 18 on our sketch map). Hidden from view, in the southern most corner of a field situated on the eastern side of the stream, is evidence of an extensive sewage disposal system. In addition of course are the remains of stand pipes, some of which we have already referred to above.

When we lived in the camp as children of parents who were part of the Polish Resettlement Corps, we remember a cast iron sewer pipe with a diameter of about 460 mm, which ran along the eastern boundary parallel to the stream (No. 12 on our sketch map). Although we are uncertain of the starting and terminating points of the sewer pipe, it is likely to have routed soiled water from a juncture in the north east of the camp to the septic tanks in the south east.

A water hydrant, located at the camp's southern entrance, suggests that drinking water was once delivered to Tweedsmuir from a mains supply under Dye House Road. From information we have to hand the water supply seems to have followed a path parallel to the camp's main road that branched off at strategic points in straight lines, delivering water to taps some of which were fixed to stand pipes. The mains supply probably served the water tower from where water was routed on to latrines and washing facilities, and made to pass via boilers installed in outhouses to supply hot water; a system which at the time was preferred, and continues to be used in many suburban houses, directing mains water to the kitchen tap (for drinking), storage tank in the loft, and from the storage tank to the lavatory, wash basin, bath and heat exchanger (cylinder, boiler and the like) for hot water.

Although the water system structures have now been severed from each other, and the filter beds filled in with lumps of concrete, their state of isolation and disrepair does not mask the fact that they were once an integral part of the camp. From our observations of the site and current research into the camp's water sub-systems, we provide an outline sketch of how the whole water system may have functioned when Tweedsmuir was in use.

Since the land at the north end of the camp is lower than in the south, and the 19th Century canal filled in when Tweedsmuir was constructed, there was an increased likelyhood of ground at the north end becoming sodden particularly during wet, winter months. As we explained in the 'Site Before World War Two' section of this website, today the very northern tip of the camp site is always under water; the very circumstance, we believe, the canal was designed and built to prevent (click the button to the right for a reminder of how the northern tip of the camp looks today). To overcome the problem of the northern parts of the camp becoming a quagmire, at the start of November 1941, the month construction of Tweedsmuir Camp was finished, cinder paths were laid, which provided a firmer foundation to walk on. By removing a few millimeters of soil it is still possible to find remains of the cinder paths under which is a layer of very fine silt deposited by rain water.

Notwithstanding the rationale for laying the cinder paths, Canadian War Diaries for 1942 - 1947 report many instances of serious flooding in the camp during periods of heavy rain. For 26 July 1946, for example, the diary reads,

"Weather hot and close in the morning with extremely heavy rain, accompanied by lightening and thunder in the afternoon. This storm lasted for about an hour, washed large quantities of sand and earth into hollows and along the concrete road. Several offices, particularly the MIR (Medical Inspection Room) were flooded. The pump for the sewer was badly clogged with sand but the camp engineer was able to start it pumping again in the early evening."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1945 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Such accounts suggest that the problems the site's topography presented was either knowingly ignored for pragmatic reasons or inadvertently omitted in the original construction plans.

Concluding the Construction

Even though the camp was "practically completed" by 4 October 1941, a few anxieties remained. The delay in completing the sewage disposal plant, latrines, gymnasium and dental huts, and the fitting of blackout window blinds, are mentioned in the Works Directorate Diaries as areas of specific concern. Of these completion of the sewage disposal system caused the most unease due mainly to the late delivery of materials and furnishings. Although "installation of all machinery for the sewage disposal plant" was expected to have been "completed by 18 October 1941", the system was only 65% functional by the end of that month. Even by mid November the lack of plumbing and sanitary fittings meant that "slow progress" was still being "made by civilian contractors" involved in constructing the plant. Equally, difficulty in obtaining items such as "urinal slabs" meant that the latrines could be only partially completed by the end of November. In this case, although the camp could have been "used in an emergency, [...] bucket latrines" would have had to be put into place. The entry made in the Works Directorate Diary for 15 November 1941, which reads "blackout screens for windows not yet available", suggests that efforts had been made prior to this date to obtain blackout screens but to no avail. They were, however, finally fitted the following year in February 1942. It may be of interest to know that the blackout screens were made from a utilitarian, tarpaulin-like fabric so that, in daylight, they could be gathered up by a cord to rest at the windows' top end.

As previously intimated, during WWII steel was at a premium because of its use in the manufacture of munitions and other necessities of war. Since the indoor firing range and maintenance garage were originally designed to be supported by steel columns the Supervising Civil Engineer, Mr Satchwell, had to redesign both buildings. The changes resulted in brick columns being used in the construction of the firing range(see photographic insert to the right) and reinforced concrete supports in the construction of the maintenance garage.

Reading through the Works Directorate Diary for October 1941, mention is made of "dental huts" as also being "delayed due to a change in plan." Unfortunately, without any further documentation, we are unable to ascertain what changes were made to the dental facilities or their location in the camp. Similarly, we are unable to state the position of the "central oil stores" which we know were completed by 8 July 1941. Nevertheless it would have made sense for the oil, a combustable material, to have been stored either underground or in a brick outbuilding.

Cost

As with all the camps constructed in the area, materials for Tweedsmuir Camp were diverted from Iceland where RCEs were engaged in building similar "Yukon hutted camps." Since payment for the materials was acceded to by the British Government, CMHQ had to ensure that, on completion of all work, every receipt presented to the War Office was accurate. This imperative fell onto the shoulders of Colonel Mackenzie, Director of Works.

"All officers responsible for units must study the work in hand to arrange the sequence of labour in order to get the most productive work out of their men. [...] If men work against an estimate, and understand they are working to an estimate, they will do better work",
said Mackenzie on the evening of 11 July 1941 in his address to officers in charge of construction units. To this end, he suggested that each construction unit created a chart which
"estimates the work a man should do on a particular job"
whether by hand or by machine.
{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
The information on the chart was required to show, for example,
  • "the total amount of material needed for the job;
  • the amount of material already built into the job;
  • the estimated labour in each type of work;
  • [...] changes from hand labour to machine labour or vice versa, as often as they occur without complicated calculation," and whether
  • "the whole job is kept up to estimate."

Before the conference closed at 23.30 hours, those present on 11 July 1941 agreed "basic units" of work that could be done by one man in an hour (click the small image to the right for examples). Armed with this kind of data CMHQ was able to itemise receipts that covered costs for both materials and labour.

Although documentation about the exact cost of building Tweedsmuir Camp has presently eluded us we have been able to obtain a figure from which an overall cost may be deduced, albeit roughly. At about the same time as the camp was being built Canadian forces were also involved in the erection of a Motor Transport Ordnance Depot some 12 kilometres south west of Tweedsmuir, at Bordon, East Hampshire. In a memorandum to Brigadier JH MacQueen, DQMG, written on 24 August 1941, Colonel Mackenzie stated that the total estimated cost for constructing the ordnance depot, based on War Office (London) figures and inclusive of materials and labour, was £215,000. At the time of writing the cost of building the same depot today would be close to a staggering £7.5 million!

"This construction calls for the employment of 800 all ranks, and as there is no provision for their accommodation in the area, a further sum would be required to construct this accommodation",
wrote Mackenzie.
"Possibly, accommodation will be required to house the personnel operating the depot; if so, it might be the policy to construct this permanent accommodation and use it to house construction personnel."

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
A workforce of some 2,000 was required to operate the ordnance depot, twice the population housed in Tweedsmuir Camp at the time, necessitating the construction of hutted accommodation, sanitary provisions, concrete roads and Nissen huts; in other words, facilities similar to those found in Tweedsmuir. Consequently, althougfh there were some differences between the two builds, like bays for housing two 15 ton cranes and one smaller crane, it is not beyond the realms of feasibility to suggest that the cost of constructing Tweedsmuir Camp may have been anything between £107,500 (half the cost of the ordnance depot) to £215,000 (full cost of the ordnance depot).

Final Comments

At the height of Tweedsmuir's construction in June 1941, 359 Canadian soldiers were involved directly on the work (this in addition to the civilian labour workforce occupied in constructing the sewage disposal plant). The silence of the countryside surrounding Thursley at the time must have been punctuated by the sound of machine tools performing heavy duty tasks such as moving earth, cutting timber and mixing concrete. Hand tools would also have been used by the Canadian soldiers who fashioned materials whilst engaging in conversation and observing soldierly behaviour; a scene very different from that of today.

However, the notion that RCEs belonged to some kind of 'army club' happily whistling "Chattanooga Choo Choo" (Glenn Miller) whilst sawing timber and mixing concrete could not have been further from the truth. Not only were they ordered to work to strict targets (or so called "estimates") set by their superiors, RCEs were also required to become an integral part of the General Headquaters Anti-tank Line (the so called GHQ Stop Line). They were expected to have formed the first line of defence against any possible attack particularly by "glider-borne and parachute troops [...] on any one, or more, of the camps under construction." Thursley Common, a large area of open space to the east and north east of Tweedsmuir Camp, would have provided German paratroopers with a convenient landing site from where to launch an assault.

"To deal with the situation,"
on 30 May 1941, CMHQ issued a communique which instructed that forces
"at each camp be divided into two detachments, one mobile ready to move either by motor transport or on foot"
and a second, smaller detachment
"responsible only for the protection of the camp."

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
At Tweedsmuir (or Thursley Camp as it was still known then), two Companies of 1 Battalion were assigned to the first detachment, and 50 men from 1 Road Construction Company to the second detachment. Although Canadian military authorities rotated their charges between the various camp construction sites, security from possible invasion continued to be of importance during WWII.

Royal Canadian Engineers involved in the construction of Tweedsmuir Camp were housed on site in tented accommodation. Being familiar with the camp's layout, we consider it feasible for the tents to have been set in the meadow that was cared for as a lawn during Tweedsmuir's Canadian tenure. Since most of the camp's living quarters had been completed by 1 November 1941, it was possible for the tents to be "struck and returned to stores" and for the RCEs housed therein to be moved into the new barracks. As at the time two Companies of 4 Battalion, RCE were engaged in the construction of Tweedsmuir Camp it could be argued that they were its first occupants.

One consquence of any war is socio-economic change when the lack of materials and a depleted workforce combine to propagate 'make-do' conditions. During WWII, for example, furniture was manufactured quickly and with little consideration for design; its bland, square corners, looked very austere in appearance. This was not the time for intricate marquetry nor chamfered glass panels. It was more a time for using rectangular framework structures into which were seated stained plywood sheets. It is no surprise then that, on completion, barracks in Tweedsmuir Camp were furnished with this kind of relatively simple furniture where it remained until the camp's demise.

In 1940 the pending embarkation, by the end of 1941, of over 100,000 Canadian personnel under the Overseas Army Programme was proving a difficult issue to resolve for both the British and Canadian quartering authorities.

"The great prospective increase in the Canadian field force necessitates a proportionate increase in the number of reinforcements held in this country (UK), and this raises special problems of accommodation in the Base Units area. A comprehensive reorganisation of the Holding Units has been under consideration for some time past.

To provide additional accommodation now required in the Base Units area has been a task of special difficulty, and special measures have had to be taken to this end."

(Colonel Stacey in his 38th Report made on 28 July 1941)

Tweedsmuir Camp became an integral part of the "special measures" mentioned by Stacey in 1941. Although a few minor details of construction required attention by the end of that year and at the start of 1942, on 26 November 1941 a "Handing-over Board was held" at which point the responsibility for the camp was passed on from the Works Directorate to CMHQ who decided the role Tweedsmuir Camp would play during the Second World War.


Copyright © 2007: Zen and Wies Rogalski

Last Revised on 21 February 2009