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This essay was written as an exercise in producing a piece of local history from primary
sources. As such, it formed part of the course of the Southampton University Diploma in
Education.

When the work began, I had no idea of what period in time I should be covering. Having
discovered, however, that the land on which the camp is built was sold to the War Office in
1899, this particular year became the obvious starting point. I later decided to make 1925
the finishing date because by then Bovington Camp, after many years of uncertainty, had
become firmly established as the Tank Corps Centre with its own flourishing community of
servicemen and civilians. The aim of the essay, then, is to trace the development of Bovington
during the first quarter of the twentieth century.

I began my research at the beginning of 1969 and quickly discovered that I had started two
or three years too late. All the old records which I had hoped to find in the offices of the
Ministry of Public Building and Works, for instance, has recently been destroyed. Then again,
a number of old men who had known Bovington before the First World War had recently
died. As I worked, moreover, many of the original wooden buildings on the camp were being
demolished as a result of a modernisation scheme. When I began the essay, in face, it was
possible to correlate old maps with existing buildings; by the time I had finished, however,
this was no longer easy.

As the essay was intended to be primarily a piece of local history, I approached the subject
first from the civilian rather than the military aspect. I began by reading all I could about the
background of Bovington in the accepted authorities such as John Hutchins’ “The History and
Antiquities of the County of Dorset” and the Victoria County History of the area. I also read
the various learned periodicals of the county. In the first two I found some useful information
regarding the antiquity and the changing pattern of ownership of the place. In the periodicals,
however, I found very little material; in fact, I found only one reference to Bovington in
the Dorset Year Books and only one in the “Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and
Antiquarian Field Club”. I also found that there were few references to Bovington in any of
the modern guide books to the county. It seems that local writers like to pretend that the camp
does not really exist. One authoress, for instance, told me that she had not mentioned the place
in her book because “Bovington seems so much an asphalt jungle”.

When I moved from secondary to primary sources I found that there was still a scarcity
of material. There is only one reference to Bovington in the county museum library –
referring to a British bowl that was found on the camp in 1962 – and there are only two
relevant bundles of papers in the county archives. Fortunately, one of these contains a small,
incomplete collection of letters referring to the proposed sale of part of the Moreton Estates
to the War Office. These letters are dated from 1896 to 1898 and they gave me the first clue
to the date of the commencement of the camp. Armed with this information, I extended my
enquiries to the Ministry of Defence Land Agent in Dorchester and to the present owner of the
Moreton Estates.3

The Land Agent, Mr CHH. Kentish, FRICS, provided me with invaluable assistance in the
form of a copy of the conveyance of the original purchase of land and a map illustrating the
relevant area. Commander RHCF Frampton RN, of Moreton House, was equally helpful.
Although he could not produce any correspondence relating to the original sale he did show
me his grandfather’s diary which contained numerous snippets of information which I could
not have discovered elsewhere.

Having established when the camp was started, I set out to discover how it expanded and what
it was used for. The first of these tasks was comparatively easy because the local Land Office
contains all the conveyances of land bought and sold since 1899; it does not, however, contain
records of the requisitioning of land by wartime regulations, so that I have not always been
able to check the extent of these. The second of these tasks was more difficult because the
Land Office does not concern itself with land use. To discover what buildings existed at any
particular time I had hoped to use MPBW sources but, as I have already explained, these had
been destroyed.

There is in MPBW offices at Bovington, however, a framed plan of the original buildings and
from this I have built up a picture by using a series of Ordnance Survey maps, by reading
contemporary descriptions of the camp and by talking both to soldiers who were stationed
at Bovington before 1925 and to the local civilian shopkeepers, some of whom have been
trading in the area since the First World War.

According to the original conveyance, Bovington Camp was to be used as a rifle range and
an exercise training area. I have confirmed that this is indeed what it was used for by talking
to elderly inhabitants of the locality and by studying the back numbers of the Dorset County
Chronicle. I am indebted to this newspaper for a detailed description of the rilfle range
when it was first used in 1900 and for considerable information relating to the local scene
immediately following the outbreak of war in 1914. Unfortunately, Bovington did not receive
as much publicity at that time as some other wartime camps, especially those at Wareham and
Swanage.

The reason for this, presumably, was that such towns had regular newspaper correspondents
who continued to produce their weekly columns, describing the activities of the newly arrived
military personnel, whereas Wool, the nearest village to Bovington, had no such person.
For the period 1914-16, I obtained most of my information from military sources. From the
Ministry of Defence I discovered which infantry battalions had been stationed in the vicinity
in 1914 and I then consulted the relevant regimental histories and war diaries. In most cases
these do not commence until the time of the arrival of the battalions in France but a few
mention Bovington and from these I was able to piece together an account of what went on
there from September 1914 until the middle of 1915.

Towards the end of 1916 Bovington became the tank depot. For the next three years there
are no contemporary accounts of the camp. I have been unable to find, for instance, a single
reference to Bovington in the Dorset County Chronicles for the years 1917 and 1918. The
reason for this dearth of material is that the tank was the current “secret weapon” and, as
such, was unmentionable in print. For this period I have relied mainly on histories and
reminiscences which were published immediately after the war. 4

Chief among these were “Tank Notes”, a history of tank development issued in weekly notes
by the War Office; various personal accounts printed in the Tank Corps Journal and two
typescript histories of the two most important units at Bovington – the Central Schools and
the Central Workshops.

These histories are contained in the archives of the Tank Museum. The curator of this
museum, Col PH Hordern DSO OBE, was very helpful in providing material, particularly in
the form of maps and photographs. He also allowed me access to the collection of memoirs
which the museum possesses. These, however, are generally concerned more with the
technical and tactical developments of tanks than with training; consequently Bovington
receives little more than passing mention in any of them. One book in the library which has
been of considerable use, however, is “Tinned Soldiers” which was written by Alec Dixon
who was a post-war recruit to the Tank Regiment and who spent most of his military career as
a non-commissioned officer at Bovington.