In December 1915 a Depot was formed at Shoreham Camp to take in 4000 sick and wounded soldiers.
As the war progressed many thousands of men passed through Shoreham whilst recuperating from injury. The Camp was the last step in their recovery after attending hospital and they were expected to soon return to France.
In early 1916 Edmund Blunden trained at Shoreham Camp with the Royal Sussex Regiment where he was assigned to take command of a group of these recovering soldiers. He recalled in his book, Undertones of War (1928), how much he admired the convalescing soldiers and their ‘distinguishing demeanour’.
Convalescing at the Camp in 1918 Tom Hilton reported that his fitness was judged in weekly meetings with a Medical Officer who would decide what activities he would undertake.
‘Our reveille is at 6.30 and breakfast at 7.30 . . . there was not one fellow out of bed this morning before 7.15 it is a marvel how we got on parade by 8.15 but of course . . .[Shoreham] is more like a convalescent camp than anything else. I expect I shall be going to the training wing in a week or two, it is known generally as ‘plonk’, I don’t know why, I’m sure.’
Tom Hilton, 23rd November 1918. Copyright the ‘A Family at War Collection’ of David C. Hilton.
Another eye-witness, Victor Fagence, reported that different coloured ribbons were attached to a soldier’s epaulettes to say whether he would be given light duties (green), more strenuous drill exercises (red then blue), all the way through to those who were basically fit (yellow). Victor recalls that by this stage in the War many soldiers tried ‘swinging the lead’ – pretending to be more injured than they were to avoid returning to the Front Line. Victor, however, took the opposite stance and as a result the Medical Officer paid more attention to his genuine injury.
Listen to Victor talk about his experiences in the Camp in this oral history interview held at the Imperial War Museum (Reel 7, 16:02 – Reel 8, 6.58 ).
A convalescent could stay in the Camp anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months. Whilst recovering soldiers could learn new skills like Charles Paine who gained his gunnery certificate and completed a siege course.
The convalescents from the Camp are also mentioned regularly in the local papers leading entertainments for the locals and fellow troops in sister training Camps. For example in 1918 recovering soldier Sergeant Stan Ward, who had been a musician before the War, became part of the concert group the Wromps.
Conditions were not always ideal however and by the later years of the war food was becoming scarce. George McLuskie recalled soldiers supplementing their rations with shellfish from the Adur Estuary and Mill Hill resident Mr Standen reported soldiers attempting to raid his vegetable plots.
Thousands of recovering troops, British and colonial, passed through Shoreham Army Camp. For example, artists like Canadian A. Y. Jackson, musicians like Stan Ward, Londoner George McLuskie and local lad Charles Paine.
Find out more
About the Entertainments in Camp.
Key Sources: West Sussex County Times, West Sussex Gazette, Worthing Gazette and Horsham Times. Accessed at Worthing Library, Courtesy of West Sussex County Council Library Service www.westsussexpast.org.uk Audio interviews and private papers courtesy of the Imperial War Museum Jackson, A. Y. 1958 A Painter's Country . Rosemary Pearson's excellent article on Charles Paine at: Great War West Sussex 1914-1918, People at War, Study 41. 'A Family at War' Collection copyright Dave C. Hilton