‘In a night, a dark and dirty night unfortunately, the invasion came which has transformed our quiet little town into a garrison town. Hundreds, thousands, seeking shelter under dripping canvas.’
The Shoreham Parish Magazine, No. 298. October 1914. (Quote credit 1.)
On Saturday September 12th 1914 over 12,000 men arrived in the small coastal town of Shoreham to sleep under canvas on the South Downs and start military training at Shoreham Army Camp.
Why did they come? When the First World War began in August 1914, Field Marshall Kitchener put out the call for volunteer recruits to join a new British Army. By September 1914 he had formed 16 new Army Divisions (over 300,000 men). Most of the 24th Division, which included regiments from the Southeast, were sent to Shoreham Army Camp for training. The Camp became part of the Army’s Eastern Command .
The new raw recruits, lived first in bell tents around Buckingham Park and Slonk Hill and soon the Downs were covered in canvas. The tents did little to protect the now 20,000 recruits from the wind, cold and endless mud so more permanent wooden huts were hastily constructed across the Camp. Terrible weather in December 1914 forced the recruits to move into warm billets in Shoreham, Worthing and Brighton.
From spring 1915 the soldiers returned to the Camp to stay in the new ‘hutments’ or huge sheds. The Camp now spread from Mill Hill in the West to Slonk Hill in the East and down to Buckingham Park. It covered 350 acres of the Downs.
By autumn of 1915 most recruits had left for the battlefields of France and a new wave of trainees took their place. In December 1915 a Depot for ‘convalescing’ and wounded soldiers was created to retrain them for the Front Line. In autumn 1916 Shoreham Camp also became a base for the large Canadian Expeditionary Force. Later in the war South African soldiers also arrived at Shoreham Camp.
After the Armistice of November 1918, Shoreham Camp became a holding point for many troops awaiting demobilisation. The huts started to be sold off in February 1919 but troops remained, despite a mutiny, in the Camp into late summer. By 1920 little remained but the brick and concrete bases of the huts and the grass slowly returned to the Downs. It is estimated that during the 6 years over 100,000 men had trained and lived in Shoreham Camp.
August: Britain declares war on Germany
September: Recruits arrive with tents
December: Recruits billeted with locals
March: Troops return to camp as new ‘hutments’ completed
December: First injured soldiers arrive
September: Canadian Expeditionary Force arrives
July: Canadian ‘mutiny’
April: South African troops in Camp
November: Armistice declared
January: British ‘mutiny’
February: ‘Hutments’ for sale
June: Peace is declared
July: Last soldiers leave
Find out more
Watch a film created by Worthing College Students about the start of the Camp.
Take a tour around the Camp on the Shoreham Fort website, by Brian Drury.
Key Sources: Hayes, M. and White, E. (ed). 2014 West Sussex Remembering 1914-18 Gloucestershire: The History Press Frankau, G. 1920 Peter Jackson, cigar merchant : a romance of married life London: Hutchinson www.goodchilds.org Courtesy of Henry Finch West Sussex Gazette, Worthing Gazette, West Sussex County Times and Horsham Times. Accessed at Worthing Library, Courtesy of West Sussex County Council Library Service www.westsussexpast.org.uk