Bev Allen’s Military Tarts. I bet the soldiers on the Nothe would have scoffed these quicker than they could have fired a shell, probably washed down with a quart of ale from the Nothe Tavern. 😁 those down,
Like most institutions, the army develop their own sense of humour.
During one of my night time rummages through the online auction sites I came across this little cracker from WWI and my finger just inadvertently hit the ‘buy’ button.
It is a tongue in cheek magazine for those soldiers stationed in the Weymouth & Portland barracks in 1915, a Christmas number no less.
It is not only full of military humour, but also of fascinating snippets of their actual lives while stationed here.
I’m still working on some of the initialisms!!!
Answers on a postcard please…
Book 1 is now available on Amazon at £9.99
Here in Weymouth and Portland we are blessed with a bevvy of beautiful parks and gardens, all embracing their own special identity.
Unbeknown to many people visiting Weymouth, one hidden garden holds a fascinating history, that of fighting men and fearsome artillery.
Though it stands right next to the harbour, it’s secreted beneath a solid green canopy.
Up on this tree covered peninsula are Weymouth’s well-loved, if not slightly, ‘ragamuffin’ Nothe gardens.
Don’t get me wrong…I really do mean that in the nicest sense possible.
After all, I spent an awful lot of my childhood charging around them with my friends and still love visiting them with my grandchildren.
They always had that slightly wild, wonderful unkempt feel to them, wonky paths, foot-worn steps, steep slippery slopes, but that only made them so much more appealing.
Where better to play a boisterous game of hide and seek or chase me Charlie? (Thankfully, that still holds true for todays youngsters)
Going back centuries, the Nothe peninsular had always been viewed as an open public space as far as the town and its residents were concerned.
From here early 19th century local pilots watched out for incoming vessels, spy glass in hand, sat snug inside their makeshift cabin, a rickety upturned wooden hull.
Victorian coastguards set their sights firmly on the far horizon, guarding our shores from anyone who was less than welcome, possible smugglers or would-be invaders, all came under their steady, watchful gaze.
Wealthy tourists of the day, would meander upon it’s windswept top, keen to inhale that health giving breeze.
Artists came and perched, paints and easels at hand, ready to capture Weymouth’s Bay of Naples beauty.
Then during the 1850’s and 1860’s this land was requisitioned by the War Office and despite a series of futile protests from the town’s corporation, the Nothe became a full blown military site
With Napoleon supposedly rattling his sabres on the not too far off shores, it was deemed sensible to start building a series of coastal fortifications…just in case.
By the 1870’s all construction work was completed, the Nothe Fort now stood proud and strong at the tip of the ridge.
Weymouth’s corporation, keen to reclaim the use of this popular piece of land again, approached Colonel Belfield, CRE (Commander Royal Engineers) the man charged with constructing the Weymouth and Portland coastal defences. (Sat to the right of this dashing trio.)
Once all negotiations were completed between the War Office and Weymouth Corporation, for a peppercorn rent of £1 a year, Weymouth inhabitants and their lucrative tourists could once more enjoy the stunning views from atop its ridge.
Eager to make a start, paths were laid out and a variety of seats put in place…but it was still very much a military site, consequently, certain restrictions were made on those earlier plantings.
Directions were given that no trees or shrubs should be planted that obstructed the firing line of any of the great guns that now dotted this headland.
The top was to be kept open and clear, for this was to be used for visiting troops and their tented camps, of which there were many.
No military camp exclusion zones existed then, no great forbidding barbed wire fences or guarded gates separated soldiers and their territory from civilians. the two fractions mingled quite freely.
Indeed locals would frequently find their way up the slope to partake in some of the soldiers benefits, using their smoking and reading tent to catch up on world events, or to listen to the bandsmen rehearsing for their next performance.
There was even a sad case reported in the local papers of a family of five starving young children who went from tent to tent begging the soldiers for scraps of food.
(Their parents were reported and taken to court.)
The gardens became a place for one and all to enjoy, from smartly turned out soldiers to delicate ladies and their twirling parasols.
Over the following years, folks continued to enjoy its blossoming gardens, as more paths were laid out, rockeries built, additional trees and shrubs added.
True to Victorian pleasures, a bandstand was added, where local and visiting musicians would play, many of them being resident or visiting military bands.
The sweet notes of their tunes floating out over the bay’s waters would draw people up the slopes from far and wide.
The steep harbourside cliff face eventually sported a series of narrow, criss-crossing footpaths, slopes and steps, that as a child were great fun to hare along…
…that is until you came a cropper and ended up tumbling down the muddy slopes only to face your parent’s wrath when you crept in the door at the end of the day, clothes torn, hands and knees scraped and caked head to toe with mud.
But then, that was simply childhood in those days.
The gardens were still part of a bustling military site at the start of the 20th century.
Numerous postcards captured fleeting moments of those long gone military men, such as the one below, depicting soldiers of the Royal Garrison Artillery Volunteers stood to attention on a Sunday morning, ready for inspection before they set off at a quick march to that morning’s church parade.
Spectators were still free to wander up to watch such going-on’s.
Come WWII and the vital defences of our shores brought the Nothe Fort and its gardens into military action once more.
A heavy anti-aircraft battery was set in place on the top near the fort, their guns manned by men and women of the Artillery division. A set of temporary huts housed those troops serving their time on this windswept ridge. (These were also used afterwards to house many of the Weymouth families who lost their homes during bombing raids.)
A powerful searchlight was set atop the sea facing wall, its blinding beams sweeping across the bay and raking the skies for any approaching enemy.
Sadly, a massive landslide in the 1988 saw the tall sea wall and its searchlight housing swept downwards and into the sea.
A line of massive Portland stone blocks now hug the shoreline, attempting to retain this notoriously unstable ground in its place. (Unstable ground was something that the Victorian Royal Engineers also had to contend with while constructing the Nothe Fort.)
These beautiful gardens still remain very popular with many locals, their spacious open top no longer houses the heavy canvas shelters of soldiers but picnic rugs and BBQ’s.
The air is nowadays more likely to be filled with the laughter of excited children as they race around and play than that of belligerent drill sergeants with their sharp tongued retorts.
But the Nothe also holds another hidden delight…The Peace Gardens, which once used to be the Friends Burial Ground.
Their fascinating story will be for another day.
Book 1 of Nothe fort and Beyond is now available on Amazon at £9.99.
Sometimes it’s odd where childhood memories pop up from.
I have a few as a small child of watching searchlight displays from Weymouth beach. I am almost sure that they had been based on the Nothe and maybe over towards White Nothe?
I recall watching as these powerful beams moved out across the waters of the bay and then that feeling of excitement…fear almost as their piecing light swung landwards and crept slowly along the shoreline ever closer to where we were sat.
It didn’t take much imagination to feel the apprehension any approaching foe would have experienced, praying desperately that those all-exposing rays wouldn’t pick out his vessel during their sweeps to and fro in their search for intruders.
Anyway, I digress, I was rummaging through the old newspapers looking for something completely different when I came across a few articles in 1934 about the Royal Engineers, or sappers as they are known, working upon the Nothe with their searchlights, (which of course, is what jogged those childhood memories.)
Searchlight display from battleships in Weymouth Bay and searchlight practise by the Royal Engineers at Weymouth Nothe attracted hundreds of sightseers, few of whom realised what is going on in the ships or at the Nothe to cast the great beams across the sky’
(Western Gazette 9th November 1934)
Soon after the impromptu night time illuminations, Major R M Dawes gave a talk at the Weymouth YMCA on the role of the Royal Engineers in defending our coast. He pointed out that one of their jobs was to man and maintain the powerful searchlights and that it took as much electricity to light a single searchlight as would be needed to illuminate a large village.
When Major Dawes gave his lecture in 1934 his talk would have described the sapper’s role at the Nothe Fort during WWI, little knowing that a mere five years later, they would be back in service defending our coast and ever more valuable because this time the war would be brought to our very shores.
When I dug a bit deeper into the history of these searchlights I recalled that I had already written a piece about them in my manuscript for book II of Nothe Fort and Beyond…
‘Other arrivals on the Nothe in August of that year (1912) was the Dorset Fortress Light Company Royal Engineers. These soldiers specialise in the skills of installation and maintenance of electricity, communications and searchlights.
The Nothe Fort possessed two powerful lights, their brilliant beams raking the waters of the bay during the hours of darkness.
This small but specialised division (137 men in total including officers) been set up in 1908 to concentrate on those skills necessary to maintain the coastal fortifications.
The 1909 Territorial Year Book showed the nearby Sidney Hall was listed as the headquarters of the no 1 Electric Light Company Dorset Fortress RE.
The Sidney Groves Memorial Hall stood down on the North Quay and over the years was used by numerous sections of the military.
The Year Book of 1909 revealed that ‘the building includes a drill hall for the church Lads’ Brigade, 102 feet long by 60 feet wide, officers rooms, reading room, library, caretaker’s house & c.; at the west end of the main building are the head quarters of the Dorset (Fortress) Electric Light Co. (Royal Engineers), including officers’ and sergeants’ rooms, armoury & c.’
The Sidney Hall would also become a military hospital during WWI (and again during WWII) but for now it was where the early 20th century sappers congregated at the start of their fortnights training.
Once the men of the Royal Engineers Corps were all present and correct, had gathered their equipment together and loaded it onto the waiting wagons, they formed into ranks. Led out of the hall by the rousing drum beats of the military band the soldiers marched along the harbourside and up onto the Nothe, where they settled into their tented accommodation for that fortnight.
Their Corps was divided into three working sections.
The electricians who attended lectures on the principles of electricity, dynamos, circuit tracing and light running.
The engine drivers who were trained in the theory and practical work of mastering and maintaining the running of the Hornsby Ackroyd engines that they used.
Last but not least were the telephonists, communication was vital for any fighting force, this had moved on in leaps and bounds from the Victorian era.
These men were taught the skills of receiving and sending messages and the vital testing and repairing of any faults in the cables laid either on our shores or on the battlefields.
Once again the Royal Engineers found themselves at the forefront of emerging technology.’
The Engineers of course payed a major role in construction of the Nothe fort itself during the latter part of the 19th century, but that’s for another post…
Book 1 is now available on Amazon
An extract from my forthcoming book Nothe Fort and Beyond II…
Next to arrive in town were the men of the French army. This little known operation was run along side the more famous Dunkirk evacuation.
On the 31st May 1940, Weymouth town mayor Mr Goddard received a phone call from the War Office. He was given the news that soldiers were being evacuated from the French coast, Weymouth and three other destinations had been selected to receive the retreating army. According to War Office figures, Weymouth’s expected number of arrivals during this retrieval was 12,000 troops. Was Weymouth up to it? You bet your bottom dollar we were.
Plans were speedily put into place. Schools and colleges closed, teachers were seconded into the organisation of the scheme. Even General Charles De Gaulle himself arrived in Weymouth to meet with the Mayor and Town Clerk at the Gloucester hotel, keen to view the facilities put in place to deal with his incoming French soldiers. How ironic really, having spent centuries and millions of pounds building fortifications trying to keep the French army and navy from our shores, yet here we were welcoming them with open arms and that is exactly what we did. Vans with loudspeakers toured the districts advising people of what was about to happen, asking for help. They needed willing folk to billet some of the returning French troops, and many people did just that.
One family who welcomed the exhausted soldiers unreservedly were the Critchells of Westham, pictured below outside their house with three of the French soldiers. The men were billeted at the Central Boys School on Cromwell Road, but found themselves welcomed warmly into the family home in Corporation Road. One of the daughters even found time for a brief romance with one of the handsome soldiers while they were based here, but their stay was only fleeting.
The Recreation ground, (known locally as the Rec,) had been covered in tents of all shapes and sizes, hastily gathered from any source possible. One of the younger members of the Critchell family, a lad called Walt, who attended the Central School remembers himself and his school friends helping to put the tents up.
The local Gas Company played their part, suppling the means for feeding the army of ravenous men.
People, who only minutes before, had been sat enjoying a film at the Regent cinema were suddenly asked to leave mid performance, the theatre was needed to house yet more arrivals.
Once those that could be rescued from the French coast were safely installed around the area and being cared for, plans were hastily made to repatriate them to their home country.
The following Wednesday saw the French troops on the march once more. Walt Critchell recalls quite vividly watching the men leaving, moving towards the harbourside to board the vessels that would return them to their war torn country and the fierce battles. One of the soldiers passing the curious boys who had gathered to watch them go handed his battle scarred helmet to the young lad, commenting wearily ‘what do I need this for?’ A much-treasured possession for a young lad, and one that remains along with its wartime tales in the family to this very day.
Not long after, a letter was received by the town council from the French Embassy, communicating their thanks for all the help they had received in their time of need.
‘We have been deeply moved by the manner in which the municipality and the population have received us. Our officers and men were very tired by three weeks of hard fighting. They found at Weymouth their first rest, and its worth was increased tremendously by the generosity and the kindness of all the inhabitants. On behalf of all the officers and men I express to you our deep gratitude, showing that in all these events the solidarity of our two countries which is essential for the final success.’
Book I is now available
Weymouth’s history with the military goes way way back.
The further back you go it seems, the more troops there were stationed in our area.
So many men and regiments have come and gone from Weymouth’s Red Barracks or Radipole barracks.
Oh to have a tardis and travel back in time to witness their lives.
In 1808, the second battalion of the 53rd Regiment or the Shropshire Regiment of Foot set out from Shrewsbury and arrived at Weymouth’s barracks.
(Historical Record of the 53rd, or the Shropshire Regiment of Foot; Richard Cannon 1894)
The same year The Duke of Cambridge reviewed the troops in barracks and quarters at Dorchester and Weymouth consisting of two regiments of the German Legion, the 5th Dragoon Guards, the South Devon and 2nd Somerset militia, amounting altogether to 4,000 men…
That must have been some awesome sight!
The Prince was mounted on a beautiful charger,most elegantly caparisoned, and was dressed in a superb hussar uniform. The troops performed their evolutions in a very capital style.
After the review, the Prince, Duke of Cambridge &Co., rode into Weymouth and dined with the General and Field Officers &c. at Scriven’s-The Earl of Cavan, Baron Linsingen, Major-General Wood, Lord Rolle and Lord Hinton were among the company. In the evening the Royal Brothers went to the Rooms, which were much crowded.
(Salisbury & Winchester Journal-Monday 29th August 1808)
But like most of army life, they are constantly on the move.
The two very fine corps, the 1st and 2nd Regiments of the Light Dragoons of the King’s German Legion, have received orders to march from Weymouth for Falmouth, there to embark for Spain, with Gen Cotton’s brigade. The German cavalry brigade will be commanded by that excellent officer Major0-General Linfingen; and it is but juftice to say that there are not, in the Britifh fervice two better equipped corps, or more fit for fervice, than the two now leaving Weymouth.
(Saunders News Letter Wednesday 7th December 1808)
If you enjoy a bit of light reading on military life in Weymouth and Portland book I is now available on Amazon
Another taster from my book Nothe Fort and Beyond…
Life was brutal for the lower ranks in the Victorian army, they had much to endure.
One of their biggest issues was their soldier’s mental health and well being, but the powers that be cared little for that.
Sadly, a troubled troopers ultimate act was suicide, a problem that haunted the Victorian military.
So bad had the problem become that in 1869 a special order was sent out from the Horse Guards ‘ In future all service ammunition was to be removed from soldiers’ pouches and be placed under lock in the regimental expense magazines. The key was to be held only by a responsible person.’
Unfortunately, that order came too late for one fellow based in Weymouth’s barracks in the summer of 1869. Private Jacob Damon of the 51st Regiment ‘committed suicide by blowing out his brains’. (The Victorian press certainly had a way with words!)
His inquest held in the barracks revealed the life of a troubled soldier. Damon aged just 21 had been with his regiment for 3 years, he’d served in India for a while before returning to England. Jacob Damon was described by others as ‘a fine young young fellow’.
For some reason though, since April of that year (1869) his character had changed, he was frequently found on the wrong end of his officer’s wrath.
The Defaulters Books reveal that in April he had been imprisoned at Gosport for 42 days for ‘sleeping at his post, when acting as sentry over some court-martialled prisoners’.
In May he was confined to barracks for 10 days ‘for obtaining a pass under false pretences’.
The following month Damon received ‘an additional seven days imprisonment for carelessness at defaulters drill’ followed by yet another ‘fourteen days for going a two-mile walk to Preston without leave’.
What ever ailed this troubled young man, it certainly preyed on his mind, it later came to light that he had been overheard saying ‘he would either do for himself or someone else’.
Things came to a sudden head one night in July, Damon ‘brought his kit to his comrade and gave it to him, saying he should have no further use for it’. He then ‘bade farewell’ to his friends.
Unnoticed, the young soldier collected his rifle, ‘entered the water closet, bolted the door on the inside, and placing the muzzle to his ear, ledged the contents in his head’.
After having heard all the evidence, the jury passed their verdict, ‘deceased destroyed himself in a fit of temporary insanity, brought on by the excitement of severe drill’.
The sympathetic reporter ended his piece with some astute observations of his own ‘the wonder is that more more savage retaliations for the petty tyrannies inflicted on private soldiers are not heard of’.
Want to find out more about military life for those stationed up on the Nothe and how it impacted on those in Weymouth down below, book I is now available on Amazon
A taster of my book soon to be published The Nothe and Beyond…
Weymouth was about to be invaded. For the first time, in September 1867, it had been chosen as the training venue for the Dorset Battalion of Rifle Volunteers (DRV). This was the ‘citizen’s army’ hastily set up in response to the perceived threat of a French invasion a few years prior. Yet another prestigious event for the town. It would far exceed anything organised for Yeoman’s week. Mayor John Tizard was going to make sure of that. Weymouth was going to welcome the county’s volunteer soldiers with open arms and a whole load of foliage.
The week before the DRV’s arrival was one of frantic activity. Seen as a major scoop, they had to pull out all the stops to make it a memorable one. ‘Around and about and everywhere were emblems of festivity and rejoicing, triumphal arches being in great profusion, and flags and banners “thick as autumn leaves in Vallambrosa”’.
Flagpoles were erected along the esplanade, festooned with green garlands and the obligatory flags. The station alone was draped with an estimated 3 tons of foliage, ‘being gaily adorned with garlands of evergreens and floral festoons looped up between the pillars of the extensive station’. The main streets were bedecked in greenery. Esplanade buildings were bejewelled with colourful flowers and flamboyant illuminations. The highly detailed description of the day’s festivities covered three whole pages of the Dorset County Chronicle. (Great reading for anyone reasearching their Weymouth ancestors, the reporter must have knocked on virtually every door in the town!)
Weymouth station on that warm sunny autumn day spewed forth trainload after trainload of excited visitors, ‘an immense concourse of persons continued to emerge from this thoroughfare’. In amongst the throng, arriving by train came groups of soldiers from their respective towns. As each town’s corps arrived and clambered out of their carriages they were greeted by a heaving mass. Once officers had gathered men and kit together, they were formed into ranks and marched up King Street towards the esplanade, then paraded past the cheering mob towards the King’s Statue. Here a massive raised dining platform had been constructed for them.
Having been stood down, the soldiers jostled to find space on already crowded tables. Being seated ‘the gallant riflemen were regaled with bread-and-cheese and beer’. Once all soldiers had been duly paraded, cheered, fed and watered, they and their officers, followed by a heaving throng of civilians, proceeded en masse to Lodmoor, the venue for their grand review. A reporter remarked ‘the attendance to-day exceeded anything we have previously seen’.
Seven hundred and fifty Dorset Rifle Volunteers (eighty-four from Weymouth) were here to take on the might of the local blue jackets, aided and abetted by the Boscowen boys. The objective of this sham fight was to capture Bowleaze Cove coastguard station. An exhilarated crowd watched agog as this mock battle demonstrated those skills of the volunteer regiments, from formations in fighting through to combat techniques. The deep rumbling of the ‘ten-gun brig’ out in the bay only added to the already highly charged atmosphere, while thick, smothering smoke drifted across the tranquil waters. Regulars were drafted in from the Nothe to launch a surprise attack on the volunteers.
The action-packed day was rounded off with the customary grand feast. A large marquee had been set up in the Rings (Alexandra Gardens) where over 1,100 local and visiting soldiers were wined and dined that evening. Drinks flowed freely, ‘The brewers of the town came out most handsomely to meet the requirements of the men’. Flagons of beer had been donated by Devenish, Eldridge, Groves and Mason. Such festivities wouldn’t have been complete without the obligatory fireworks later in the evening. Still chock-a-block with soldiers and civilians, people had to stand wherever they could find space. As September light faded into darkness, so the night sky filled with a cacophony of sound and colour. Weymouth had done their band of brave volunteers proud and put on a spectacular welcome that would be the talk of years to come.
If you want to find out more about Weymouth’s links with the military, why not head for Amazon
Throughout its history, Weymouth’s Red Barracks and Nothe Fort have seen various troops come and go.
Some good, some bad, some just plain bored and a few high spirited.
Their boots marched through the town on parades, they wooed and (sometimes) wed the local girls, or maybe snatched a sneaky bit of feminine fun when they could from those who more than willingly obliged, their money filled the inns and beerhouse coffers.
But for a few of them, their names became immortalised in the columns of the local papers.(Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 26 Feb 1868)
Such was the case in February of 1868.
Weymouth folk were being plagued by night time mischief makers, namely the amusement of wrenching knockers from off the doors of inoffensive citizens.
Who ever the serial offenders were, they were like invisible “bogeys” and were not to be seen.
As the problem persisted, for those poor old residents who did their damnedest to be sleeping quietly in their beds, it had become very much a case of like it or lump it for some weeks past.
Despite the local policemen’s best efforts to apprehend these young ragamuffins, seemingly thwarted at every turn by their elusive late night knocker nicking, it was a still a case of great numbers of people have been obliged to submit patiently to the annoyance.
Indeed, the problem had gotten so bad and residents so enraged that complaints showered down upon the heads of the policemen.
That was until one cold dank night in February.
Weymouth’s P.C. Apsey had been busy patrolling the town’s streets that night, a bitter easterly wind whipping up through the deserted roads, muffling any sound of his approaching footsteps.
Then, in the distant gloom, his eyes were drawn to the sight of something that piqued his interest, a group of young lads acting more than a bit suspicious.
After a brief chase, P.C. Apsey finally collared an offender, and surprise, surprise, the lusty lad was found to be with a veritable iron knocker in his pocket.
Stood rather nervously before Mayor Ayling in the courtroom next morning was Arthur Denny, Lieutenant of the 13th Regiment, he was charged with stealing a door knocker.
Denny was not alone though, several brother officers were also present, they had arrived in court to ensure fair play, of course, unwilling for their fellow man to take the whole blame, they endeavoured to come to some compromise.
High jinks by a few bored soldiers maybe..but maybe not everyone felt quite so jolly about the whole sorry saga!
Also stood shoulder to shoulder in the courtroom that day, to make sure their got their pound of flesh were several victims, indignant at the manner in which they had been treated
Found guilty that morning, Lieutenant Arthur Denny not surprisingly, received a sound dressing down from Mayor Ayling. He accepted his penance by paying the value of all the knockers that had been wrenched from off the doors for the past three weeks. (Put down at a value of £3.00)
It was also firmly suggested he should give a subscription to the Infirmary to the amount of £2
Sensing the growing anger amongst the courts occupants, the soldiers quickly dug deep to make sure that amounts and costs were paid.
The good old Weymouth folk weren’t going to leave it at that though, they were going to make sure that they voiced their disapproval, the defendant left the hall amidst the jeers of those assembled.
I bet any future extra curricula activities were restricted to within the barrack confines after that.
You’ll find lots of Weymouth’s soldiers stories and much, much more, because living side by side with bored and beer-sozzled soldiers often caused mayhem for the town’s residents.