One of my favourite things whilst travelling is stumbling across something that we had absolutely no idea existed. This happened when a simple shopping trip along the A30 to Salisbury turned into what felt like a hidden WWI memorial.
Shapes on the Hillside
We had seen quite a few of the chalk white horses on the rolling hills of Wiltshire during previous recent housesits but a different sort of outline came into view on a hill. We were about 10 miles from Salisbury travelling east on the A30 and had just passed through the village of Fovant. The first impressions was that it was a single police badge but as we approached we could see other emblems and that was it – our interest was well and truly spiked, especially as more emblems and regimental badges came into view as we travelled further on.
On our return we stopped at a designated Fovant Badges layby to get a good view of the hillside and read an information board.
Let me set the scene for you. WWI is in full swing. Soldiers from far and wide are gathering in the south of England before heading to France. At that time, troops were arriving from all over the commonwealth to the military railway station at Fovant Camp. It was one of the many large training and holding camps for these soldiers before they embarked on ships to the war torn trenches of Europe. To fill time, the soldiers waiting to go carved their regimental badges into the chalk on the steep hill surrounding the camp. Each badge took an average of 50 men 6 months to complete.
Nine of the original twenty badges remain and are now recognised as war memorials. The others are known as the lost badges most of which have faded into the countryside, mainly because they were small and not so well constructed. There are a few more recent badges but it is the original ones that evoke the spirit of that time.
Many of the soldiers perished in the trenches but some were shipped back to the hospital at Fovant and there are some graves for some of these casualties in the grounds of St George’s Church in the village.
Fovant Badge Society
The Fovant Badge Society look after these badges and every year since 1961 there has been an annual Drumhead Service of Remembrance. It is held on the first Sunday in July, the closest Sunday to 1st July, the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
In 2016 to commemorate the centenary of the first badge a new poppy shaped badge was added. During 2017/8 a military badge of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment was restored using a grant from the National Lottery and was inaugurated by Prince Edward. The badges need a lot of upkeep and we saw a working party picnic advertised by the Fovant Badges Society. The invitation was to go along for half a day (or more) and enjoy your picnic on the hillside in the knowledge that you have helped preserve this historic record of heroic men.
Further along the valley we also saw an outline map of Australia. This was carved by Australian troops at another camp, Hurdcott, also awaiting transport to the battlefields. A ceremony took place here on Anzac day this year. This outline is equally moving as these soldiers were so far from home and so many would never return.
A Place of Respect
It is fitting that these are peaceful, quiet locations. No jazzy signs, viewing platforms, toilets or coffee shops. We have all seen the heart rendering of line upon line of headstones in WWI cemeteries but these badges capture a moment in time when brace young men wanted to leave a footprint of their presence and pride in their regiments on home soil before facing the unknown challenges ahead. It is debatable whether these were intended as memorials or just purely a way of filling time but they certainly serve as impressive ones today and we will never forget them.