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42nd Battalion arrive at Larkhill Camp on the Salisbury Plain

Research and photographs by Richard Crompton, Oxfordshire UK
Today Larkhill Camp is a School of Artillery for the British army.

The coloured photographs, of the modern camp, were taken the day before Gulf War II was declared and when the Corporal of the Guard politely said that ‘Today isn’t a good day for taking photographs, Sir.’

Larkhill Camp began on 12 August 1914, and completed in early 1915, was designated as the School of Instruction for Royal Horse and Field Artillery (Larkhill).

The typical wooden and tin-hut buildings, some standing on two to three feet brick pillars, were suitable for all year use and for the continual coming and goings of a large number of troops.  

Construction of the hutted camp in 1914.  Source: NDG James

After the war, an observer described the camp as a collection of ‘tin huts – even the Church and the cinema were corrugated iron’.

The partly completed camp.  Source: Wiltshire Photographic Archives

The new roads, constructed by the Royal Engineers from the natural chalk of Salisbury Plain, extending from the camp to the training grounds, proved sticky when wet and covered in clouds of white dust when dry.  

During the winter of 1916 the chalk surface turned to sloppy mud.  Source: NDG James

Transport returning to Larkhill, from the training grounds, along the chalky Packway, during the dry, dusty summer months. 

 Source: NDG James

A Military Light Railway connected Larkhill to the London and South-western Railway spur, at Amesbury Station, crossed the Packway and terminated at Rolleston Camp, with a spur to the site of the original Fargo ammunition dump.  The course of the light railway’s permanent way, though pulled up in 1935, can be traced by a line of apple trees that, it is said, have grown from the seeds of apples thrown out by troops on passing trains.

  • The welfare buildings, on the camp, nearer to the Garrison Church than today’s shops, comprised of:

    • Bollen’s Fruit Stores

    • Vallers & Co, newsagents

    • Sergeant’s Empire Stores and Restaurant   (See photo below)

    • the YMCA

    • The Salvation Army

    • the Military Cinema, and the

    • 1200 bed Fargo Hospital, built in 1915, north of Fargo plantation.

After the War Sergeant’s Empire Stores and Restaurant came under new management.  

Source: Wiltshire Photographic Archives 

Thirty four  individual infantry training camps, of a size suitable for a battalion at war strength, were added, and experienced by ‘units of practically every arm of the British Army.’ 

  • for the camp area of the 42nd refer to the blue shaded area on the map below

  • The verse, entitled ‘Larkhill Camp’, emphases the importance of infantry training, and highlights the difficulties




  • There’s an isolated desolate spot that I’d like to mention

    • Where all you hear is ‘Stand at ease’, ‘Slope arms’, ‘Quick march’,  ‘Attention’

    • ‘Slope arms’, ‘Fix bayonets’, then ‘Present’, they don’t half put you through it

    • And as you stagger to your hut, the Sergeant shouts ‘Jump to it’.

  • It's miles away from anywhere, by gad it's hard to have fun,

    • A bloke lived there for 50 years and never saw a woman.

    • There's only 2 lamps in the place, so tell it to your Mother

    • The postman always carries one, the policeman has the other

  • And if you want a jolly night and you don't care a jot

    • Just take a ride inside the car, the car they haven't got.

    • Lots and lots of tiny huts are dotted everywhere

    • For those who have to live in them, let's offer up a prayer

  • The soldiers live inside the huts, it fills my heart with sorrow

    • With tear stained eyes they say to us it's Lark Hill again tomorrow.

    • Inside the huts there's great big rats, as big as nanny goats

    • Just last night a soldier saw one, trying on his greatcoat.

  • For breakfast every morning it's like Old Mother Hubbard

    • You double round the hat three times and jump up at the cupboard.

    • Sometimes they give you bacon, sometimes they give you cheese

    • It forms platoons upon your plate, Orders Arms and Stands at Ease.

  • Every night you sleep on boards, just like a lot of cattle

    • and when you turn from left to right, your bones begin to rattle.

    • and when the bugle blasts at morn it drives you off your noodle

    • you knock the icebergs off your feet and damn and blast the bugle


  • As well as the open spaces of Salisbury Plain, suitable for large-scale manoeuvres, The School of Musketry had the following rifle ranges:

    • 4 at 600 yards (548m)

    • 5 at 700 yards (640m)

    • 5 at 1000 yards (914m).  (See map below)

In 1916, the AIF decided to form Australian training battalions in England from which reinforcements could be posted to Australian Divisions in France. As well, Battalions that were already formed, such as the 42nd, did their acclimatization and final training on the Salisbury Plain. Camps were established at Larkhill, Rolleston, (See map) Perham Downs, Parkhouse and Tidworth.  However, Larkhill seems to have been unpopular with the Australians.  On 3rd September 1916, W.J Sinney wrote, in an unpublished letter:

‘It has been raining like fun here and things about Larkhill are pretty sloppy.  It’s a rotten place when it rains and a jolly sight worse if it keeps fine for any length of time.  The dust is that fine that it will get in anywhere; do what you will you can’t get away from it.’   

During July 1916, units of the 3rd Division began to arrive from Australia and assembled at Larkhill, where they remained, in training, until the Division moved to France at the end of the year.  And so the 42nd arrived, all the way from sunny Queensland, by way of Egypt, at Amesbury Station.  

Troop movements at Amesbury station.

Click to enlarge

They marched through Amesbury town (See above) on their way to their billets in Camp 11, (see right) in huts behind the then corrugated iron Garrison Church.  (See left) From there the Battalion ventured along the Packway, on to the vastness of Salisbury Plain and its rifle ranges, for its final training. 

Click to enlarge
The modern Garrison Church at Larkhill.  Behind this is the site of the 42nd’s  Camp The ground once covered by the huts of Camp 11, taken from the corner of the Garrison Church grounds.

Then ‘Saturday, November 25th 1916 witnessed the departure from Salisbury Plain of the 42nd Battalion.  After chafing for months under the routine of drill and exercise, the Battalion at last emerged as a smart, well equipped, highly trained fighting unit, with every man fit and eager to get to grips with the enemy.  

Its strength was 33 officers and 994 other ranks.  Reveille was sounded at 4.30am.  It was a cold bleak morning on which we partook of our last breakfast at Number 11 Camp, Larkhill.  After the meal, a period of tremendous hustle and bustle ensued.  

There were strapping and unstrapping of equipment, the packing of packs, to say nothing of the unceasing struggles to get all personal possessions, gear, ammunition, rations, blankets and utensils securely  buckled to our body.  These weighed approximately 100lbs, exclusive of rifles.

At length we fell in for final inspection, then off we went on the four-mile journey to Amesbury railway station, gaily marching to the strains of the ‘Colonel Bogie March’ played by the Battalion Band. 

The Battalion left Amesbury on three trains, which arrived at Southampton at 11am, noon and 2pm’ (Brahms) on its way to play its part in the mud of the Western Front and the chalk of Picardy and Artois.

  • Sources:

    • Brahms V, 1938, The Spirit of the Forty Second, Smith and Paterson, Brisbane

    • James, NDG, 1983, Gunners at Larkhill – a history of the Royal School of Artillery, Griesham Books, Salisbury, 0946095086

    • James, NDG, 1987, Plain Soldiering – a history of the armed forces on Salisbury Plain, Hobnob, Salisbury, 094618039

    • Wiltshire County Council Photographic Archives, Wiltshire Libraries and Heritage, Trowbridge, Wiltshire

  • Notes

    • The Military Light Railway started at GR 162424, crossed the Packway at GR 113445, terminated at GR 103449 and at GR 103446, the original Fargo ammunition dump.

    • The name Packway, for the main road through Larkhill Camp, may have derived from an ancient packhorses trading route, or from the army packs carried to the training grounds.




The following Order was sent by the King at the completion of his inspection of the Australian and New Zealand troops.

Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and Men:-

"Today, I inspected for the first time in this country, Troops from my Dominions of Australia and New Zealand. These successive contingents are the recognition by the Dominions of their obligations to the common defence of the Empire". 

"I was particularly impressed by the soldierly appearance and physique of the men of the various units, while the warm-hearted greeting acceded to me on my departure touched me deeply".

"The keen spirit which animates all ranks shows that Officers and Men realize what careful training and strict discipline are necessary to reach that high standard of efficiency demanded by modern war. Make good use of you time on Salisbury Plain and reinforce the fighting line with worthy successors to those who have made famous the name of A.N.Z.A.C."

"I shall ever watch with interest your progress and well-being".


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