Tag Archives: Woburn Road

WWI – Bedfordshire Training Depot in Ampthill Park – the Camp Diary, September 1915

The ‘Camp Diary’ provides an insight into the Bedfordshire Training Depot from 1914-16. Based on newspaper reports of the time.

September 1915 – Four drafts have already been sent from the Training Depot, numbering 356. The men at the Camp now total almost 1000. Recruits continue to come in and the men have been informed that to encourage personal recruiting the Duke of Bedford will give an extra fee for each fresh recruit procured. The open-air gymnasium has opened and more huts are being put up. Drafts 5, 6 and 7, totalling a further 200 men, are ready for despatch to the Front.

On Thursday, September 2, Major-General E.F. Dixon paid an official inspection to the Ampthill training camp. The General first inspected the recruits’ musketry on the range and a party of men engaged in rapid firing from a trench.

1915.10.8 BT - trench rapid firing

Recruits practice rapid firing

The inspecting officer then went to the trenching ground in Woburn Road. There General Dixon inspected the trenches and observed the relief carried out in a capital time of 35 minutes. Next he observed bomb fighting in the trenches, carried out in accordance to a scheme drawn up by Lieutenant Collisson.

No.6 draft, under Major Young, was exercised in extended order and firing discipline, and also in close order formation. The General also went to see the signalling class, under Sergeant Freemantle, and rapid loading in a trench followed by a bayonet attack in the final assault.

The Cadet Platoon came in for special notice by the General who witnessed the men tackle the obstacle course which has been newly installed to a plan sent from the Royal Engineers Office, Bedford. The General was delighted with all he saw and expressed his satisfaction to the Commanding Officer.

A Colt machine gun and a dummy Maxim have been purchased. Future drafts going to the Front will include detachments trained in the use of these guns.

His Grace has added a hut to the house in Dunstable Street, Ampthill that is rented for use as a V.A.D. Hospital. This new hospital enables men of the Depot to be medically treated without the usual deduction of 7d per dieum for hospital stoppages from their pay.

On Tuesday, September 21, Captain the Hon. Moubray St.John kindly showed our reporter around the trenching ground and minutely explained their construction and uses – read more. The trenches are similar in all respects to the British and German trenches at Ypres.


September 23, 1915

In the Ampthill Parish Magazine the Reverend Walter D. May writes ~
Lady Smith Dorrien has appealed for generous funds to enable the many of the National Service Leave to make Hospital Bags for wounded soldier’s personal effects.

The Headmaster, Mr Searle, has painted a large wooden tablet on the outside of the National School in Bedford Road and written thereon the names of 64 old boys who have joined His Majesty’s Forces. A second tablet names a further 12 former members of the night school.



2016-07-30 15.57.43

The Wooden Tablets erected outside the National School (1918-) Source: Andrew Underwood (1988) “Ampthill in Old Picture Postcards, Volume 1”

What became of the men mentioned in the Bedfordshire Standard?

Second-Lieutenant Evelyn Ernest Arnold Collisson – of Gravenhurst. Joined the 2nd Battalion in the field on the November 24, 1915. On February 23, 1916 after only a few months in the trenches Second-Lieutenant Collisson was killed during a “very quiet”, cold, snowy day. He was originally buried in the Maricourt cemetery but appears to have been moved in the 1920’s and now lies in the Cerisy-Gailly Military cemetery. Evelyn is remembered in Gravenhurst Parish Church where his father was the rector. More about Second-Lieutenant Collison: Bedsatwar

The Bedfordshire Standard. The original broadsheet is part of the Bedfordshire & Luton Archive.
Banner of Faith
Andrew Underwood (1988) “Ampthill in Old Picture Postcards, Volume 1”

Next installment to be published on 1 April 2016….

Text copyright S.Hartley (2015-)

WWI – The Bedfordshire Training Depot in Ampthill Park – the trenching ground

On September 23, 1915 the Bedfordshire Standard published a splendid description of the Bedfordshire Training Depot trenching ground. Recruits dug the WWI trench complex near the Northern edge of Warren Wood, Steppingley – land now occupied by Center Parcs Woburn Forest. The trenches were used to help prepare soldiers for the Front.


The trenching ground was orientated East-West on open land alongside Woburn Road, Ampthill. The complex was more than 400 yards wide. The frontline fire trenches faced South.

In 1918 the practice trenches were abandoned when the Bedfordshire Command Depot closed. Over the years nature has quietly claimed its own – the trench sides became unstable and collapsed. In 1928 Warren Wood was planted with trees which further obscured the site. The earthworks filled with woody debris and an endless supply of leaf litter.

In 2008 Marcus Webb filmed parts of the WWI trenching ground in Warren Woods. The footage was taken before Center Parcs started to build. Here is a videoclip.

Later that year an archaeological survey was commissioned in relation to the Center Parcs planning permission. The survey  concluded that “irregular linear trenching….. is almost certainly the area of World War I practice trenches….

Excerpts from Archaeological Survey by Angela Simco (for CgMs Consulting)

In 2013/14 the development of Center Parcs saw the site boundary and a bridle path trisect the trenching ground East-West. However, signs of the trench complex remain. These photographs were taken in March 2016.

3 Trench - No.2 section support trench - East - Copy
Support Trench
2 Trench - No.2 section dug out - West - Copy
Likely position of No.2 Section dug-out (roof collapsed)
5 Trench - No.2 section communication trench - East - Copy
Communication trench (forking right to fire trenches)

Here is an artist’s impression of how the trenching ground may have been organised.

Trench sketch
By kind permission of Ian Church

In February 2017 a guided walk explored what remains of the trench complex.


2019 – we are developing a heritage project to map, tidy and sign the trenching ground. Watch this space…..

Thank you – to Ian Church (Military Historian) and Stephen Coleman (Central Bedfordshire Council) for assisting with information about the trenching ground.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archive Service
Ian Church
Central Bedfordshire Council
Planning permission 08/00614/FULL

All text and photographs copyright S.Hartley (2015-) unless otherwise stated.

Jam tin bomb (reproduction)

BUY: Ampthill Camp WWI Centenary Postcard

This special postcard commemorates the centenary of the WWI Bedfordshire Training Depot (1914-16). Limited edition: 500

Proceeds will help to fund a book about the Ampthill Camp ~ profits to benefit the charity Combat Stress which was founded in 1919 to help WWI veterans deal with shell shock.

£2 (inc p&p). Please email hartleyhare135@gmail.com to order by PayPal or BACS transfer.