Blenheim Camp (West Lines) 1939
Blenheim Camp, as it was known to most of us who completed our training during the 1960’s, was situated in Out Risbygate Street , also known as Newmarket Road, on what was then the outskirts of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk. There was already a long standing relationship with the town of Bury St. Edmunds; as Gibraltar Barracks, the Depot of The Suffolk Regiment, had been established in 1878 and was just down the road.
The Camp was originally built in 1938 to house the Militia (Who were in those days required to complete a 6 month call up period) and completed in 1939, just after the outbreak of the Second World War. With usual military flair the Camp was originally known as “The Hutted Camp”.
As a result of the war the Camp was used to conduct basic training, followed by advanced training and turned out fully trained fighting soldiers for the war effort. The Camp was capable of housing up to a thousand personnel and was therefore big enough to house a complete Infantry Battalion.
In May or June 1941 the Camp became No 1 General Training Centre and The Beds & Herts left their home at Kempston Barracks to join The Suffolk Regiment in forming the training centre. The Commanding Officer at that time was Lt Col HR Gadd and he handed over to Lt Col Anstee in December 1944. The new CO renamed the camp, Blenheim Camp in honour of the Beds & Herts contingent as The Suffolk Regiment already had Gibraltar Barracks down the road. There is conflicting evidence that the Camp was No 3 Infantry Training Centre, neither option creates a real problem and as we talk of fighting soldiers on one hand and all branches of the Army on another, it is possible that both options were correct in their day. Blenheim Camp then continued on with the six weeks basic training for all branches of the Army.
In December 1946 The Beds & Herts contingent moved back to Kempston Barracks and Blenheim Camp then became No 12 Primary Training Centre. Lt Col F Milnes replaced Lt Col Anstee and primary training for National Servicemen continued until the first part of 1948.
Various facilities from Blenheim Camp continued to be used by the Suffolk Regimental Depot in Gibraltar Barracks, such as the Officers Mess, the playing fields and a primary school for children of the two military locations.
During the 1950’s Blenheim Camp was used to house several Infantry Battalions and those who lived in Bury St. Edmunds will remember the relevant Battalion marching to St Mary’s Church for a service with the Pipes and Drums leading. In the years following the end of the war this was extremely well received.
Exact dates for the Kings Own Liverpool Regiment have not been established at this point, however they must have been in Blenheim Camp prior to 1956 as information on the other units is a little bit more forthcoming. An additional snippet of intelligence is gained from Ipswich Town FC (ITFC) history in that the former ITFC full back Les Carberry, who played for the “Tractor boys” in 1956 onwards, was from that Battalion.
The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were stationed in Blenheim Camp from August 1956 to January 1958. It was at the end of July 1956 that Colonel Nasser announced his intention of nationalising the Suez Canal. The Advance Party of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had moved from Berlin to Bury St. Edmunds in July to begin taking over Blenheim Camp. During the hand-over in Berlin orders were received that the Battalion was to be in Bury St. Edmunds by 7th August (Five days earlier than planned) and was to be brought up to war strength by some 200 reservists., They would be ready at six days’ notice to move to the Middle East. After deployment to the Middle East (Suez) the Battalion returned to Blenheim Camp in December 1956.
In January 1958 the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders handed over to The East Surrey Regiment.
In July 1958 The East Surrey Regiment were deployed to Cyprus for internal security operations and returned to Blenheim Camp in December 1958 which they subsequently left in 1959.
At the end of May 1959 the Brigade Depot of the East Anglian Regiment officially moved there and it continued in this role until the formation of the Royal Anglian Regiment in September 1964. The Depot as we know it remained in place as an excellent training facility until 1969 when the Depot of the Royal Anglian Regiment moved to Basingbourne Barracks, a former RAF Station, near Royston. The last Commanding Officer at the Depot in Bury and the first at Basingborne was Lt Col WC Deller who had served with the Suffolk Regiment, The East Anglian Regiment and the Royal Anglian Regiment.
The new depot at Basingborne may be bigger, better built and with many other advantages, but it will never be as well remembered and with as much affection, by many of us as “The Depot” in Bury St Edmunds.
Staffing at Depots was smaller in the 1950’s and possibly the 1960’s and a family atmosphere permutated the military establishments in Bury St. Edmunds. It seemed that most people in Bury in the 1950’s were either in the Army, had been in the Army or were closely connected in some way. Three square meals a day were a treat and simple pleasures were appreciated. In the 1960’s pay wasn’t a great deal and the main mode of transport was “hitch hiking”. You could stand on the verge, to the left outside the camp entrance, and very rarely would you have to wait more than 15 minutes for a lift. Even in civvies, as long as you were carrying your No 2 Dress hat or something military, the service was the same.
Today Blenheim Camp is much reduced in size, shape and form. Much of its former area is covered by houses, showrooms or small industry but part of it is still a home for the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment which is a Territorial Army Unit. When looking at the area as it is today it is still easy to locate the perimeter of the Old Blenheim Camp but a little harder to imagine how we fitted it all in. Maybe it’s the passing of time or the fading of the years but I’m sure that the square was 2 miles long and the assault course the same!
Only one building from the old “Hutted Camp” remains today and it is now The Royal Anglian Club. For those attending the various reunions which are held in Bury St. Edmunds the walk into town is still the same. The first and last pub, depending on which way you are walking is still the “Falcon” and even the back bar of the “Griffen” can be found with a little determination.
For those who haven’t savoured the delights of a Suffolk Regiment Reunion and/or a visit to this beautiful area it’s not to late. The reunion is held every year on the closest Sunday to Minden Day. If you can’t remember when Minden Day is you probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway!
Hopefully the following map will help to trigger a few memories. It is surprising how many of us can remember the guardroom and the NAAFI but the remainder becomes a blur. For those of us that were Junior Soldiers; we spent almost two and a half years in Blenheim Camp, it was home at a crucial time of our development, and we learnt how to survive. Being an instructor on the Junior Wing was not for the faint of heart and the majority of us ‘boy soldiers’ owe them a sense of gratitude and probably an apology.
Unfortunately the Falcon pub and the Minden Rose are now both closed.
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