On 10 September 1939, one week after Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany, The New York Times referred to the conflict between Germany and Poland as the "Second World War"; a phrase that has resounded through history to this day. In Canada, also on 10 September 1939, the Canadian Government proclaimed that it too was opening hostilities against the Nazi regime. Three months later to the day, on 10 December 1939, 7,400 men of the 1 Canadian Infantry Division left Halifax, Canada for Britain, arriving on 17 December. Accompanying the Infantry Division was Major-General Andrew McNaughton who was later promoted to Leuitenant-General as commander of the 1 Canadian Army Corps, UK. By the end of February 1940, there were approximately 25,000 Canadian troops in Britain, a number that would swell to 112,500 by the end 1941 and to over 200,000 by D-Day, code named Operation "Overlord".
Long before D-Day was conceived, the prime objective for the Canadian Army, on short notice to move to France since 10 May 1940, was to combine with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). By the 21st of the month however, Anglo-French communication systems had been severed by a German thrust in the area of Sedan and a mechanised advance along the French channel coast threatened to cut every link between England and the BEF. Two days later, on 23 May, British command proposed that General McNaughton should be charged with the responsibility of restoring links between the BEF and British ports; within hours he was on his way to France.
Upon his return on 24 May, McNaughton reported to military chiefs, Winston Churchill and the War Cabinet. All concurred that the landing of more men on the French coast would not contribute to the salvation of the BEF hence the operation to link Canadian troops with British Forces in France was stood down. The safety of Britain was now of paramount importance and, against invasion, the Canadian Army was one of the most formidable resources in the British armoury.
Summarily, there existed the problem of accommodating not only the Canadian Army now in the UK, but also more than 300,000 troops that were returned to Britain through Dunkirk. Following discussions between the British authorities and the Canadian Army authorities during the summer months, on 28 October 1940, the War Office London, authorised the construction of five camps in the Aldershot Area and elected to engage private contractors to finish the work. However, a lack of private labour demanded the call up of Royal Canadian Engineers who were assigned the task of completing three of the camps, one of which was Tweedsmuir. Ground work for the construction of Tweedsmuir Camp started on 14 April 1941 and was brought to completion by 25 November of that year, albeit some minor works were still being negotiated in the first four months of 1942. By December 1941, Tweedsmuir Camp saw its first Candian Army inhabitants.
The camp was named in honour of Lord Tweedsmuir of Elsfield, 15th Governor General of Canada (1935 - 1940). He was also known as John Buchan the author who, among other books, wrote The Thirty-nine Steps.
Like all such camps, Tweedsmuir comprised living quarters, latrines, washing facilities, stores and training sites. Two interesting features of Tweedsmuir Camp were the inclusion of a cinema and a tennis court (laid out and completed in 1945), providing recreation facilities for the troops.
During WWII Tweedsmuir Camp was presided over by a detachment from the Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment). Under their management the camp acted as a depot, handling non-effective Canadian Army troops (so called Category 'E' personnel) and hereafter was referred to as a Non-Effective Transit Depot, or NETD, comprising "medical" and "mental cases", as the Canadain authorities called them, as well as troops requesting transfer to the Royal Canadian Air Force and the USA Army; "one day a Canadian soldier, the next an American" reads an entry in one of the Canadian War Diaries.
After the war
Between February 1945 and February 1947 Tweedsmuir Camp became a demobilising depot for Canadian Repatriation Units until it became vacant and due for demolition. However, one unforeseen consequence of the war in Europe was the large number of displaced people who, for one reason or another, were unable to return home. The Polish Forces, who fought with the British Army in North Africa and Central Europe, were a major part of this 'displaced population'. To avoid a human catastrophe these individuals were temporarily housed in the now empty military camps as personnel of the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC). Tweedsmuir Camp was used as an "estate" to house one such group of Polish displaced persons who had decided to settle in Britain. This event unexpectedly extended Tweedsmuir Camp's life well into the post war years despite the War Office wanting to close it by 31 December 1949.
As the Polish families living in Tweedsmuir integrated into the wider British community the camp fell vacant, allowing it to be dismantled completely by early 1960.
This website outlines the history of Tweedsmuir Camp. It describes the site upon which the camp was built, its construction, the role it played during and immediately after WWII, our experiences of living there between the years of 1948 and 1957 as children of parents who were in the Polish Resettlement Corps, and the anxieties faced by various interested factions over its closure.