Construction (Page 1 of 3)

The 1 Canadian Infantry Division landed in England on 17 December 1939 with the intention of joining operations with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the summer of 1940. By 23 May, however, it became clear that events in mainland Europe were not going according to plan hence the decision was taken to set aside this blueprint and to launch instead Operation "Dynamo", dubbed by the British press as the 'Miracle of Dunkirk'. "Dynamo" lasted eight days (28 May to 4 June) and was successful in saving the lives of an Allied Force that numbered 338,000 strong. The safety of Britain now became of paramount importance for two reasons; first to provide a comparatively secure haven for training and holding fighting units and second to plan how best to rescue Europe from the continued tyranny of Nazi Germany.

When, on 10 September 1939, Canada 'signed up' to WWII it had committed several thousand of its men to augment those already enlisted as guardians of world democracy. The increase in number of Canadian field formations in the UK placed a tremendous strain on accommodating a much enlarged fighting force, which was to swell to an estimated 112,500 Canadian personnel by the end of 1941 and to over 200,000 by D-Day. Whilst it was considered reasonably practicable for the Dominion Forces to be quartered under canvass during summer months, winter conditions necessitated more substantial quarters. Consequently, as Major CP Stacey (Historical Officer based at Canadian Military Headquarters [CMHQ] London) wrote in his 38th report on 28 July 1941,

"on 28 October 1940 the War Office authorised construction of five 'Yukon' hutted camps (in the Aldershot Area) [...] at Bramshott North, Bramshott South, Ludshott, Thursley and Headley, each of about 1000 men."

So started the history of Tweedsmuir Camp. In actual fact the camp's original name was 'Thursley' after the village to which it was closely located. It only became known as Tweedsmuir Camp following Routine Order 761, issued 6 June 1941 with approval from the War Office London, which instructed the renaming "of the various camps being constructed by Canadian troops." From then on the new title had to be "used in all references."

Four civilian companies had been contracted by the War Office to erect the five camps by 31 May 1941. Although in January the projected number of workmen required to complete the work was 2,900, in February 1941 only 76 were available, comprising 9 carpenters and 67 labourers. In March 1941, since only 300 labourers in total were working on the construction of the camps, it soon became apparent that these few would experience difficulty in meeting the contract by the specified date; another more substantial workforce had to be drafted in to construct the camps, Tweedsmuir included.

In an attempt to resolve the situation, a meeting (one of many it should be added) was held at the War Office at 11.00 am on 19 March 1941 the sole purpose of which was to discuss

"questions pertaining to the accommodation of the Canadian Army in the UK."

{Memorandum: Accommodation of Canadian Army in the UK, 20 March 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Among those present were

In one of the opening statements, Brigadier Wingfield noted that Canadian Forces should be assigned as much accommodation as possible within the Aldershot Area and that the only sources of labour for completing the camps were a civilian worforce, Canadian troops already present in the UK, or Canadian Construction Units brought over from Canada. General Cave-Browne was of the opinion that contracts with each of the civilian contractors could be legitimately broken because they could not supply "even semi-skilled labour." He added that the War Office could supply all the required material for building the camps, in addition to that already in place on the sites, but that septic tanks would have to be manufactured and supplied under contract. Given the circumstances, General Montague was sceptical as to whether the camps could be completed "even by the end of the spring of 1942." As the meeting of 19 March progressed, General Cave-Browne advised that special arrangements with the Ministry of Labour could be made to focus the available civilian workforce on completing one of the five camps. He went on to suggest that since Bramshott South and Bramshott North were being erected by "the most satisfactory of the four contractors" and that this contractor was "the best prospect for retaining the maximum of civil labour" either of these sites should be chosen over the others {1}.

Acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, General McNaughton stated that

"as it was essential to adhere to the plans for the arrival of 3 Canadian Division, the Army Tank Brigade and the Armoured Division"
he was prepared to allot Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE) to the task and establish
"a special RCE Works organisation under a full Colonel to direct this work and command the Engineer units employed thereon as soon as authority is obtained from Canada."

{Memorandum: Accommodation of Canadian Army in the UK, 20 March 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)} and reiterated in Major Stacey's 38th Report of 28 July 1941)
On the 7 April 1941, CMHQ received authority from National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) Canada, to form a 'Works Directorate' under the command of Colonel Mackenzie, CMHQ, who became responsible for overseeing the required work.

Our finding of inscriptions made by RCE personnel in concrete rendering on one of the three water treatment beds in Tweedsmuir Camp is evidence that part, if not all, of the camp was erected by personnel of the 13 and 14 Field Companies, RCE. From the 20 March 1941 memorandum, and Stacey's 38th report, it is clear that a portion of 2 Road Construction Company, RCE and 1 Road Construction Company, RCE were also involved in the camp's construction. Using these clues we were able to locate in The National Archives, Kew, reports written by Lieutenant-Colonel JL Melville, which state that two of the four Companies of 1 Battalion, RCE, Canadian Corps Troops Engineers, namely "B" Company and "C" Company, together with 1 Road Construction Company, who took over from 2 Road Construction Company at the end of April 1941, were all instrumental in completing the camp.

By the week ending 19 April 1941,

"normal repairs and maintenance of vehicles and assistance in the move of "B" and "C" Companies to Thursley"

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
had been finalised. In that week, on 14 April, detachments from "B" and "C" Companies were preparing the camp site for the arrival, by 16 April, of the remaining personnel from the two Companies, comprising the workshop section and other details. Between 16 and 19 April, time was spent on
"preparation of (the) camp, drawing of equipment, and making arrangements to commence (the) construction program."

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
Directly 1 Road Construction Company arrived on 21 April 1941 from Canada, and their equipment "unloaded and delivered to the Aldershot Area", the intention was that detachments from this Company would
"take over from those of No. 2 Company (Road Construction) at the hutted camps at Ludshott - Thursley area."

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
Up until then "B" Company, "C" Company, 1 Road Construction Company and 2 Road Construction Company were under the command of 1 Battalion, RCE Headquarters at Wentworth Hall, near Virginia Water. Once the Companies began building Tweedsmuir Camp however, they came under the orders of CMHQ.

Interestingly, rather than keep Canadian troops employed on the building of a camp to which they were initially assigned, CMHQ encouraged troops to be rotated between construction sites. This may have been a conscious response to the problem of maintaining morale, which on 23 February 1940 was reported to the Senior Officer, CMHQ by the Chief Postal Censor who wrote,

"Boredom, homesickness and a feeling of not being really needed, appear to be the main reasons why nearly all these Canadian soldiers grumble. The majority of the writers (Canadian soldiers writing home) warn their friends and relations not to join the Army."

(Colonel Stacey in his 119th Report made on 30 June 1944)
Moreover, Canadian Corps Headquarters Reports provide an account of some of the changes made in construction personnel. For example, in his report of the week ending 26 April 1941, Colonel Melville wrote
"1 Battalion less "A" and "D" Companies (ie "B" Company and "C" Company) moved from Thursley to Wentworth Hall on 23 July and for the first two days, were busily engaged in settling down."

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
23 July was a Wednesday and seven days after a sapper inscribed the date "16 July 1941" on one of the three water filter beds we mentioned earlier.

From the Works Directorate Diaries, also lodged at The National Archives, "B" and "C" Companies were replaced by Royal Canadian Engineers from 18 Field Company. A further changeover of construction personnel took place on 18, 19 and 20 October 1941. For instance,

"a section of 1 Road Construction Company, RCE (were) removed from Tweedsmuir Camp who have relieved 6 Field Company (at Erie Camp), and 18 Field Company were relieved by two companies of 4 Battalion RCE."

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Liaison between Military and Civilian Authorities

To build Tweedsmuir Camp successfully it was essential for Canadian military commanders to liaise extensively with civilian authorities while both planning and constructing the camp. Colonel Mackenzie, for example, met with Mr Satchwell (Supervising Civil Engineer) on several occasions to discuss the supply and transportation of materials. He also met Messrs Hall and Wright (civilian contractors) on 16 June 1941 in connection with the supply of hardcore, delivered via Milford Station, for the parade ground.

On 6 May 1941, Mr Teale (Wey Valley Water Company - named after River Wey that runs through Guildford) met with Major Kerry, RCE, advising him that the company would have problems in supplying water to the various camps RCEs were constructing at the time. Records of the meeting confirm Teale's concerns that on completion of the five camps (Bramshott North, Bramshott South, Ludshott, Thursley and Headley), the Wey Valley water system would "be loaded to the limit." For instance, in the planning phase, Bramshott Hospital was designed to consume 40,000 gallons per day. On 6 May 1941 however, when the hospital was partially finished, consumption was 70,000 gallons per day and predicted to rise to 100,000 gallons per day. In discussion, Teale suggested that he would have "great difficulty in getting the equipment necessary to increase capacity." Notwithstanding his concerns, Tweedsmuir Camp's water consumption rose steadily during its occupation by the Canadian military. Meter readings show, for example, that 505,400 gallons were consumed in the month ending 31 December 1943, rising to 602,000 gallons in the month ending 29 February 1944.

Captain Darey met with Mr Prichard of 'Davison and Prichard Building Contractors' on 15 May 1941. Mr Prichard was "very apprehensive lest the speed with which we (Canadian military authorities) are forcing things through get him into trouble with dealers and through their actions with higher authorities."

A contract was placed with the 'Guildford Glass Company' for the supply of steel (Crittle) window frames and glass panes. On 9 June 1941 however, the contract was cancelled "due to non-delivery on time." The contract was subsequently "let [...] to another firm." One reason why steel window sashes were not delivered on time could have been due to a shortage of steel in the UK; the same reason why steel columns for long-span buildings, such as the maintenance garage, had to be redesigned by Satchwell and made from either brick or reinforced concrete.

In September 1941 construction work "proceeded as rapidly as possible. In an emergency personnel" could have been "housed in the camp but, due to the delay caused by the lack of sanitary and plumbing fittings, bucket latrines" would have had to be used. During November, although "slow progress" was still "being made by civilian contractors on the sewage disposal plant", cinder paths were being laid, blackout screens fitted to barracks' windows and other "miscellaneous items" attended to. It wasn't until 26 November 1941 that barracks in Tweedsmuir Camp were deemed ready for occupation.

Clearly this is not a complete account of all liaison activities held between military and civilian authorities, but the above does illustrate the nature of such meetings and discussions.

Tweedsmuir Camp Layout

Although we are able to provide some detail of the layout of Tweedsmuir Camp by way of a simple sketch map, we should stress that most of it is from memory, information provided by other people who lived in the camp with us, and from observations we have made of the present site. Our intention is to both continue researching this issue and include our findings at a future date.

For a larger sketch of our plan of Tweedsmuir Camp, please click the small image to the right.