Construction (Page 3 of 3)

Concluding the Construction

Even though the camp was "practically completed" by 4 October 1941, a few anxieties remained. The delay in completing the sewage disposal plant, latrines, gymnasium and dental huts, and the fitting of blackout window blinds, are mentioned in the Works Directorate Diaries as areas of specific concern. Of these completion of the sewage disposal system caused the most unease due mainly to the late delivery of materials and furnishings. Although "installation of all machinery for the sewage disposal plant" was expected to have been "completed by 18 October 1941", the system was only 65% functional by the end of that month. Even by mid November the lack of plumbing and sanitary fittings meant that "slow progress" was still being "made by civilian contractors" involved in constructing the plant. Equally, difficulty in obtaining items such as "urinal slabs" meant that the latrines could be only partially completed by the end of November. In this case, although the camp could have been "used in an emergency, [...] bucket latrines" would have had to be put into place. The entry made in the Works Directorate Diary for 15 November 1941, which reads "blackout screens for windows not yet available", suggests that efforts had been made prior to this date to obtain blackout screens but to no avail. They were, however, finally fitted the following year in February 1942. It may be of interest to know that the blackout screens were made from a utilitarian, tarpaulin-like fabric so that, in daylight, they could be gathered up by a cord to rest at the windows' top end.

As previously intimated, during WWII steel was at a premium because of its use in the manufacture of munitions and other necessities of war. Since the indoor firing range and maintenance garage were originally designed to be supported by steel columns the Supervising Civil Engineer, Mr Satchwell, had to redesign both buildings. The changes resulted in brick columns being used in the construction of the firing range(see photographic insert to the right) and reinforced concrete supports in the construction of the maintenance garage.

Reading through the Works Directorate Diary for October 1941, mention is made of "dental huts" as also being "delayed due to a change in plan." Unfortunately, without any further documentation, we are unable to ascertain what changes were made to the dental facilities or their location in the camp. Similarly, we are unable to state the position of the "central oil stores" which we know were completed by 8 July 1941. Nevertheless it would have made sense for the oil, a combustable material, to have been stored either underground or in a brick outbuilding.


As with all the camps constructed in the area, materials for Tweedsmuir Camp were diverted from Iceland where RCEs were engaged in building similar "Yukon hutted camps." Since payment for the materials was acceded to by the British Government, CMHQ had to ensure that, on completion of all work, every receipt presented to the War Office was accurate. This imperative fell onto the shoulders of Colonel Mackenzie, Director of Works.

"All officers responsible for units must study the work in hand to arrange the sequence of labour in order to get the most productive work out of their men. [...] If men work against an estimate, and understand they are working to an estimate, they will do better work",
said Mackenzie on the evening of 11 July 1941 in his address to officers in charge of construction units. To this end, he suggested that each construction unit created a chart which
"estimates the work a man should do on a particular job"
whether by hand or by machine.
{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
The information on the chart was required to show, for example,

Before the conference closed at 23.30 hours, those present on 11 July 1941 agreed "basic units" of work that could be done by one man in an hour (click the small image above right for examples). Armed with this kind of data CMHQ was able to itemise receipts that covered costs for both materials and labour.

Although documentation about the exact cost of building Tweedsmuir Camp has presently eluded us we have been able to obtain a figure from which an overall cost may be deduced, albeit roughly. At about the same time as the camp was being built Canadian forces were also involved in the erection of a Motor Transport Ordnance Depot some 12 kilometres south west of Tweedsmuir, at Bordon, East Hampshire. In a memorandum to Brigadier JH MacQueen, DQMG, written on 24 August 1941, Colonel Mackenzie stated that the total estimated cost for constructing the ordnance depot, based on War Office (London) figures and inclusive of materials and labour, was £215,000. At the time of writing the cost of building the same depot would be close to a staggering £7.5 million!

"This construction calls for the employment of 800 all ranks, and as there is no provision for their accommodation in the area, a further sum would be required to construct this accommodation",
wrote Mackenzie.
"Possibly, accommodation will be required to house the personnel operating the depot; if so, it might be the policy to construct this permanent accommodation and use it to house construction personnel."

{Canadian Corps Headquarters, Troops Engineers Reports / January to December 1941 - The National Archives (PRO)}
A workforce of some 2,000 was required to operate the ordnance depot, twice the population housed in Tweedsmuir Camp at the time, necessitating the construction of hutted accommodation, sanitary provisions, concrete roads and Nissen huts; in other words, facilities similar to those found in Tweedsmuir. Consequently, although there were some differences between the two builds, like bays for housing two 15 ton cranes and one smaller crane, it is not beyond the realms of feasibility to suggest that the cost of constructing Tweedsmuir Camp may have been anything between £107,500 (half the cost of the ordnance depot) to £215,000 (full cost of the ordnance depot).

Final Comments

At the height of Tweedsmuir's construction in June 1941, 359 Canadian Royal Engineers were involved directly on the work (this in addition to the civilian labour workforce occupied in constructing the sewage disposal plant). The silence of the countryside surrounding Thursley at the time must have been punctuated by the sound of machine tools performing heavy duty tasks such as moving earth, cutting timber and mixing concrete. Hand tools would also have been used by the Canadian soldiers who fashioned materials whilst engaging in conversation and observing soldierly behaviour; a scene very different from that of today.

However, the notion that RCEs belonged to some kind of 'army club' happily whistling "Chattanooga Choo Choo" (Glenn Miller) whilst sawing timber and mixing concrete could not have been further from the truth. Not only were they ordered to work to strict targets (or so called "estimates") set by their superiors, RCEs were also required to become an integral part of the General Headquaters Anti-tank Line (the so called GHQ Stop Line). They were expected to have formed the first line of defence against any possible attack particularly by "glider-borne and parachute troops [...] on any one, or more, of the camps under construction." Thursley Common, a large area of open space to the east and north east of Tweedsmuir Camp, would have provided German paratroopers with a convenient landing site from where to launch an assault.

"To deal with the situation,"
on 30 May 1941, CMHQ issued a communique which instructed that forces
"at each camp be divided into two detachments, one mobile ready to move either by motor transport or on foot"
and a second, smaller detachment
"responsible only for the protection of the camp."

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

At Tweedsmuir (or Thursley Camp as it was still known then), two Companies of 1 Battalion were assigned to the first detachment, and 50 men from 1 Road Construction Company to the second detachment. Although Canadian military authorities rotated their charges between the various camp construction sites, security from possible invasion continued to be of importance during WWII.

Royal Canadian Engineers involved in the construction of Tweedsmuir Camp were housed on site in tented accommodation. Being familiar with the camp's layout, we consider it feasible for the tents to have been set in the meadow that was cared for as a lawn during Tweedsmuir's Canadian tenure. Since most of the camp's living quarters had been completed by 1 November 1941, it was possible for the tents to be "struck and returned to stores" and for the RCEs housed therein to be moved into the new barracks. As at the time two Companies of 4 Battalion, RCE were engaged in the construction of Tweedsmuir Camp it could be argued that they were its first occupants.

One consquence of any war is socio-economic change when the lack of materials and a depleted workforce combine to propagate 'make-do' conditions. During WWII, for example, furniture was manufactured quickly and with little consideration for design; its bland, square corners, looked very austere in appearance. This was not the time for intricate marquetry nor chamfered glass panels. It was more a time for using rectangular framework structures into which were seated stained plywood sheets. It is no surprise then that, on completion, barracks in Tweedsmuir Camp were furnished with this kind of relatively simple furniture and fixings where it remained until the camp's demise.

In 1940 the pending embarkation, by the end of 1941, of over 100,000 Canadian personnel under the Overseas Army Programme was proving a difficult issue to resolve for both the British and Canadian quartering authorities.

"The great prospective increase in the Canadian field force necessitates a proportionate increase in the number of reinforcements held in this country (UK), and this raises special problems of accommodation in the Base Units area. A comprehensive reorganisation of the Holding Units has been under consideration for some time past.

To provide additional accommodation now required in the Base Units area has been a task of special difficulty, and special measures have had to be taken to this end."

(Colonel Stacey in his 38th Report made on 28 July 1941)

Tweedsmuir Camp became an integral part of the "special measures" mentioned by Stacey in 1941. Although a few minor details of construction required attention by the end of that year and at the start of 1942, on 26 November 1941 a "Handing-over Board was held" at which point the responsibility for the camp was passed on from the Works Directorate to CMHQ who decided the role Tweedsmuir Camp would play during the Second World War.