Tweedsmuir Camp 1942-1947 (5 of 5)

The Last Few Months

CMHQ were fully aware that Tweedsmuir Camp was 'on loan' to the Canadian Army for the duration of World War Two and that after the cessation of hostilities it had to be handed back to the War Office. Equally, this was accepted and understood by the Lorne Scots Unit stationed at Tweedsmuir. Hence, towards the end of their stay the unit was under an obligation to leave the site in good order; even the camp's lawns merited the Lorne Scots' attention. In May 1946, for instance, the unit's lawn mowers were in poor condition and "insufficient to (their) requirements." The purchase of a second hand machine, however, enabled fatigue parties to cut grass more effectively, resulting in an "appreciable difference to the appearance of the lawns."

The hand over of Tweedsmuir Camp had to follow appropriate procedures. Royal Engineers were detailed by the WO to inspect and itemise work that needed doing. William Arrow (Clerk of Works) obtained replacement materials and hired civilian workmen to do the work under the supervision of Sergeant Major B Sullivan. Between August and September 1946 (at about the same time that the rustic fences were being replaced) an inspection revealed that eleven timber "light poles" were "in an advanced state of decay" and that all would "have to be replaced." This work was completed between October and November.

Another job that needed attention was the replacement of damaged window panes. After "a lengthy wait", on 8 August 1946, the unit was "able to procure a supply of glass to renew broken panes throughout the camp" as many of them were "requiring replacement for a considerable time." Although putty was also difficult to obtain, at the start of August there was just "enough to do the more urgent cases." The broken window panes were finally replaced by civilian glaziers and carpenters on 16 December. Later that day Royal Engineers made their final inspection of Tweedsmuir, reporting that they were "pleased with the condition of the camp."

One especially intriguing entry in the 1 Repatriation Depot 1946 Diary refers to the construction of a visitors' car park. Started in July, the task demanded the excavation of large quantities of spoil, which was completely removed by 7 August. Three days later, on 10 August, two "dump trucks (were) being employed at hauling gravel for surfacing the [...] car park." At the time of writing, however, the car park's location, and indeed its purpose, remain complete mysteries. Moreover, from the evidence available it is unclear just who commissioned, or who completed, the contract.

As the work of 1 Repatriation Depot continued during the summer months of 1946, Canadian military officials recognised that their WWII journey was soon to end. By the middle of July the Canadian Repatriation Unit HQ was being disbanded and its "skeleton staff" moved to Tweedsmuir Camp. Efforts were now being made to organise events that would live long in the memories of the Canadian soldiers still in the UK at that time. One such occasion was held on 14 July and reported as being "the day of the big lawn party at the Officers' Mess."

"A large number of guests from other Wings, and remaining units of th e Canadian Army in England attended. The dining room of the Mess was used for dancing and two marquees were erected on the lawn in which it (had) been intended to serve the buffet dinner, and as an additional bar. However, one of the first gusts of wind after operations started at 1600 hrs, blew both tents down. On two other occasions brief showers drove everyone to shelter in the lounge, yet oddly enough rather than detract from the enjoyment of the party it served to add to the excitement and served actually to improve people's spirits."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1946 - The National Archives (PRO)}

But arguably one of the most memorable events for 1 Repatriation Depot before its disbandment occurred on 11 September 1946. The diarist recorded that this was "the day of the big Field Day at the 4 (Cdn Rft) Wing." (In the programme the Field Day was called a 'Gala Sports Day'.) He continued by writing that transport for Tweedsmuir Camp personnel

"[...] left the Transport Office at fifteen minute intervals, commencing at 1300 hrs. Transport for civilian friends and dependants called at Elstead, Milford, Thursley and Hindhead. [...] Dagenham Pipe Band and the circus were a great success, especially for the children. 4 Wing took care of transport arrangements home at the conclusion of the day."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1946 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Field Day held on 11 September 1946

Preparations for the Field Day included the production of a programme, which was printed off using a Gestetner copier. In addition to their normal workload, Tweedsmuir administrative staff must have spent many laborious hours producing wax stencils (a time consuming task at the best of times) before printing and collating could begin. This is testament to just how much 1 Repatriation staff wanted the occasion to succeed. (Click the image to the right to see copies of the programme pages.)

Writing retrospectively about the gala, the diarist reported that although the "sports in the afternoon were somewhat spoiled by showers and cool weather" conditions had improved by early evening. The day ended officially at one minute to midnight. From the list of activities enjoyed by all participants, it would be fair to assume that the occasion would have stayed in the minds of both civilians and Canadian troops for many years.

Ontario Camp (4 Wing) was chosen as the venue for the gala because by 13 July 1946 it had been disbanded, leaving only an administrative rear party of 25 men to steer the wing's planned closure. Having successfully achieved their goal by the end of September, on 2 October the entire party had reported to 1 Wing (Tweedsmuir). As they "had requested deferred repat they were immediately despatched to various departments, to fill vacancies or replace personnel" who opted for early return to Canada.

October in Tweedsmuir Camp was a month that very much reflected Britain's bleak economic conditions at that time. Coal reserves during 1946 were so poor in the country that "sufficient supplies" failed "to reach power stations in London, the Midlands and the north west [...]." Emanuel Shinwell (later Baron), Minister of Fuel and Power,

"announced that [...] not only would electricity supplies to industry in these regions be suspended, but householders there would have to make do without electricity daily for three hours from 9 am and two hours from 2 pm."

{Professor David Kynaston, Austerity Britain: 1945 - 51, Bloomsbury 2007, page 193}

From the 1 Wing 1 Repatriation Depot Diaries it is clear that the shortage of coal (and coke it should be added) adversely affected living conditions in Tweedsmuir Camp also. On 16 October the diarist wrote,

"the fuel supply of coal and coke is very low at present, with no further supply in sight. With strict control, it is expected the present supply can be made to last for approx. ten days."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1946 - The National Archives (PRO)}

A wet but mild November eased somewhat the fuel shortage problem in Tweedsmuir Camp. But by December 1946 the fuel situation had deteriorated even further as on Christmas Eve the diarist wrote,

"the coal and coke situation is not of the best at present. It is used in officers' kitchens, and hot water heaters. We appear to be getting sufficient wood for quarters and Messes, however, the stuff is green and does not burn very well."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1946 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Nevertheless, towards the end of 1946, personnel at 1 Repatriation Depot were conscious that they would have to endure these unfortunate circumstances for a mere three months more as their stay in Tweedsmuir Camp was close to ending.

By now CMHQ units were being "disbanded in quick succession" and the eventual dissolution of the Auxiliary Services led to a surplus of 'treats' such as chocolate, soap and peanuts. Rather than waste these rations they were distributed for sale to the various Canadian depots still in operation. Tweedsmuir Camp command "purchased a considerable supply of chocolate, (intending) to sell it twice monthly in five shilling (25 new pence sterling) lots. The first sale (was) made" on the afternoon of 22 October "under the direction of Captain AVA Williams, Asst. R&D Officer." A similar sale took place on 7 November.

With few personnel on site the camp remained "very quiet" for the last few weeks of 1946 and administrative staff were focussing in earnest on the closure of 1 Wing. On 2 December, orders were received regarding "the final run-down of the unit from this date to the end of January (1947)." The instructions made clear that the Lorne Scots Unit had to "be down to 19 officers and 107 other ranks by 17 December 1946 to sail late December or early January." Furthermore, by 31 December the rear party was "to consist of 7 officers and 65 other ranks." Realising that the Canadian repatriation programme was by now all but closed, ordinary rank personnel who had "been absent without leave a considerable period of time (were) surrendering themselves or being apprehended by civil and military police in larger numbers than before." Remarkably, these soldiers' absenteeism ranged from "157 days to over 800 days."

Just as 1 Wing command was getting to grips with the final stages for handing over Tweedsmuir to the WO another concern became apparent, namely the high tally of cats and rats on the site. On 18 December 1946 the diary reported that although "the number of cats (were) rapidly increasing [...] and [...] becoming a bit of a nuisance" they did not appear to have kept "down the rat population." The intention was for the cats to be destroyed by the RSPCA but, interestingly, there is no mention in the diary of removing the rats!

Christmas 1946; the last Christmas celebrated by the Lorne Scots in Tweedsmuir. On 19 December the "Sergeant's Mess Christmas dinner was the event of the day". Approximately 100 ordinary ranks were served Christmas dinner by the officers, warrant officers and sergeants on 25 December. Three days later, on Saturday, 28 December, "the Officers' Mess held their last dance in the Mess." And on the following day, "a very quiet Sunday", when the "camp (was) practically deserted, the Sergeants' Mess held Open House for a few guests." The local civilian community was also invited to enjoy the Christmas festivities by attending the last of the children's Christmas parties, which was held on 21 December.

On Friday, 27 December, "all personnel except the rear party" were put into the repatriation stream "for sailing on 14 January 1947." However, "having already had leave under the plan decided on 17 December," they continued with their duties "up until a few days of the sailing." With a report of adjustments to the strength of the rear party, which saw its quota increased from 7 officers to 9, and 65 other ranks to 76, the 1 Wing, 1 Repatriation War Diary was closed on 31 December 1946.

The final account of this part of Tweedsmuir's history may be extracted from Major Stacey's 177th Report. It states that Administrative Order Number 53 issued on 12 February 1947 instructed Tweedsmuir Camp to close by 21 February 1947. And so it was on this date that "1 Canadian Repatriation Depot itself ceased to exist." Of all the Canadian repatriation depots, Tweedsmuir Camp was the last to close.

"By 31 March 1947, CMHQ had been depleted through repatriation and the strength return at that date showed a total of 20 officers and 45 other ranks still remaining (1/Demob/1/3, Muster Roll, 31 March 1947).

{Major Stacey's 177th Report}

On 9 January 1947 Administrative Headquarters (Canadian) issued an order, outlining the 'Final Stage of Demobilisation of the Canadian Army (Active)'. "It provided for all ranks being discharged by 31 March 1947, with the exception of a certain number of essential personnel, who might not be employed later than 30 September 1947."

Lest We Forget

It would improper to leave this part of Tweedsmuir's history without mentioning a few of the Lorne Scots soldiers who died while serving in, or transiting through, the camp during WWII. Their demise, thousands of miles away from Canada, must have been, and no doubt continues to be, heart wrenching for their families. (Click the image on the right to read brief tributes.)