Peter Weston recently contacted SMHT about his grandfather, Walter Weston, standing second from the left in the photograph above. Peter kindly provided us with the following details: Walter was born and raised in Calne, Wiltshire and enlisted at Devizes barracks when he was 18 on 6th December 1916. Walter did his basic training on Salisbury Plain between December 1916 and January 1917, when he left for France from Southampton in a blizzard. Walter was assigned to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and began in 2/7th Royal Warwicks, though he subsequently served in other units. Walter was a signaller and suffered from mustard gas poisoning during the battle of Passchendaele in Autumn 1917 but recovered in hospital.
Whilst soldiers from the Royal Warwicks certainly trained in Sutton Mandeville – and carved their badge into the hillside – we cannot be certain that Walter was based here. There are, however, some tantalising hints! As he joined up after 1st September 1916, Walter would have been assigned initially to a battalion of the Training Reserve (TR) rather than the reserve battalion of a specific regiment. However, the 33rd TR was formed from the 13th (Reserve) Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and it seems that both of these units were based at Sutton Mandeville: a wartime postcard of the Royal Warwicks badge on our hillside has ‘33rd TR BATTN’ and ‘13th B?T’ above and below the badge. Earlier in 1916 we understand that the 3/7th Royal Warwicks were based here, and they would have trained soldiers joining the 2/7th, which is the unit to which Walter was assigned. So, it is certainly plausible that Walter’s training ‘on Salisbury Plain’ en route for the 2/7th Royal Warwicks took place in Sutton Mandeville.
Unfortunately, the uniforms in the photograph of Walter are quite plain with few identifying insignia. However, the soldier standing on the far right has a Training Reserve badge – ‘a large General Service button on a red disc’ – on his cap, whilst the soldier seated on the right-hand side has a Royal Warwicks badge. This seems to confirm a link between the TR battalion and the Royal Warwicks.
The background of the photograph is also interesting – especially the huts! The two huts look exactly the same as huts that we know were in Sutton Mandeville, supported above the ground on posts. The same arrangement can be seen on other photographs we have of huts at Sutton Mandeville showing soldiers from the Shiny 7th. This doesn’t narrow things down much as huts were mass produced according to standard specifications – the same types of hut would have been present at many other camps around Salisbury Plain. But if the huts in the background were different, then it might rule-out Sutton Mandeville as a possible location.
One puzzling detail is the hedge. Again, it looks very similar to the hedges that still surround the camp fields in Sutton Mandeville, but it has rather too many leaves for December 1916 – January 1917. Arguably, the lads in the picture look like they’ve been out in the sun too, so this doesn’t seem to be a winter photograph.
A final detail is that the photograph of the soldiers and the photograph of the Royal Warwicks badge on the hillside both have the same form of identifying number scratched onto them: A1407 and A1214 respectively. Coincidence?
Many thanks to Peter for sharing this photograph and the details of his grandfather with us. Hopefully we might be able to make a firm link to Sutton Mandeville through further research. And if you recognise any of the other faces in the photograph, then please get in touch!