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White Moor - its military history

Burnt heathland on White Moor - a fitting reminder of past military use
Burnt heathland on White Moor -
a fitting reminder of past military use

In the New Forest, the First World War ushered in an era of intensive military activity as wide open spaces, common land, varied terrain and a relatively sparse local population attracted both the army and the nation’s fledgling airforce.
At White Moor, a short distance to the east of Lyndhurst, soldiers camped before embarking for the fronts, leaving behind, deep amongst the heather, the remains of trenches used for warfare practice, simulating the unenviable mud and squalor that soon would be faced in action.

Indeed, the west window of the Catholic Church in Lyndhurst commemorates some of these men, soldiers of the ‘Immortal 7th Division’, who in 1914 camped on White Moor and Lyndhurst’s old Race Course, and were billeted with local families. In October of that year, 15,000 sailed for France, heading for the battlefields of Ypres. Three weeks after going into action, only 2,380 were still alive.

Miss Dorothy Cavill, a local resident who was about 6 years old at the time, remembered the 7th Division leaving Lyndhurst, noting: ‘When they left, we lined the roads and gave them a very hearty goodbye. Sadly, they were all wiped out.’

Similarly, Miss Cavill recalls volunteers leaving Lyndhurst: ‘It was a very sad day when the volunteers left for the First World War. We lined the side of the road and my mother sat me on the field gate, now the Enchanted Tearooms (in 2008, the Enchanted Tearooms are an Italian restaurant). There were lots of hugs and kisses and tearful farewells and I doubt if many of those men came back’.

Soldiers camped on White Moor
Soldiers camped on White Moor
Soldiers from the camp on White Moor

At this time, White Moor was also the site of what was variously called a Grenade School and a Bombing School. Local resident Charles Hall leaves a vivid description from 1916:

‘The War was at its height and beyond this hill (Bolton’s Bench) in the distance was a bombing range where troops were trained in hand grenades (Mills bombs as they were called then) and land mines. No one was allowed beyond this hill, and there was an almost continuous sound of explosions and bangs coming from the range.’

Almost inevitably, accidents happened. Here is Miss Cavill, again: ‘There were several regiments camped there, and there were many tragedies of men being blown up, and on several occasions they had military funerals with the coffin on the gun carriage draped with the Union Jack and the band marching behind playing The Dead March from Saul. Again many villagers lined the cemetery road, it was all very sad. I can remember it so well ………..’   

An old photograph of the Bombing School ‘Class of 1916’ shows seated in the front row,  the son of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who lived nearby at Minstead and is buried there in the churchyard.

Commonwealth troops also joined the war effort, and were billeted in the New Forest. Miss Cavill remembers meal times on White Moor:

‘At one time there was a regiment of Indians stationed in the camp, I think they were Sikhs. I and my brother would go into the camp and watch them make their chapattis on the ground. My brother….made sure my shadow didn’t fall across the chapattis when they were cooking them, if so they said they would put their knife through us so we made sure we were on the right side of the sun. They gave us a chapatti and we hung it on the wall as a souvenir.’

Evidence of past military use occasionally comes to the surface, often as a result of the work of rabbits
Evidence of past military use
occasionally comes to the surface,
often as a result of the work of rabbits

The photographs above showing 'Soldiers from the camp on White Moor' recall those days. The first is from a contemporary postcard written by ‘1756 Private William White’, who gave his address as 3 / 4 Hants Regiment Cookhouse, Lyndhurst Road Camp, Lyndhurst. The lower picture is from the same source and presumably shows men of the cookhouse relaxing in what was probably a short-lived break.

Evidence of war is still occasionally unearthed. Not very many years ago, during the construction of a new house in the garden of an older property adjacent to White Moor, an unexploded grenade was discovered. After being placed in a blast-proof box, it was taken onto the Moor and destroyed.

Find out more about White Moor

Lyndhurst Historical Society publications: Roy Jackman
A Hampshire Album, 1900-1940: Anthony Brode
Recollections of Miss Dorothy Cavill and Charles Hall, courtesy of the Christopher Tower New Forest Reference Library

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New Forest ponies in the road
Ponies, cattle, pigs, sheep and donkeys are a popular part of the New Forest scene, but during the first six months of 2018, 36 animals were killed or injured on Forest roads, compared with 26 in the same period in 2017, a shocking rise of 38%. And in the full year, 63 animals were killed on the roads compared to 56 in 2017.
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Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley