Skip to main content

When Blandford Camp went on strike!

 

While it may not be unusual for members of the Rail & Maritime Trade Union to take industrial action, it is much more unusual for members of a British military base to do so. Yet, that is what happened in Blandford Camp at the end of World War I.

Today, the military base is associated with the army yet in early 1919 it was a large but only recently opened Royal Air Force (RAF) establishment. Recruits to the RAF were received there for initial training and the RAF Records, Equipment and Personnel Depot had been relocated to Blandford Camp the previous year. Having only been opened as an RAF base in 1918, Blandford Camp was not a happy place. There were accommodation problems due to construction delays caused by a shortage of building workers. The War Cabinet had flatly turned down an Air Ministry plea to improve construction worker pay rates to aid recruitment. Such delays resulted in widespread overcrowding in tents particularly unsuited to bad weather. 

Blandford’s RAF Camp gained a reputation as a ‘Washout’s Camp’ as it was reckoned that some individuals deliberately failed their training to try to get a soft posting. To prevent this, a bullying culture developed. Also, many young and apparently fit recruits died as a result of a pandemic known as ‘Spanish Flu.’ It was suggested that sick men had to lie on dirty straw mats in unsuitable and unhealthy accommodation and there were insufficient doctors and nurses. Some flu sufferers became depressed and there were several suicides in a small wood which became known as ‘Suicides Wood.

Matters came to a head in January 1919 when a thousand RAF servicemen left their work at Blandford Camp and refused to return until their grievances had been settled. These include:  

Slowness in demobilising service personnel after the end of World War I preventing a return to civilian life.
Claim for better working and living conditions.
Victimisation of a flight sergeant sent to Ireland.
Fairer treatment of injured service personnel.
Transfer of the Records Unit to a less isolated location.  

They went to see the Commanding Officer, Brigadier-General Willock who was unresponsive to their demands. So the men refused to return to work and the following Monday marched en masse into Blandford and asked for a meeting with the Mayor, Alderman J Lampard. He met them and agreed to pass on their representations to the Air Ministry. The servicemen returned to work the next day after it was reported concessions had been made.

With questions also being raised in the House of Commons on waste, bullying and inefficiencies in Blandford’s RAF Camp, it is perhaps no surprise that the base was soon closed.

(Illustration: Brigadier-General F.G. Willock D.S.O. Commanding RAF Blandford - Blandford RAF Journal 1919)




Comments

  1. This event was part of a wave of strikes and mutinies by soldiers, sailors and airmen in January 1919, involving up to 200,000 personnel. The main demands were immediate demobilisation, no more drilling/soldiering and refusals to fight in the Russian campaign against the revolutionaries.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

True Lovers Knot - a Tragic Tale

True Lovers Knot public house describes itself as a traditional  inn set in a picturesque Dorset valley in Tarrant Keynston. Yet, this historical hostelry is said to have gained its name from a particularly tragic tale and still to be haunted by a distressed former publican. This publican’s son met and fell in love with the daughter of the local squire. Because the young lad was not from the gentry they decided to keep their relationship secret from her father. Unfortunately, a stable hand saw the two young lovers together and told her father. Set firmly against this friendship the squire made plans to send his daughter away from the district. Not able to face up to life without her boyfriend, the young girl decided to commit suicide and hanged herself from a tree in the village. So upset was the publican’s son of hearing of his girlfriend’s death he too hanged himself from the same tree. The Tarrant Keynston publican had, himself lost his wife at child birth and now losing his son b

Chimney Sweep Tragedy

Crown Hotel, Blandford is reckoned to be one of Dorset’s oldest hostelries. Yet its most tragic day, during a long history, must surely be when a young chimney sweep lost his life. The chimney sweep, who was just a child, suffocated and was burnt to death in a Crown Hotel chimney which had been alight a little while before. ‘His cries were dreadful and no-one could give assistance. Part of the chimney was taken down before he was got out.’ (Salisbury & Winchester Gazette 27th March 1780) The lad had gone up one chimney and attempting to go down another had become stuck. At the time children were used to climb up chimneys to clean out soot deposits. With hands and knees, they would shimmy up narrow dark flue spaces packed thick with soot and debris. After the 1731 Great Fire of Blandford it was realised that it was important to sweep chimneys regularly while many rebuilt houses had narrower ones. Smaller chimneys and complicated flues were a potential death trap for children. The sw

Tarrant Rushton's Nuclear Secret

Tarrant Rushton was a large RAF base used for glider operations during World War II. It was then taken over by Flight Refuelling for the conversion of aircraft for the development of aircraft in-flight refuelling. However, between 1958 & 1965, the Tarrant Rushton airfield had a much more secretive and less publicised role. This was in support of the nation’s nuclear bomber deterrent, as Tarrant Rushton airfield became a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) dispersal unit.   During 1958, contractors Costain reinforced the main runway and carried out other work to ensure the giant bomber aircraft could be accommodated. At times just a few miles from Blandford, there would have been up to four RAF Vickers Valiant bombers at Tarrant Rushton ready to become airborne in minutes charged with nuclear weapons. The bombers were from 148 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk. As there was no suitable accommodation at the airfield, an old US Air Force Hospital building at Martin was used. At the time, the