The Command Depots

A Command Depot was a military convalescent camp.

Sir Alfred Keogh, the Director of Army Medical Services, was highly concerned by the availability of beds in UK Hospitals. To increase these he established four large convalescent camps at Blackpool, Epsom, Dartford and Eastbourne. Early in 1916 it was decided to further refine the system by creating Command Depots for the rehabilitative training of soldiers too fit for convalescent camp, but not yet fit enough to be returned to unit.

The Command Depots

Depot Accomodation for OR space allocated to
Officers Other ranks
Alnwick 40 5000 Machine Gun Corps 4500; Northern Command 500
Ampthill   2000 Eastern Command
Ballyvonare     Irish Command
Catterick (Hipswell) 120 5800 Royal Artillery 5300; Tank Corps 500
Catterick (Scotton) 100 5000 Western Command
Codford     New Zealand forces
Eastbourne     Cavalry Command
Heaton Park 100 5000 Western Command
Knowsley Park 30 5000 Western Command 4000; Southern Command 1000
Nigg 40 3800 Scottish Command
Perham Down 40 4800 Southern Command and Newfoundland Regiment
Perham Down RND Depot 40 1300 Royal Naval Division and Channel Island troops
Randalstown 40 3800 Irish Command 1300; ASC 1500; RAMC 1000
Ripon, North (1) 100 4000 Northern Command
Ripon, North (2) 40 3000 Northern Command
Ripon South 100 5000 Royal Artillery and Royal Air Force
Shoreham (London District) 100 500 Guards Regiments and London TF
Shoreham� (Eastern Command) 100 5000 Eastern Command 4500; South African troops 500
Sutton Coldfield 90 3000 Southern Command
Thetford 40 5000 Royal Engineers and Remounts 4000; London District 1000
Tipperary 91 4000 Irish Command 1000; Eastern Command 2000; Royal Artillery 1000
Eastbourne 800    
Ripon 800   Plus 50 Officer Cadets

An example in detail: the Cavalry Command Depot

The Depot was constructed on land that had been compulsory purchased by Eastbourne Corporation from the Duke of Devonshire for Council housing in 1914. Construction was supervised by the Duke's Land Agent who had become the District Officer RE. The Corporation laid on electricity and piped water. The Depot comprised 110 huts laid out in lines A to G designed to accommodate 2,000 men in three tiered bunks. There were also 11 brick buildings (entrance buildings, wash houses, ablution blocks), a cook house, a post office (made out of an old railway carriage), a gymnasium, a bowling alley and a drill shed. There was a library of 600 books. Depot opened in June 1916 under the command of a Colonel Follet. As well as Cavalrymen the Depot took South African Troops from the SA Red Cross Hospital at Richmond Park, the maximum number at any one time being 600 who had been casualties at Delville Wood.

On arrival at the Depot the soldier would be interviewed and examined by a medical board. The report of the board would govern his assignment to one of the four squadrons at the Depot. These were (in descending order of fitness) Red, Green, Blue and Yellow. The men wore a slide on the epaulette in their Squadron colour. The men were re-boarded every 14 days during their time at the Depot.
Red Squadron – fit to return to unit within 7 to 10 days
Green Squadron – fit for all training up to bayonet practice
Blue Squadron – fit for all training up to the assault course
Yellow Squadron – fit for all training up to exercise with telegraph poles.

Training was very varied. There were football matches twice a week as well as cricket, tennis, boxing and fencing with inter-squadron tournaments. The gymnasium was under the supervision of a Medical Officer and was well supplied with machines to allow weight training and rowing as well as the conventional vaulting horses and climbing ropes. Indian Clubs and bags containing 7lbs of gravel were also used in the gym. Gardening was highly encouraged with mowers, rollers and sprayers provided along side hand tools so that when the Depot closed there were 2,000 plants ready for bedding out in the Depot Nursery. Six soldiers manned a hand-cart fire engine with 1,500 feet of hose and chemical extinguishers as a camp fire brigade. The camp motto was “Hors de Combat” which was spelt out in the traditional white washed stones.

The Band of the 13th Hussars was stationed at the Depot to provide musical support as well as playing at Eastbourne civic functions. The bandsmen were all boy soldiers who were posted overseas as soon as they reached 18 years of age. The band also provided trumpeters to play last post at military funerals. Unlike at the convalescent camps soldiers at Command Depots were under arms so the Depot was also called upon to provide firing parties for funerals. Soldiers at the Depot had a concert party called “The Cavalry Command Cripples” which entertained at the many service hospitals in the area. In excess of 3,000 people visited the Depot open day. From September 1917 numbers at the Depot began to decrease and an Officer wing was opened. The Officers did not live in the Depot but were billeted in local houses. The Depot closed in December 1918 and was sold in January 1919.The huts were used by the Council for temporary housing until 1932 and a special school until 1936.

With thanks to Jock Bruce and Ian Smart for providing this very hard to find information.

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