Although this part of Wiltshire has long had a connection with the Armed Forces, Fovant itself had escaped any direct contact with the Army until the latter part of 1915, when the outskirts of the village became a vast training camp .
The advent of the Army into the area had a tremendous impact on the village, not least because the farm workers now had the opportunity to earn a greater wage than that offered by agricultural work. From the contractors who first laid out the camp roads and built the huts, through the digging of wells and the building of a power station to supply electricity, to the eventual demolition of the camps, all needed labourers to carry out the work involved. Inevitably, farm workers forsook their work on the land for the more profitable work associated with the camp.
Other villagers also made the most of the opportunity to enhance their income.
Once the camps were established and the regular flow of troops in and out of the camp started, small shops and tea-rooms proliferated throughout the village. The National Stores, complete with a visiting photographer, set up in opposition to the village shop. A barber started to ply his trade. Local ladies ‘took in’ washing, as one of the soldiers wrote on his postcard (It’s on the left and you can click to enlarge it).
The pubs and many private houses did a lucrative trade in accommodation. Officers stabled their horses on local farms and many of them dealt with their finances at the branch of Lloyds Bank that opened in the High Street. Although none of these facilities can be classified as military employment, all made their appearance because of the army presence in the village.
In a slightly different category was The Garrison Cinema, which was set up at the bottom of Green Drove by the Navy and Army Canteen Company – a precursor of the NAAFI. Its senior personnel would have come from outside, but local people undoubtedly were also employed. This was almost certainly the case with the large YMCA presence on the camp. The camp also had its own Post Office, which though it probably had military input, would have been organised by the Royal Mail. Staffed by civilians, it was also used by them.
Fovant Military Railway , a single track, was opened by the Army in 1915 to connect the camp to the main line at Dinton, two miles away. Civilians were allowed to use this railway and it may be the case that some civilians also worked on the railway. Any such employees, during the strictly military use of the line, would have been classed as military employees working for the army. Apparently the line was used during the demolition of the camps and was not closed down until 1921, after which the people of Fovant returned to their more usual civilian areas of employment
The Camp Hospital also came into being in 1915. Obviously it was mainly staffed by medical professionals of varying degrees – our own Doctor Richard Clay amongst them – but local people were also employed in lesser positions. Dorothy King (wife of Les King) was a nurse at the Camp Hospital, as was Mervyn Mullen from Broadchalke. George Goodfellow, before being called up to serve in the Royal Navy, was a hospital orderly there. One ‘outsider’ should also be mentioned – Arthur Brooks, from Birmingham, father of Roy Brooks, being unfit for front line service, was drafted to Fovant Camp Hospital as a Nursing Orderly
With the demolition of the camps in the early 1920s the people of Fovant returned to what might be called civilian employment. Then in 1937 the Air Ministry opened the limestone caves at Chilmark quarry as a bomb storage depot. Thus RAF Chilmark, only two miles distant from Fovant came into being. Although headed by RAF personnel, for whom houses were built in Fovant, the ‘Bomb Dump’ as some locals called it, was largely staffed by civilians. Until 1995, when the depot was closed down, many Fovant residents, of both sexes, were employed at RAF Chilmark in a bewildering range of trades or clerical positions.
During WW II the Ministry of Supply had an outstation at Stainers Garage, Swallowcliffe, where military vehicles were repaired and maintained. Undoubtedly many local people were employed there.