Fovant has known soldiers at least since Saxon times. Its southern boundary follows a byway described in the Saxon Land Charters as Herepathe, literally “Army Path” – a road along which several mounted men could ride abreast.
The village probably witnessed many movements of troops, although no battles are known to have taken place within its boundaries. Perhaps Roman soldiers, certainly Saxons, Danes, Cavaliers, Roundheads and Yeomanry passed this way to nearby battles, sieges and disturbances.
In more recent history South Wiltshire has been a centre of military activity since the War Office purchased large parts of Salisbury Plain in 1897 to become a training area. Primitive military aircraft flew (and sometimes landed) near Fovant, but it was not until the First World War of 1914-18 that the village experienced the impact of large numbers of soldiers, when several camps were constructed to the north of the downland that stretched from Barford St Martin to Swallowcliffe. A light railway, a hospital, a cinema and more shops made their appearance. A.G. Street’s novel “The Gentleman of the Party” contains a vivid account of the effect on village life.
The camps contained soldiers from many parts of Britain and Australia who were destined to serve on the Western Front in France and Belgium and, after the war, the camps were used as a demobilisation centre. Our Group holds a number of picture postcards that, not only give an idea of what the countryside looked like in that period, but, on the reverse, give a poignant reminder of the feelings of men and women far from home and aware of the dangers which they faced.
Lasting memories of those days are the regimental badges cut into the chalk downs. These, the biggest collection of chalk figures in Europe, are described and now maintained by the Fovant Badges Society
In August of 2014 our History Interest Group held an exhibition for two days in Fovant Village Hall. The theme of the exhibition was World War I and the centenary of its beginning. A record of that exhibition, comprising about 200 pages, was finally completed in 2016 and is now available as a readable PDF file. To examine that file please click here.
Military activity in Fovant during the Second World War of 1939-45 was not on the same scale, but nearby U.S.A.A.F. Base Air Depot No 4 brought an American presence into, and often at high speed through, the village. An R.A.F. bomb store had been opened at nearby Chilmark in 1937 and throughout the war the local Home Guard carried out a variety of duties in the area. Both of these organisations were involved when a German Ju88 bomber crashed into Fovant Wood in 1941 and the crew apprehended, the flight mechanic after almost a week’s search.
Finally, a reminder that warfare brings with it a high cost. On the village War Memorial and in St. George’s church are named twenty-four men of Fovant who did not return. Many are remembered only as names on the many memorials to the missing. Others lie in graves from Norway to Italy and from Turkey to Burma. One lies here in the churchyard of his own village, together with so many who came from afar.
Click on the links below to find more information on military activity in Fovant, particularly during the First World War:
A record of our 2014 World War One Exhibition
A list of regiments to be in the local camps
Australian Regiments stationed around Fovant
Military Hospitals in the Fovant area
Fovant Military Railway 1915-1926
Local events during the Second World War
Lest we forget our Men and Women of both World Wars
Content last updated
31 March 2016