Two photo albums held in the Samuel Marsden Archives provide a unique pictorial record of the activities of the 8th Infantry Training Battalion AIF, stationed in Wiltshire during 1916 and 1917. They were taken by Cecil Green, who survived the war, returned to Australia and built a house in Croydon. A keen amateur photographer, he filled most of the albums with pictures he took during his travels around Ireland and southern & central England. Since there is no mention of a dark room, he probably have developed the film and compiled the scrapbooks later. Cecil was born in New Zealand, became a carpenter and was already widowed when he joined the army in 1915 at the age of 27*.
The purpose of the camp at Hurdcott was to train soldiers so they could add reinforcements to the troops on the battlefields in France and Belgium. The neat rifle ranges and trenches were sorely inadequate preparation for the chaos and mud of the Western Front.
The 8th Training Battalion supplied reinforcements to the AIF, however by 1917 the death toll in France was so high that as many trained troops as possible were sent to the Western Front. Cecil mentions a stay in hospital – this was possibly due to pneumonia caused by spending the harsh winter of 1916-1917 on the exposed Salisbury Plain.
The photographer was close friends with a Major Hannibal W. Sloan, or ‘Tod’ as he is affectionately known, and probably served as the Major’s batman (personal servant). Sloan survived the war and by 1938 had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was a professional soldier who became Adjutant of the 30th Battalion in Liverpool in 1915, then commanded the 8th Brigade in French Flanders in 1916.
The camp at Hurdcott also housed some captured German soldiers, who were put to work doing manual labour.
The soldiers stationed at Hurdcott cut out a ‘chalk badge’ in the ground, in the shape of Australia. This badge is currently being restored by the Map of Australia Trust
Extensive research into the history of the photograph albums was done by Jim Boyce and Stuart Braga. Their reports can be found on Myrrh here and here and were used to create this post. The albums are currently on display in the Library as part of the ‘Towards the Armistice’ exhibition. The entire collection can be viewed on Myrrh.
*National Archives of Australia. First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920. B2455, GREEN C A.