On the outbreak of war our town was a popular seaside resort made fashionable as a watering-place by King George the Third. It also had military connections with the nearby naval base of Portland and several army camps & forts from the Napoleonic period. Following the landing of Australian & New Zealand troops, the Anzacs, at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915, casualties mounted rapidly and were initially transported to their base in Egypt, which was soon unable to cope, with wounded being sent to England. Here the troops found that there was no Australian base to which they could report once they had been discharged from hospital; what was needed urgently was a base in England where troops could be sent to convalesce. So on 31st May 1915 a command depot was set up at Monte Video House in Chickerell, some two miles from Weymouth. The local newspaper The Southern Times wrote: They are set down in a very pleasant place at Monte Video which is to be the base for the whole of the Australian, NZ and Cyprus contingents in this country, and the men who 'have been used to a thousand miles to stroll in' (as they say) appreciate the great expanse of country and the sweeping landscape & seascape views which their camp commands.
The depot was the joint Australian and New Zealand depot until the NZ depot opened at Hornchurch in Essex in April 1916. Weymouth then became the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) Command Depot No.2 which accommodated those men not expected to be fit for duty within six months, therefore, most of the Diggers repatriated as a result of wounds or sickness passed through Weymouth. During the years 1915-1919 over 120,000 Australian and New Zealand troops passed through Weymouth. In Spring & Summer, Weymouth Esplanade would be full of Anzac soldiers in wheelchairs, being wheeled along by their more able mates.
The first contingent of 200 wounded men arrived in the first week of June 1915, and two weeks later a group of local ladies organised a cream tea for the newcomers, followed by a concert party 'The Frolics' at the camp. So began the close connection that was to grow between the soldiers and the villagers of Chickerell. The ANZAC Memorial on Weymouth seafront commemorates the Australian and New Zealand troops who were accommodated in three camps in the town during WW1: Monte Video, Westham and Littlemoor. In Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Cemetery there are about eighty-six graves of those Anzacs who were never to return to their homelands. Also in memory of these troops, there a number of roads close to the camps named after Australian cities and states.
The hutted camp was built & first occupied by a unit of The Scots Regiment before the outbreak of war, and was expanded further after the Anzacs arrived. It is located at Australia Road in Chickerell, Dorset DT3 4DD and is now the Wyke Regis Territorial Army base. See Google Map below.
A view of the hutted camp in 1919. Monte Video House, which was used as the camp hospital, is just south of Australia Road at 432 Chickerell Rd, DT3 4DQ and is now a private nursing home.
The camp also had a YMCA hut (used for concert parties) and later a Salvation Army hut. Part of the rehabilitation for injured soldiers involved a relatively new orthopaedic treatment in a specially equipped Remedial Gym.
We have recorded over 50 marriages in Chickerell parish church between Anzac soldiers and mainly local girls, with many of the brides being taken back to Australia on repatriation. These can be downloaded as an Excel spreadsheet by clicking here.
The troops had been sent to Monte Video to recover from their spell in hospital and to be made fit again so that they could return to their units as quickly as possible. By 28 October 1915, ten drafts had already been despatched, including one of 500 men who had marched that morning from Chickerell to Weymouth station, en route for the Dardanelles. This left 1,850 Australians and 600 New Zealanders still in camp. Unfortunately, not all men could be restored to fighting fitness and 600 had been invalided home as unfit for further service. From this time those troops who were likely to remain unfit were sent to another camp which had been opened at Westham, then on the outskirts of Weymouth (see map below courtesy of Weymouth Library & drawn by Andrew Bryant, where present day roads are shown dotted).
In June 1916 the two camps at Monte Video & Westam became know as AIF No.2 Command Depot (no.1 was at Perham Down on Salisbury Plain). While the general training in the new unit concentrated on toughening-up, the individual training a soldier received was governed by medical inspections under which he was categorized weekly according to fitness.