If You Go Down To The Woods Today – Part 2

The centre of the Canadian Camp in the Chartwell woods

The centre of the Canadian Camp in the Chartwell woods

Regular readers of this blog will remember a few weeks ago I published an introductory post on the newly opened woods and estate here at Chartwell. Those of you who would like to play catch up can check out that blog by clicking right here. In that post I promised that I would go into more detail on some of the key areas of our woodland that our visitors can expect to enjoy when they next visit us. Well, never one to break a promise, here is the first of those installments, this time focusing on the Canadian Camp.

The best way to get to the camp is to access the estate via the gate near to our Oscar Nemon sculpture by the lake

The best way to get to the camp is to access the estate via the gate near to our Oscar Nemon sculpture by the lake

Last September and October, Steve and Ben (our estate gardeners) together with a steady revolving gate of volunteers spent many hours creating an area within the woods to resemble a Canadian soldier camp. But what relevance is this to Churchill and Chartwell you may ask? Well, plenty is the answer. On April 15th, 1941, Chartwell was occupied by soldiers from the Canadian 1st Division. Although around half an acre of pasture land was requisitioned for them under Regulation 51 of the 1939 Defence Regulations, they actually holed up in an area of the woods on the far side of the lakes. We have tried to recreate their camp as close as we can work out to where the original site was. The soldiers were there to temporarily ‘guard’ Chartwell which had become, not surprisingly, an obvious target during the war. Today, the area is incredibly popular with children as a secret den to play in.

Alex carries out some finishing touches to some of the fencing...

Alex carries out some finishing touches to some of the fencing…

...while Marsaili tests the secret tunnel!

…while Marsaili tests the secret tunnel!

Steve, Ben, Alex, Gary, Ron and Marsaili after a hard day's work in the mud!

Steve, Ben, Alex, Gary, Ron and Marsaili after a hard day’s work in the mud!

The soldiers were kept busy during their time here. As part of their stay in the Chartwell woodland, the Canadian 1st Division also negotiated a contract with Sir Winston Churchill’s secretary Kathleen Hill to collect pig swill under the supervision of gardener Albert Hill from the Chartwell farmland at the rate of £2-10-0 per hundred men per month!

This pipe and bunker can be found near the camp and is thought to have been built during the solders' stay

This pipe and bunker can be found near the camp and is thought to have been built during the solders’ stay

Another troop of Canadian soldiers also spent some time at Chartwell during the war too. Because the landscape, including the lakes, that Churchill had created was so recognisable from the air, it was thought that Chartwell might be aiding the navigation of the German Luftwaffe or even be a bomb target itself. It was therefore decided to camouflage the swimming pool and the lakes with stakes and brushwood from the estate. This job fell, during the Autumn of 1940, to the Canadian 7th Corps and their chief engineer Brigadier Hertzberg.

One of the entrances to the camp today

One of the entrances to the camp today

We had soldiers on site at Chartwell once again a couple of weekends ago when the Wartime Weekend took place, as the pictures below will show.

Vintage equipment is demonstrated on the Parkland...

Vintage equipment is demonstrated on the Parkland…

...while soldiers and their transport park up in front of the house

…while soldiers and their transport park up in front of the house

A spitfire fly-past, wartime bands and dancers, military vehicles and demonstrations were all enjoyed by our visitors as well as a Canadian Woodland Trail through the woods for the kids. Make sure you follow in their footsteps and take a trek into the wider estate the next time you visit us at Chartwell…

Jamie

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8 Comments

Filed under Chartwell Life, Garden History

8 responses to “If You Go Down To The Woods Today – Part 2

  1. AliG

    Excellent stuf, Jamie, lots of useful facts for our garden and estate tours as well!

  2. Ohh we want to go to the secret tunnel! It looks great fun

  3. Pingback: Canadian Troops at Chartwell | Keep calm and carry on blogging

  4. Libby Dawson

    I am the daughter of Maj. J. C. Dawson, the Canadian soldier who came from Canadian 1st Div. Headquarters to Chartwell and negotiated the sale of swill. The Canadian camp had been burying food waste in large holes dug in the ground and covered over with earth when full. This resulted in soggy areas into which people sank when they strayed off the paths during blackouts. He was ordered to go and solve the problem but was unaware that the farm was Chartwell. All he knew was that the camp was there to keep people out and to shoot any paratroopers who landed in the area. He could not have the food waste hauled out as no vehicles were allowed in the area. He realized that the farm had pigs and since he grew up in a small rural town in Canada he instantly had the solution to the swill problem. When the letter arrived at 1st Div HQ confirming the purchase of the swill arrived, it was on 10 Downing St. letterhead and he realized where he had been. Like most soldiers, my father was reluctant to talk about his war service, but this story is one I heard him tell many times, and the original of the letter signed by his personal secretary Kathleen Hill is one of my most prized family treasures.

    • That is fascinating stuff! Thanks very much for getting in touch with us, Libby. Any information that we can get hold of on the history of Chartwell, especially during Sir Winston Churchill’s time is always very much appreciated. If you would like any further corespondance, please feel free to contact me at jamie.harris@nationaltrust.org.uk Hopefully you will get a chance to come and visit the camp for yourself sometime soon!

      • Libby Dawson

        I am sending a jpeg of the letter re: swill.

        I have also wondered over the years if there were any indications on the property of the offending swill pit which took my father to Chartwell. Then, looking at the photo of the bomb crater on your site, I wondered if it could be not a bomb crater but the swill pit. I believe that between the work on the ponds and the guard duty, the Canadians had been there for several months, and the letter indicates that they were paid for the swill on a per 100 men basis, so the camp must have been feeding quite a large number with quite a bit of food waste. Since the pit was deep and soggy enough that they worried when people fell in, it must have been quite a large pit. If there are no other indications anywhere of another sizeable subsidence, I could imagine a swill pit, covered over with soil, would subside as the fluids leached away and could look much like the picture. I guess it would take some archeological digging to prove one way or the other, and except for my personal curiosity, probably not nearly as interesting for tourists and children as a bomb crater.

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