Morn Hill Camps

Morn Hill campIn the bitter winter of 1914/15, a large military camp was created on the downs east of Winchester on both sides of the Alresford Road. Two British Army Divisions destined for the Western Front formed there, initially in tents. Because of severe weather, the camps had to be temporarily abandoned, the troops being found accommodation throughout the City.

The central role of Morn Hill was as a transit base for troops moving to France and Belgium through the port of Southampton. Most stayed for only a few days before moving on.

Later, the camps expanded further eastward with numerous temporary buildings being erected to create a major barracks comprising hundreds of living huts with cookhouses, cinemas, recreation halls, stables, garages etc.

The population of Winchester at the time was about 20,000. The camps were said to be capable of holding some 50,000 troops at any one time.

As the British Army, joined by thousands from the Empire, grew throughout 1915 to 1917, Morn Hill became the largest concentration in Britain of troops in transit to the Western and other Fronts.

By late 1917, after America joined the War in the April, Morn Hill was transferred to the US Army still in the role of a rest and transit camp. Between 1917 and the end of the war 700-800,000 American troops passed through the camps. A large military hospital was also built for the soldiers afflicted by illness rather than those with combat wounds.

Over 500 were buried in the nearby cemetery, most later being exhumed to be returned to their home States.

In 1918, a branch from the Great Western Railway at Winnall was built to serve the camps but had only a short period of use, the War ending in November.

Morn Hill then became a place of assembly for troops of all Allied nations awaiting repatriation and, by 1919, the camps had closed. Subsequently, most of the buildings were demolished or sold locally for other uses.

The Mayor of Winchester in a speech in 1919 said that over two million troops had passed through the City during the War.

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