Chippenham at War
Between 1940 and 1946 Chippenham Park was used as a camp for the army, and after the war ended for Polish refugees.
From 1940 to 1941 the west wing of Chippenham Hall was a maternity hospital. The concrete track along the southern section of the Park wall between the Snailwell Road and the road to La Hogue was built during the Second World War.
The 8th Armoured Brigade returned from North Africa in late 1944 in preparation for D-Day, arriving in Scotland in early December 1944. They had left their tanks behind in Egypt being employed on guard duties until they left. From Scotland they were sent to Chippenham Park. To even out combat experience the constitution of the Brigade was changed so it comprised both experienced and inexperienced troops. At Chippenham Park the assembly of the reformed Brigade began, the Brigade being joined by among others the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards.
While waiting for their Sherman tanks to arrive they were taken for map reading walks to keep them occupied. When they received the tanks training for mine removal started. A petrol tin was placed on the road, which the Sherman approached within a hundred yards. A member of the crew dismounted, crawled towards the petrol tin, bayonet in hand probing the tarmac road. When he reached the petrol tin he ran back to the tank, fetched the towing hawser, a massive affair, and attached it with string to the tin, and ran back to the tank. The Sherman then reversed pulling the tin along the road. This exercise apparently mystified the watching locals!
The 4th/7th Dragoon Guards were trained in the use of the secret Duplex-Drive "swimming" Sherman tanks that floated by means of a canvas screen around the tank and equipped with a propeller (hence Duplex-Drive). Further training in the use of these vehicles took place in Norfolk.
From Chippenham in May 1944 they moved on to Winchester ready to embark for D-Day.
The photograph shows the Army Camp at Chippenham Park in the winter of 1947. This was provided by Robert Shaw whose wife was the daughter of post-war Polish refugees. She was born at Christmas 1946 and spent the first few months of her life in a Nissen hut in Chippenham through that very cold winter. On the back of the photo it records that these huts were known as “barrels of laughs”.