Closer to Home

Albert Arrives at RAF Yatesbury

Nothing remains of RAF Yatesbury. This flying school occupies land that I think was once part of the camp. The Lansdowne Monument is visible in the distance.

After his week of leave, Albert settles into the RAF camp that will be his home for the next twelve weeks. Albert travels by train from Southampton to Calne, then waits for a lorry to take him to camp. Yatesbury could not be more different to Blackpool, it must have felt like a different world to him. Wiltshire is the neighbouring county to Hampshire, and the topography is similar. The hills of Wiltshire roll further and the skies are bigger than those Albert knew as a boy, but there was a familiarity that I’m sure he found comforting. Albert sounds more ‘at home’ in this landscape, writing beautifully about his view from Oldbury Castle (which he incorrectly names as Ogbury Camp… that caused me some confusion!)

Thursday February 19, 7.10pm

Dear All, first of all you will note that I have an address. We are told that it will not change for the 12 weeks we are to be here, so it should be quite safe for you to write. I arrived safely after quite a good journey. The carriage was a very cold and draughty one, but I was able to secure a corner seat and after Salisbury I was able to put my feet up on the opposite seat, so I did not get quite frozen. I had to wait only 20 minutes for the connection at Trowbridge, and caught the early train at Calne without delay at Chippenham. We were transported by lorry to camp, which is situate right along A4. I ate my sandwiches whilst waiting for the lorry, and the mince pie on arrival. We got here after 2pm. We were then allotted with huts, sheets etc, and given tea at about 5. The food seems quite good, and, as far as I am concerned, sufficient in quantity (so far).

The camp is much the same as other camps, with the usual wooden huts, which are really quite comfortable, but it seems they are also rather cold. The weather came out fine just as we approached Yatesbury, and now there is a clear sky and an approaching frost. The wind is slight but what there is of it is quite bitter.

The hut is rather dark at the moment, as there is only one bulb – all the others mysteriously disappeared whilst it was empty.

The view from the place is not very inspiring. To the North, West & East are just huts, to the South, the main road, and a bank of grass. Just visible from here is also the hill on which is Ogbury Camp, and an obelisk of some description.

I believe it is quite easy to get out of the camp after duty hours, but of course, there is not much time in the evening. We work all Saturday. Wednesday afternoon is “off”, but devoted to compulsory sports. Sunday is off all day, with a church parade every four weeks. After six weeks is a long weekend (Friday evening – Sunday evening)and after 12 weeks, a 7 days leave and another move. I believe short weekends (Saturday evening – Sunday evening) are also obtainable, and day passes too, but I believe that travel facilities are very meagre; however, I must see about that later. I do not think we shall see a lot of that sort of thing yet awhile.

I have already met my Hamble workmate. He seems quite happy here, but is due to go in about a fortnight. There is a cinema here, a Y.M.C.A & canteen, but not much else to do in the evenings, so I am beginning to wonder what I shall find to write about in my twice-weekly letters.

Things are a bit upside down & I have yet to get my stuff out. We have lockers (which need to be kept locked I believe) and unless they are taken from us, they will give plenty of space. Since I have been writing, another bulb has been put in, which should enable me to read in bed. It is so chilly that I shall go to bed fairly early. I expect Jean will be home when you receive this, so love to all 3, from Albert.

P.S. I am frozen!

Albert’s second letter describes his first walk in the area, taking the track up to the Bronze Age hill fort of Oldbury Castle. I am quite certain we visited it when I was a child. I would have raced up and down those same ramparts with my sisters, whilst Mum and Dad strolled on the path below us. And we would have clambered further up the hill to scrutinise the strange monument, puzzling over the motivations of its creator and the purpose of its being.

View looking south from Oldbury Castle.

Sunday Feb 22

Dear All,

I commence my 2nd letter from here in quite a happy frame of mind, as I have just been for a most enjoyable walk, to Marlborough. I got my dinner as soon as possible & by 12.30 I had left the camp.

I went up the little road which climbs up Cherhill Down towards Ogbury camp & soon was on top of the hill, in the labyrinth of ditches & ramparts of which the camp is composed, and I climbed to about the highest of these fortifications and surveyed the wide view which the camp commands.

The day was inclined to haziness, & I could not see clearly into the distance, but I could see, especially to the south, several ranges of the downs, rolling away in troughs and crests, like the sea with a rather heavy swell; not a rough sea, they are too gently undulating for that, just a gentle rise and fall of the green disappearing, or rather fading into the blue distance.

There is an obelisk (Lansdowne column says my map) on the hill, but I did not bother to investigate it this time, I continued along my track until I came to a Roman Road, and turning left followed this on its course to Beckhampton. There I came back to the world again, as there were plenty of RAF on the road, which, however, I cut across, taking the Swindon Road which passes through my next objective, Avebury. At Beckhampton it was about 1.20. At Avebury I stopped a while and looked at the megalithic temple, the centre part of which is conveniently & pleasantly situated on a sort of village green. It is just at that point that the earthworks are most imposing, and they and the massive sarsen stones make quite a grand spectacle. The circle is by….

Oh no! Sadly the second page of this letter has been lost, so we shall never know what further thoughts Albert had of Avebury, just as we shall never know for certain why people chose to erect a great stone circle thousands of years ago. One thing I do know, is that the stones stand now much as they did in 1942, and doubtless they shall stand, dear reader, long after you and I are gone.

A view of Avebury in January 2009, when I last visited.