WWI Centenary ~ Tommy's Footprints in Ampthill Great Park
In WWI Ampthill Great Park was used to train local men as soldiers. In November 2016 a poignant temporary artwork was installed in the Park to provide a focus for The Camp centenary and remembrance.
In 1914 Lord Kitchener (Secretary of State for War) issued a call to arms. The 11th Duke of Bedford responded by establishing the ‘Bedfordshire Training Depot' in Ampthill Great Park, at his own expense. This was a well-equipped, hutted camp to help recruit and train soldiers for the Bedfordshire Regiment. The Ampthill Camp had a Miniature Firing Range, extensive Trenching Ground, and state of-the-art Obstacle Course. Young men, many of them farm workers, volunteered in their droves. Recruitment peaked In the Autumn of 1915 with more than a hundred local men joining The Camp each month. The recruits were often seen route marching through the local villages, Flitwick, Greenhill, Flitton, Clophill.....
By August 1916 the Depot had trained 2,235 local men to fight for ‘King and Country.' About one third were killed and more were wounded, many of them at the Somme.
A lone Memorial Cross stands proud in Ampthill Great Park to remember the soldiers who trained there, the 707 men who died, and the 'Ampthill Command Depot’ that went onto treat 8,369 injured soldiers in the Park (1916-19).
The year 2016 marked one hundred years since the Bedfordshire Training Depot closed. Ampthill Town Council lead preparations to remember the WWI soldiers who trained at The Camp, and those who died or were injured. The project involved local people, community organisations and schools - and helped to improve our knowledge of Ampthill in WWI.
The centrepiece was Tommy's Footprints - a poignant art installation flanked by poppies in the hollow of Ampthill Great Park. This is where, upon completion of training, the recruits passed on their way to entrain at Ampthill Midland Station for the fight in France and Belgium.
Tommy's Footprints was installed a week before Remembrance Sunday. A column of 707 footprints were stencilled in the Park, a pair for each soldier who did not return. On Remembrance Sunday (13 November 2016) a special parade past Tommy's Footprints and then down The Alameda to the Cenotaph. In the days that followed the footprints quietly faded into the ground, and disappeared.
Please read the Tommy's Footprints 'Camp Diary' and see photographs on the Tommy's Footprints website (www.tommysfootprints.wordpress.com). You can also follow the amazing Tommy's Footprints story on FaceBook (www.facebook.com/tommysfootprints).