A brief history of the Army in Didcot by David Taylor: The First World War

THE Army and Royal Army Ordnance Corps arrived in Didcot in 1915, setting up on a 620-acre site of land purchased by the War Office in 1914.

At the outbreak of World War One, the threat to the Woolwich Arsenal in South London became apparent with the possibility of shelling by German warships who could sail up the Thames Estuary. Even more so from 1916 onwards, with the aerial threat from the Zeppelin airships.

A move to Didcot soon followed as the town was out of range of the Zeppelin air raids and had excellent rail connections to all parts of the country.

Just as importantly, it had the land to allow room for expansion of the depot site.

In 1915, the Great Western Railway laid sidings to serve the initial 28 sheds built to house the stores that the Royal Army Ordnance Corps required to provide equipment for the British and Commonwealth Army fighting on the Western Front and the other theatres of conflict throughout the world.

Barracks for 300 men were initially constructed in Foxhall Road, but many soldiers ended up sleeping under canvas as the construction of the wooden barracks could not keep pace with the influx of soldiers, which by 1918 amounted to some 1,900.

The number of sheds on the ordnance site had, by the end of the war, increased to 45.

A munitions store had been established in 1916 and some seven million rounds of ammunition were sent to the Western Front from Didcot.

The sheer amount of equipment arriving and departing by train became too much for the existing companies to handle and a request went out for civilian volunteers.

The appeal was answered by local villagers, graduates, dons and fellows from Oxford University; the Radley and Eton College Officer Training Corps and, through articles in national newspapers, many more people from far and wide who arrived in Didcot to do their piece for the war effort.

The presence of the Army in Didcot had a positive effect, mainly in providing employment and also the extension of Station Road westwards to provide a more direct route from the station to the depot and barracks.

At the end of the war in 1918, vast amounts of equipment found their way back to the ordnance stores at Didcot for future onward sale through the Army Disposal Board, but unfortunately large amounts of that equipment just rotted or rusted away.

This terrible situation was brought to the attention of the public through articles in the national newspapers.

The military detachments in Didcot were eventually merged into No. 18 Section Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

The depot was grossly over-manned at this point and, despite the end of the war, the workforce was not reduced.

The working hours and pay were much better than other jobs which were on offer locally, leading to some resentment from the other local employers who struggled to attract labour.

With the end of the war the government of the day was left with decisions on how a peacetime Britain should develop and the future of the depot at Didcot was called into question.

To be continued.