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Spanning the years
THIS year marks the 80th anniversary of the bridging camp in Wyke Regis, which was established on the shores of the Fleet in May 1928.
That year, a company of sappers - so named after the trenches or 'saps' they once built - marched from Bulford Army Camp down to Wyke to erect tents for other sappers - or Royal Engineers - who were to camp alongside the Fleet while they underwent training in the art of bridge-building.
In those early days the lifestyle for Royal Engineers under training was extremely basic. They lived in tents, cooked in the open and took their breaks on the hard shingle of the beach - although rumour has it they still found enough energy to go into Weymouth for a few drinks and to meet the local girls.
Over the decades, the bridging camp expanded. By 1978, when the camp celebrated its 50th birthday, there was an annual throughput of some 30,000 soldiers, mostly sappers, but also including many other corps and regiments. An average summer week would see 700 soldiers in Wyke. Some stayed in the tented summer camp, which could hold a maximum of 400 men, while others lodged in permanent accommodation in nearby Chickerell, which could hold 360.
The facilities and training were considered as second to none, covering basic combat engineering training, range firing, infantry tactics, map reading, field defences, mine laying, demolition work, water supply, watermanship, rafting, armoured personnel carrier flotation, canoeing and orienteering. However, bridging still took pride of place, since Wyke Regis was acknowledged as the best place in Britain for such training owing to the water being tidal and travelling at up to five knots.
Jill Colebrooke, of Southill, contributed a series of photographs of the Royal Engineers training on the Fleet in the early 1930s. They illustrate the arduous nature of the work, with pontoon bridges being constructed and cavalry riders swimming alongside their horses.
Jill said: "I lived in Camp Road from 1926 onwards until my 60s. The camp started in 1928 and my father Reginald Wakefield was given lots of pictures. When they had the 50th anniversary, they had a big celebration up there.
"It was only a summer camp because it was tents. In one of the pictures, if you look closely, you can see horses lined up at the front of the tents."
Nowadays, the bridging camp continues to be used for training by the Royal Engineers and other arms in the building of bridges, as well as other forms of military training. However, the tented camp has been sold off and all soldiers now stay in neighbouring Chickerell.
Commandant at Chickerell Major Harry Reddick explained: "Our bridging camp is a strategic camp and is a lot of use to the army in pre-deployment and post-deployment training. When the tented camp was sold off, we built a huge lot of accommodation at Chickerell. The soldiers live and eat there and still train at the bridging camp."