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Dorset in World War One

Between 1914 and 1918 Dorset bristled with troops, recruits and volunteers from all parts of the country and from as far away as Australia and New Zealand who came here for training before being sent to war.

Dorset was also a place of secrets, with secret establishments making explosives and developing new armaments. The military moved from war horses to horse power.

Dorset's World War One legacy includes: two large military establishments employing thousands of servicemen and supporting thousands of civilians; two internationally-significant museums; important archaeology and many places of interest, including the home of a World War One hero.

At the front

From the mobilization of the Fleet in July 1914, Dorset people and places played a role in many significant events of World War One. Just a few of these connections are discussed here.

Mobilization of the Fleet - a tactical masterstroke

The first action taken in Dorset to prepare for the Great War was instigated by Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, and carried out in absolute secrecy. The British Fleet of around 240 vessels had been gathered at Spithead in the Solent, where it was reviewed by King George V on 17 July 2014. From there, the First Fleet sailed into Portland Harbour while the Second Fleet patrolled the Channel. On 27 July mobilization was ordered by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe and the ships dispersed from Portland. Some went to training establishments around the coast, and the First Fleet and some of the Second Fleet sailed north in darkness and silence to form a great fleet in Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, and strategic command of the North Sea. The German fleet, denied northerly movement through the North Sea to the wider ocean, was effectively confined to its home port of Wilhelmshaven.

Airfields and airship stations

There were two airfields in Dorset during World War One. One at Talbot Village Aerodrome on what is now the Bournemouth University campus, which was run by the Bournemouth Aviation Company and used mostly for pilot training. It was replaced around the end of 1917 by an aerodrome at Ensbury Park Racecourse, now covered by Leybourne Avenue and adjoining streets in Northbourne. The Royal Flying Corps moved here in 1918 and soon afterwards the Wireless Telegraphy School was set up, with the station being known as RFC Winton. Military use of the site ceased in April 1919; civil use commenced shortly afterwards, and continued until the early 1930s.

There were three airship stations in Dorset. Upton Admiralty Airship Station, situated to the west of Poole, was active 1917-1918 and used as a base for anti U-Boat patrols. Toller Admiralty Air Station, to the west of Toller Porcorum in West Dorset, was used from spring 1918 to the end of the war, and served as a satellite station to Mullion (Cornwall) covering the coast from Portland Bill to Start Point. Work started on Moreton Admiralty Airship Station in 1918, but it was not quite finished by the end of the war, and the station was never operational.

The Home Front

As well as supporting military bases, Dorset contributed significantly to the war effort through agriculture and munitions. The county took in child refugees, wounded soldiers, and prisoners of war.

During World War One, perhaps for the first time, a war fought abroad affected the lives of most people at home.

English Heritage's Home Frontproject explores the effect of the war on the home front.

The BBC's website covers many aspects of World War One and has a special section on the World War One at Home, where you will find a growing collection of stories that show how WW1 affected the people and places of the UK and Ireland.

The Dorset County Museumand the Dorset History Centre collections include material relating to World War One, particularly the Home Front.


The Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), established in 1909, came into its own during World War One. Information about the VAD can be found on the Red Cross website. Both the Dorset County Museum and The Keep Military Museum have archives on this subject.

Prisoners of war (German and English)

The Auditory Cenotaph Project has recovered around 200 recordings of British and Commonwealth prisoners speaking in English and Scots, as well as Urdu and West African languages, made in Germany during the Great War.

Reserve workers

Reserve workers worked in the munitions factories (cordite and torpedo factories) in the rope and net factories, and in agriculture. Women also worked as Land Girls and in civil defence.

War memorials

In the period after World War 1, war memorials were erected in nearly every town and village in the UK. These memorials may have suffered through the passage of time, or from damage or theft; a few may even have been forgotten. Find out how to protect and conserve a war memorial dear to you.

Protecting and conserving war memorials

The War Memorials Trust

The War Memorials Trust(WMT) works for the protection and conservation of war memorials in the UK to ensure that they remain part of our communities forever. The Trust is one of several organisations that offer grants for the preservation of historic buildings and structures, including war memorials.

In Memoriam 2014

In Memoriam 2014 is a project using the centenary of the First World War to help local communities protect their heritage by marking war memorials at risk of theft or damage with SmartWater. The project seeks to locate, log and protect thousands of war memorials across the United Kingdom. Find out more about In Memoriam 2014 and make an application for SmartWater.

Recording war memorials

The Imperial War Museum's War Memorials Archive(formerly UK National Inventory of War Memorials) is working to compile a comprehensive record of all war memorials in the UK.

War Memorials Onlineis also compiling an inventory of war memorials. They invite the public to upload images of war memorials and log concerns for the conservation of these monuments.

War Graves Commission

The Commonwealth War Graves Commissionwas set up in 1917 to mark and maintain the graves of British and Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen who fell in The Great War and since. They also maintain memorials to those with no known grave, and keep records of all burials and commemorations. The Commission is responsible for over 1.7 million graves and memorials all over the world.

Your own research

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission websitecan be used to trace the graves of the fallen or to find out where cemeteries or churchyards contain the bodies of the fallen. Guidance for searching for people who are buried

You can search Forces War Records for information on War Records and Military Genealogy and WW1 & WW2 Military Cemeteries and Memorialsoffers comprehensive guide to the military cemeteries and memorials around the world.

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