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Witley Camp

April 1915 10th Btn. Rifle Brigade leave Witley  10th Battalion Rifle Brigade moved from Witley to Hamilton Camp near Stonehenge in April 1915

13th Aug 1915 10th Green Howards leave Halton Park  10th Green Howards leave Halton Park Camp for Witley Camp

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Those known to have trained at

Witley Camp

during the Great War 1914-1918.

  • Brown Thomas. L/Cpl. (d.18th Aug 1916)
  • Lewis Joseph. Pte. (d.29th Jun 1916)
  • Neilon John Thomas. L/Cpl. (d.19th Dec 1915)
  • Ramsay Norman. 2nd Lt. (d.3rd Sep 1916)

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2nd Lt. Norman Ramsay 16th Battalion Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own) (d.3rd Sep 1916)

Norman Ramsay 1869–1916 was the 12th child of pioneer Queensland grazier, politician and treasurer Robert Burnett Ramsay and his wife Margaret Cruickshank, Norman Ramsay was born in Queensland on 14 August 1869. Although the details are hazy, it seems that he first went to school in Queensland but was later sent to Glyngarth Preparatory School in England prior to going to Harrow in September 1884 for his secondary education. Like his elder brothers, he was a fine sportsman who excelled at almost every game he played, and was particularly good at football and cricket. By all accounts, he was also a crackshot with both rifle and shotgun, a fine polo player, a good tennis player, and a competent jockey.

In 1888, Norman returned from England to Queensland with his brother Douglas to work for their elder brothers Frank and Bob on the Darling Downs and around Winton. Another brother, Lauderdale, joined them in 1893. Their father, in partnership with the well-known Queensland pastoralist and politician Sir Arthur Hodgson, owned Eton Vale on the Darling Downs but had retired to England; and Frank and Bob, together with Sir Arthur’s son Edward, had bought Oondooroo Station near Winton in 1886.

In 1894, with a view to giving them a capital base, Robert Ramsay bought three 1/12 shares of Oondooroo from Frank and Bob for Lauderdale, Douglas and Norman. Thus was born the famous pastoral firm of Ramsay Bros. & Hodgson, which, some years after the premature death of Edward Hodgson in July 1896, grew to be one of the largest sheep producers in the world. Indeed, in response to a tenuous claim about an unnamed farmer in the USA, 'The Western Champion and General Advertiser' dated 9 October 1905 echoed the 'North Queensland Register' in saying that the Ramsay Bros. would, with a good season or two, “give the American a shaking for the title of biggest sheepfarmers in the world”.

Details of Norman’s movements between 1888 and 1905 are not known. However, it’s known that, as Ramsay Bros. & Hodgson’s pastoral empire expanded, he was at different times manager or acting manager of Oondooroo, Elderslie, Charlotte Plains and Burleigh stations while his elder brothers Frank and Bob remained the prime movers in the Ramsay brothers’ business dealings. Often, Norman and his four brothers would fill in for each other when one or more of them went on holiday. Back then of course, a typical holiday entailed a trip to the home country, and would last at least six months.

Norman spent many years in and around Winton in far-west Queensland, and a couple of years on Bogunda Station at Prairie near Hughenden between 1905 and 1907. It’s clear from everything that has been written and said about him that, like his brothers, he was well liked and highly regarded. Even though he never married, he was affable and popular with women despite suffering for many years from neuralgia, a disorder of the trigeminal nerve that causes frequent and intense pain in the face. Unlike Frank and Bob who seemed to be comfortable in their own company, Norman appeared at times to hanker after the hustle and bustle of city life. To that end, he moved to Sydney in about 1907 and then, with his brother Douglas, moved back to England in 1910 to join their widowed father Robert, their elder brother Frank who had retired two years earlier, and their three surviving sisters, all of whom were living in or near Bekesbourne in Kent.

Norman was still in England when war broke out in 1914. Deeply patriotic to King and country, he enlisted into the British Army even though he was by then 45. At his age and with his wide-ranging experience of life and people management, he could reasonably have asked to be a commissioned officer immediately. Citing inexperience in military matters though, he signed on as a private in the Sportman’s Battalion in October 1914. In October 1915, he transferred to the 16th Battalion Rifle Brigade, part of the Prince Consort’s Own Rifle Regiment that had been formed in 1800 as an “experimental corps of riflemen to provide sharpshooters, scouts and skirmishers”, and was immediately promoted to 2nd.-lieutenant.

With his considerable experience as a crackshot in Queensland, Norman was surely a perfect fit for such a regiment. After military training at a number of military camps in England including Hursley Park, Aldershot and Witley Camp, Norman sailed from England to Le Havre on 8 March 1916 en route to the battle front in France.

After a short time at Blaringhem, and alongside soldiers of the Royal Sussex Regiment, Norman and his fellow soldiers of the 16th. Rifle Brigade were reportedly involved in heavy fighting near Richbourg l'Avoue on 16 June 1916. A precursor to the Battle of the Somme, Richbourg was planned as a diversionary action but was actually so bloody that it should perhaps be regarded as the first of the officially designated battles of the Somme.

On 3 September, while reconnoitering German trenches from ‘no man’s land’ during one of the many other battles of the Somme, he was killed by the enemy. The details of exactly how he died or where he was at the time are not known. Sadly, he was one of many thousands of soldiers who died in the Somme but have no known grave. His name though lives on in numerous places including on memorials in Winton and Cambooya in Queensland, in St. Peter's Church in Bekesbourne in Kent, and at Thiepval in France

Photograph in Winton of the Winton tennis team that beat Charters Towers in 1904. The team included Norman Ramsay and his brother Bob. The original photograph is in the John Oxley Library at the University of Queensland.

Winton war memorial to the fallen both world wars. As can be seen near the bottom of the top right list, Norman Ramsay is among those honoured. He is also honoured on a similar war memorial in Cambooya, Queensland. Photograph by Alan Ramsay.

Alan Ramsay


L/Cpl. Thomas Brown 14th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders (d.18th Aug 1916)

I was a small boy when I was told about my Great Uncle Thomas Brown who died in the 1st War. He was one of four brothers and a sister the youngest - Lizzie. My Grandfather was one of the brothers who was in an essential war service job at home - an engineer running munitions - I think, but he never talked about it as it probably was difficult as his other three brothers went to war - Sam, James and Tom. Sam and James were in the Royal Scots, Tom the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders 14th Battalion. Sam and James survived the War. I met my Great Uncle James when I was about 12 or 13 - he was in his eighties. My Grandfather died when I was too young to get to know him. My Great Aunt Lizzie I also met and she had very fond memories of Tom who was the younger brother and obviously close to her as she was the youngest. She died aged 96. She had kept his forage cap and 'swinging six' sporran which I still have plus his service medal which I have and his brass 'penny' given to all the fallen in WW1. She also had a letter sent from his base camp Whitley, Godalming, Surrey dated 1st December 1915. It is an insight to life as a young soldier of the first war not really knowing what he was about to face. He died on 18th August 1916 at High Wood - We do not know how he died but his name is on the Thiepval Memorial, in France. Having read some of the history as his body was never found he may have been a casualty of friendly fire which was an issue on that date. Anyway this is his letter to his sister Lizzie Dated 1st December 1915:

Service number 13642

14th Battalion A & S Highrs

B company, Platoon 5

Hut 12D

Witley Camp, Godalming

My Dear Lizzie, This is the first of me sitting down to write after getting back from the happy weekend. We all got back on the stroke of 11pm and I managed to scramble between the 'blankets' in the dark. Mrs Boyer's cake tastes A1, but I have yet to try the jam. It was very good of Mrs Crocket to give me the parcel.

You will be surprised to hear that our furlough has been definitely fixed and B. company leaves here on Saturday week (11th I think) to return the following Saturday. I am very disappointed that I have to go home so early as I would have liked to be at home when you are there also. But in another way we should, B company, be glad to get off first as some companies overstay their leave, I have heard, and the other company that follow the defaulters have to suffer by probably not getting any leave at all. I hope our company will play the game. We would have got 10 days had not the most of C company last time they were away overstayed themselves and the Colonel has no forgiveness for that sort of thing. We are soldiers now, he says.

We are having awful weather just now and the whole camp is one mud pond, some place. You get over the boots without escape, it is just a case of taking a 'bee line as it is of no use trying to pick a path. I was mess orderly yesterday, and today had an awful fatigue at the Sergeants' mess. I had to start at 6.45 am and have only finished at 8.45pm. It is a job where you have to wash dishes, clean up tables and rooms all day. Just think of any man tackling such a job in civilian life. I am sure I would throw down the towel within an hour instead of over 12 hours of it. However, as I have said before it is all in the game. I was called away for half an hour to shoot in a competition for my platoon, I made a decent enough score but the light during the heavy downpours was bad and at some shots the sights on the rifle were just haze. This is a competition amongst the battalions of the division, but I don't think ours will come up very far, so far, some of them made a poor show. Our Brigadier General is giving prizes to the winners. All weekend passes are cancelled during the furlough interval, I hope I will get another weekend with you before I leave for foreign lands. It will be at least be well into January I am afraid before that time is past. If we leave here on a Saturday you could come up to town and see me. I may not get much time with you as I suppose the whole company will be together and we may be kept in our lines and when I consider the situation it may be a special train going right through.

It is very unfortunate that I cannot get up at Christmas time, but I shall have a good weekend with you when I come back. I have not time to write more tonight. I must write a short note home yet. Give my kindest regards and thanks to Mr & Mrs Boyer's for their goodness to me last weekend.

Your Loving Brother, Tom

I bought this paper at a shop in the Camp 7,1/2p a pad - 50 sheets + 25 envelopes

Malcolm Brown


L/Cpl. John Thomas Neilon 14th Btn Durham Light Infantry (d.19th Dec 1915)

John Thomas Neilon enlisted in the 14th Btn. Durham Light Infantry and was killed in action on the 19th December 1915 aged 31. He is remembered at St. Paul's Church and Potijze Burial Ground Cemetery. Grave O.7.

His medal card shows his name as Neilon as does the entry at Potijze but the St Paul's inscription is Neilson. He was awarded the 1915 Star, British War and Victory medals (Pip, Squeak and Wilfred as commonly termed.)

In the 1911 census he is living at 127 Western Road, Jarrow with his wife Mary Casey nee Jordan age 22 and their son George who is 1 year old. John is 26 years old and they have been married for two years. He is a Riggers Labourer in the Shipyard. John's two brothers are also on the census form. Edward is 20 and is a blast furnace worker while Hugh is 12 years old and still at school.

Vin Mullen


Pte. Joseph Lewis 8th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry (d.29th Jun 1916)

"Soldiers Died in the Great War" recorded Joseph Lewis was born in Swansea and resided at Aberavon, Glamorgan. The CWGC recorded he was the son of Lewis and Leah Lewis of 11, Sandfield Road, Aberavon. Joseph Lewis, born about 1892, who served with the Somerset Light Infantry and was killed in action on 29th June 1916. The medal index card recorded "John" Lewis entered France on 8th September 1915 and served with the 8th Battalion SLI. This date closely matched the date the battalion crossed to France.

The 8th Battalion was formed at Taunton in October 1914 as part of Kitchener's New Army of civilian volunteers. The battalion was billeted at Leighton Buzzard during the winter of 1914/15 and trained at Halton Park, near Tring, from April 1915 with the 63rd Infantry Brigade in the 21st Division. In August 1915 they were at Witley Camp, Surrey and then sailed to France in September.

The Division was marched immediately to the front and actually went into battle on 25th/26th September 1915 at Loos. This was a baptism of fire, as the soldiers had not been issued with rifles until June 1915, so they had had little firing practice. After landing in France on September 10th they had marched to Vermelles in the Pas de Calais, facing the town of Loos. At 7 pm on the 25th September they moved forward to the "Chalk Pits" on the Hulloch-Lens road where they engaged the enemy, just two weeks after arriving in France. They went to Borre on October 2nd 1915 and then spent the next five months near Armentieres in trenches known as the "Mushroom". Christmas Day 1915 was spent in the front line trenches. On March 21st 1916 the Battalion moved from Armentieres to Strazelle, which is east of Hazebrouck. In April they moved, via Meaulte, near Albert on the Somme, to La Neuville where they underwent training for "the big push".

On 27th June 1916, the Battalion moved into trenches at Ville, near la Neuville, which were to form the assembly line for the attack on the morning of June 1st 1916. The trenches were named "Marischal Street" and "Stonehaven Street" and were in front of Fricourt Wood held by the enemy's 111th Infantry. British Artillery continued to bombard the enemy positions from 26th June and on the night of 28th June 1916 the 8th Battalion moved into the trenches to relive the 4th Middlesex regiment. During the relief they lost one corporal and six men killed. On June 19th the battalion moved forward to some new trenches which had just been opened up centred on "Shuttle Lane" and the night of the 29th was spent securing the position in readiness for the attack planned for July 1st.

The date of Joseph Lewis's death was recorded as June 29th 1916. He may have died on the night of the 28th when one corporal and six men were killed. His death would have been recorded at roll call in the morning of the 29th. He may have died during the preparation to advance, but the Battalion war diary does not list any deaths on the 29th itself. The 8th Battalion went into the attack at 7.25 am on July 1st 1916 – the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Joseph Lewis is buried in Norfolk Cemetery at Becordel-Becourt. He qualified for the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. The war diary of the 8th Battalion is included in a group of diaries which can be downloaded from the National Archives Documents Online website for GBP 3-50. It is in catalogue reference WO 95/2158.


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