In 2019, Godalming Museum was awarded £63,900 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to carry out an exciting community archaeology project at Witley Camp, with help from Surrey County Archaeological Unit and The National Trust. Once a bustling military camp home to 20,000 British and Canadian soldiers and a veterinary hospital in the First World War, the area today has returned to woodland with little trace of any remains.
A new walk and free audio guide has been created by Surrey County Archaeological Unit with help from Godalming Museum and the National Trust, highlighting some of the key First World War areas of the camp using original photographs, sounds and recordings, providing an insight to the life of the people based here over 100 years ago.
Hannah Potter, the Community Archaeologists for Surrey County Archaeological Unit says “Witley Camp had such a huge impact on so many lives during the First world War, but very little remains of the site today. This audio-guide offers a glimpse into the past as well as an enjoyable walk around a beautiful site.”
Godalming Museum Curator Alison Pattison commented “The collections at Godalming Museum include many images and memories of the First World War army camps on Witley Common and it is wonderful to be able link these with the landscape and share them with people enjoying the common today. To see the busy army camp of a century ago in the context of the peaceful heath and woodland of the present day, enriches our understanding of both.”
Perhaps the most famous soldier who passed through the camp was Wilfred Owen. He was stationed at the camp in the summer of 1916. Whilst at Witley, Owen wrote ‘A New Heaven’, which he later reworked to form his famous poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. With the outbreak of the Second World War, three camps were rebuilt by the British for use by Canadian troops and to train the local Home Guard. Witley was involved with the disastrous Canadian Army landings at Dieppe and was used as a holding area in the lead up to D-Day. Between 1946 and 1949, the camps were taken over as the headquarters of the Polish Resettlement Corps, helping resettle around 150,000 Poles and their families in Britain. The site was again returned to common land with little above the surface to tell the incredible tale. Many thousands of lives were impacted by the camp, but as the last veterans of the Second World War pass away, this memory is fading. It is hoped that the audio guide, focusing on the First World War, will increase awareness of this important site.
To get the Witley Camp in the First World War audio guide, you will need to download the izi.TRAVEL app on to your phone. After this has downloaded you will need to search for ‘Witley Camp’ and click the download button (either ‘Download’ in a rectangular button, or a circle with a down arrow in it, depending on your phone). When the download is completed, you are all set to go!
Things to know about this walk:
• We advise that you download this walk before visiting Witley Common as there is limited phone signal at the site.
• The walk begins at the Webb Road National Trust Car Park. The address of this car park is Webb Road, Witley, Godalming, GU8 5QJ. Parking is free for National Trust members.
• We advise you use headphones for this walk to improve the sound quality.
• This walk is just over 1 mile long and lasts around 1 hour.
• The walk is over some sandy and uneven ground with roots and other trip hazards. Please take care.
• Don’t forget to turn your phone volume up when you start the walk!
Don’t have a smart phone?
Don’t worry! Email Surrey County Archaeological Unit for a map and transcript of the audio-tour at firstname.lastname@example.org
Although you will miss out on the sound clips, you will still be able to view all the photographs and directions.