“ Address: Fovant / Salisbury / Wiltshire / SP3 5JW „
~Making your mark~
There are many places that get referred to as 'landmarks' but relatively few are literally worthy of the name and the Fovant Badges qualify in every sense of the word. Why do I say that? Because they are marks carved onto the land, in this case the land is the chalk hills of Fovant in Wiltshire. I grew up in the area where chalk hillside carvings are neither rare nor particularly comment-worthy but I don't recall ever seeing the Fovant Badges until earlier this year on the way back to Salisbury after my parents surprised me with a flying lesson at Compton Abbas airfield.
Fovant is a small village on the road between Wilton and Shaftesbury about 12 miles west of Salisbury in the south of Wiltshire. The badges can best be viewed from a layby on the A30 where the road runs roughly parallel to the chalk ridge where the badges can be seen. There may well be a footpath for those who want to get closer but I think the best way to see the badges is from a distance. Up close you can see very little other than patchy bits of grass.
Up to this point you can be forgiven for wondering what I'm going on about as the term 'badge' probably doesn't seem like something you'd find on a hillside. The Fovant Badges are military insignia - so called 'badges' - carved into the hillside just outside Fovant which date back to the First World War. Salisbury Plain has long been associated with military matters so it should be no surprise that many of the servicemen preparing to be sent overseas, or returning from the battlefields found themselves in camps in the area. Fovant and the nearby villages of Sutton Mandeville and Compton Chamberlayne were adapted to provide accommodation and training facilities as well as hospitals and other facilities.
Carving of the badges commenced in 1916 and by the end of the war as many as 20 different regimental insignia had been carved into the hillside. Over the years some have been lost as grass grew back over them, some were less well constructed than others, perhaps knocked up quickly before the men headed for the front and by the end of the last century, only 12 of the badges could still be seen on the chalk downs. A voluntary society of ex-servicemen formed the Fovant Badges Society in 1961 working to keep the remaining badges in good order as a monument to the men who cut them so long ago. Today just eight can be seen from the viewing point and faced with the cost of upkeep, the Society has had to let some of the badges in poorer condition to go back to nature.
It's hard not to be moved by the idea of the young men, full of fear and excitement on the eve of battle who worked to leave their mark and commemorate their regiments, many of which have long been disbanded.
My mother was amazed that I hadn't seen the badges before and I do sometimes suspect I went through my teen years with my eyes closed. Taking my camera I shot photographs across a glowing field of rapeseed which contrasted with the lush green of the hillside and the crisp white of the badges. I was there for perhaps less than five minutes but found myself very moved by the insignia and what they stood for so much so that when I got home I wanted to know more.
The badges you can see are for the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, the 6th Battalion The City of London Regiment, the Australian Imperial Forces, the Wiltshire Regiment, the London Rifle Brigade, the Post Office Rifles and finally the Devonshire Regiment. I'm not au fait with modern military regiments and brigades but I don't recognise too many of those names. The largest of the badges is the Australian one (no surprise there!) which the Fovant Badges Society website describes as just under half the size of a football pitch. The unrestored badges are for the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the 7th Battalion City of London Regiment, an outline map of Australia, a YMCA Emblem. We can only hope that funds may one day be found to recover those badges too - perhaps an appeal in a few years for their centennial might be appropriate.
~WW1 history all around you~
If you are interested in First World War history, the local church is also home to a large number of war graves, many of them for the injured brought back to Fovant who didn't make it home due to their wounds. Today the Wiltshire town probably most associated with the military would be Royal Wootten Bassett in the North of the county. Fovant and Royal Wootten Bassett together bracket nearly a century of marking the deaths of young men and women who never made it home to their families and friends and mark the strength of the county's association with the British (and other commonwealth) military.
You won't need to stop for long to see the badges, but I'd be very surprised if they don't stay on your mind a lot longer after you've driven away.