THOUSANDS of British soldiers were held in a Chiseldon camp to be secretly treated for venereal diseases which became widespread during the First World War.
The “bad boys' camp”, near Swindon in Wiltshire, treated up to 1,100 military personnel at a time who were held on a base surrounded by barbed wire fences and forced to wear distinctive uniforms.
The story is told in a short documentary being broadcast this week as part of the BBC’s World War One At Home series, looking at the impact of the conflict within the UK.
The village of Chiseldon was initially home to a training base for 8,000 soldiers called L Lines, but its hospital section – designed to take the pressure off local civilian hospitals in the Swindon area – was adapted to specialise in treating sexually transmitted diseases.
Such illnesses were rife, sapping strength and undermining discipline, and by the time the war came to an end it there had been 417,000 hospital admissions for treatment.
The nature of the VD hospital section was initially kept secret from the public.
It was cut off from the rest of the camp by a ditch on one side, a train line on the other as well as fencing, but its identity leaked out to the local population who were warned to keep away.
Sheila Passmore from the Chiseldon Local History Group said: “Men had to wear hospital blues, blue uniforms to distinguish them and they weren't supposed to leave the confines of L Lines but they sometimes did sneak out and get into the village.
“That would cause consternation, because the children had been warned not to go near the men in the blue uniforms as they were bad boys. They never quite explained, except that they had this nasty illness.”
Sometimes military police would be dispatched to bring back patients, who would be treated for around a month, if they sneaked out of the camp to head to the local village.
The BBC documentary is to be broadcast by BBC Wiltshire on Friday at 8.15am.
There are further details of the hundreds of stories in the World War One At Home series on the website www.bbc.co.uk/ww1.
The camp has since been demolished and nothing remains at the location which is beside the A346.