Kempston Barracks and Grange Camp Square

Does anyone recall the above, or been/visited/serve there? My dad is ex-service and has really never talked about his experience (apart from the odd photo around his home) - until this afternoon. Started in the TA and then Army - left early 1970's.

He has only travelled back to Bedfordshire once to see if he could find either of them above - but rumour says that one or both of them is apparently a 'housing estate' :evil:
Although he don't say it, both places hold good memories for him, especially the Bks- as it was a place where he did his basic training and initally made good friends there who are unf no longer around. Speaking to him today on an one-to-one basic, he talks as if it was only last wk - I was amazed that someone who had said very little about this - recalls so much. When I mentioned this to him, he just said "Its not something you choose to forget". I said nothing.

A 'google search' on the latter turns up bollox tbh, although Kempston is said to have closed in 1958?? and there's a new bks there instead???

BTW - I saw this in my search - I found it quite an amusing tale. Seems like little has changed :D

In November 1946 Billy was ordered to report to Kempston Barracks in Bedfordshire for 6 weeks basic training in the British army. Entering the gates of this impressive foreboding looking fortress, which was built in 1875 and could easily be mistaken for a prison, he couldn't help thinking that his only crime was to reach the tender age of 18. He was now one of many young men who were compelled to fulfill a National Service in a uniform and take up arms against the enemies of the Queen to protect the honour of the British Empire - And he hadn't even received the Queen's shilling!

Billy was a romantic young man and the words of the song 'Lily Marlene' were playing in his head as he strolled into the barracks, resigned to become a soldier. In keeping with the song, his imaginative mind conjured up visions of sneaking out of the gate at night to meet an attractive lady under a lamplight. It was all very exciting and bewildering to the young man who had no knowledge of what was in store for him.

Reality soon came crashing down and before he could ask, "where are the ATS quarters?" the recruits were ushered into a building and issued with a disgusting looking uniform, a ridiculous hat, large ugly boots and enough webbing to bridle a horse. In addition to an old Enfield 303 rifle, which looked like it dated back to the Boer war.

The new recruits were then herded into sleeping quarters with 25 steel frame beds lined up neatly on both sides, which would be their home for the next two months. There were no lockers for storing possessions, which would be superfluous anyway because everything the soldiers possessed, with the exception of what they were wearing during the day, was positioned on top of the beds in neat squares in a particular pattern - socks on the top left, underpants on the top right, small packs here, large packs there etc. Most of the recruits were under the impression that someone with a nervous compulsive disorder was responsible for dreaming up the idea of displaying underwear and other personal items in a neat orderly sequence on top of the beds. Others considered it to be a fiendish scheme to save the army buying additional furniture.

In the evening the soldiers were granted special dispensation to remove the objects and use the beds for their intended purpose. One night when all the beds were free of the neat little adornments a trainee from another room entered and ran down the line of beds stepping from one to the other, which was quite funny, but lost on the trainees who were conscientiously shining their boots and polishing their badges and buckles.

The following night the same thing happened and the third night the man entered and repeated his act, only this time when he reached the seventh bed it collapsed and sent him crashing to the floor. The trainees, who were all waiting for this to happen, thought it was hilarious and fortunately the man wasn't hurt, with the exception of a few bruises. The trainees helped the man to his feet, reassembled the bed and this time locked the supports into position. From then on the exhibitionist's interest in slapstick was not apparent.

It didn't take the new recruits long to realize that the army had its own culture, which was imposed by the training instructors known as NCOs, standing for Non Commissioned Officers, who wore V-shaped white chevrons on their sleeves indicating their position in the hierarchy. These gentlemen who demanded respect, had exceptionally loud voices and showed very little tolerance for the trainees. They also displayed sour expressions on their faces, conveying the impression that they were not very happy with their chosen profession. In short they were graduates of charm school who had learned how to lose friends and alienate people. However to their credit, they were immaculately turned out in beautifully pressed uniforms, with brass buttons and buckles all shining and boots so highly polished, they resembled bright light bulbs. And they moved about the barracks with mechanical precision only equaled by robots, which was a good example to some and amusement to others - It was military theatre at its best.

For the most part the training consisted of marching, shining boots, more marching, rifle drill, more shining boots, rifle practice, more marching, polishing brass buckles, buttons and badges, more shining boots, blancoing webbing and more marching. The training also covered with clarity the appropriate reverence in the presence of officers.

There was little humour in all these activities except for a man by the name of Blockhead. All the trainees knew his name well, because at marching time the drill sergeant who was a typical kind hearted soul, used to call out, "don't swing your arms up and down both together - Blockhead".

Rifle drill in the early morning of November with thick frost on the parade ground and only a sweater covering the top portion of the body, was invigorating to say the least. The first few minutes before the exercises began was so cold that even the proverbial brass monkeys would be concerned about the family jewels. The drill sergeant, who had a questionable command of the English language, but an innate ability to communicate, would suggest things like, "Get fell in" and it was remarkable that everyone knew what he was talking about. He would also entertain them with amusing games involving word syllables, which the soldiers had to figure out and respond to.

The drill sergeant would utter in a loud reverberating voice, in case any of the recruits were hard of hearing: "Stannnd-attttt-ease, attennnnn-shun, quickkkkk-march, abouttttt-turn, companyyyyy-halt" and when they had overstayed their welcome, he would say, "disssss-miss." Private Blockhead also had difficulty understanding this new phenomenon, because his name was continually mentioned.

Target practice was Billy's nemesis and the heavy old Enfield rifle didn't help. They were told to hold the rifle butt as close to the shoulder as possible and the recoil practically dislocated his shoulder. Thinking he misunderstood the instructions and should hold it away from the shoulder, he fired the next round and almost broke a bone. From then on it felt like a large horse was kicking him in the shoulder every time he took a shot. The next day he could hardly lift his arm and was concerned about his social life, however it didn't present a problem, because they were confined to the barracks for the next two weeks. Who ever designed the Enfield 303 rifle obviously had a grudge against the British army and Billy decided that the best strategy for winning the next war would be to give all the Enfields to the enemy and let them immobilize themselves! They could then send in the bed straddler who would be so annoying that they would capitulate.

The training days went by without altercations with the exception of a lance corporal who took exception to something about Billy and satisfied his ego by ordering him to run around the playing field five times with the rifle over his head. The physical part was not a problem, but he felt silly and his pride was hurt. He also thought that the punishment was excessive, which didn't endear him to these authoritarian figures, who remained his adversaries

'Milling' was the only activity Billy enjoyed, because it was like boxing. However the ring and the gloves are where the similarity ends and everything else is different. The proceedings start with two individuals entering the ring from opposite sides and flailing away at each other for 2 minutes until the bell rings. The next 2 immediately enter and repeat the procedure, which carried on until everyone participates.

Competitions between barrack rooms create a lot of excitement and there is no consideration for the size of the individuals, which can be unfortunate for the smaller men. Billy's opponent who was considerably larger than him entered the ring and charged with both hands flailing. He reached him part way across and Billy stepped to one side to avoid the oncoming locomotive. Propelled by momentum his opponent continued until he reached the ropes, then turned around and mustered an advance in the opposite direction. Billy instinctively stepped aside once again and his opponent continued as before, only this time he followed the confused attacker and when he turned around, he let him have it with both barrels, before he could unleash another offensive.

The large lad having no defence against the onslaught, rolled up as best he could into a fetal position with his arms over his head and his knees bent, as if to say 'please don't hit me any more.' The Marquis of Queensbury rules state that punching is expected to continue unless the man receiving the punishment has one hand on the canvas.

Billy was not aware of the rules for 'Milling' if there are any and not wishing to let his team down and at the same time have mercy on his opponent, circled the lad, tapping him lightly on the top of his head with his gloves and calling out to him to put one hand on the canvas. The bell sounded and Billy was given the decision. A couple of the NCO trainers approached him afterwards with their congratulations, which may have helped him avoid trouble at this facility.

A number of the recruits attending the basic training course were college lads who were about 2 years older than the rest. They were a friendly interesting bunch despite the fact that they were potential officers. With the training drawing to a close, some of the college lads decided to organise a theatrical show for the staff, which would take place at the end of the course. They took responsibility for directing, producing, stage management and lighting, with a casting call going out for entertainers. One of the trainees from Billy's hometown agreed to play his drums if they could be transported to and from the barracks. To support the show and realising that weekend passes were in the offing; Billy suggested transporting the drum kit in his father's car, if he was allowed home to get them. Returning from the trip with the drums after enjoying a hard-earned weekend, he was saluted by the guards on entering the barracks. It should be noted that in those days few people owned cars and the guards obviously assumed that anyone entering the barracks with one had to be an officer. He appreciated the formal welcome back and responded with a little wave or a vertical finger - he couldn't remember which!

The drum kit assignment involved him with the show and as it progressed there appeared to be a shortage of performers. His imagination went to work and came up with an idea to help the situation by volunteering his services. He could be a comedian and involve another trainee if they considered his sketch worthy, he explained to the producer and director, who listened to his story and encouraged him to formulate his idea and recruit someone for the other part.

Show time commenced with the auditorium packed to capacity with the officers and their wives, including the CO in the front seats, followed by the staff NCOs and the trainees at the back.

When it was Billy's turn to perform, he was remarkably calm and stood in the front of the stage with an air of confidence. He knew he wasn't nervous, because he could see the audience clearly and was not averse to looking at them. He spoke in his best BBC manner, which he continued for the duration of the sketch, telling the audience that he would like to play some classical music on the pianoÉ(pause)É. He then explained that he would like to if he knew how to play a piano.

That joke set the tone for the rest of the sketch, which went as follows: Seriously ladies and gentlemen, it would be a shame if you were denied an evening of classical music, simply because there are no instruments in this establishment. Without further ado and with complete disregard for convention, I would like to play my rendition of "In a Monastery Garden." Placing two fingers in his mouth, Billy whistled a reasonable version of the tune and when the appropriate time came, he broke out into bird imitations.

That was the signal for the stooge sitting unobserved in the back row to play his part, starting with a loud voice interrupting the whistler and announcing, "that's a lot of cobblers". The whole audience turned around to see what was happening, at which time the whistler stopped and called out to the heckler in an astonished voice, " what is that you said?" " It's a lot of rubbish," the heckler continued. " If you can do any better come up here on the stage," the whistler challenged, which was the signal for the stooge to walk from the back and climb up onto the stage. What the audience saw was a little man dressed in a civilian suit (the only one in the house) many times larger than his size. The shoulders had large padding and the loud jacket reached down to his knees. He wore white socks and a large coloured tie that almost touched the floor. The stage was set for the following dialogue: "What seems to be your problem young man?" asked the whistler, continuing the old BBC stuff. "That's a lot of nonsense," repeated the stooge.

This time the whistler ignored the remark and asked the stooge why he wasn't in the army and before the stooge could reply the whistler turned his head to the audience and announced with his hand covering his mouth from the stooge, "he doesn't know I am a recruitment officer!" To which the audience roared. "I don't know anything about all that marching about stuff." The stooge responded. "Come over here young man and allow me to bestow upon you the benefit of my considerable military experience," suggested the whistler.

As the stooge walked towards him, the whistler turned his head once again to the audience with his hand at the side of his mouth and announced, "I've got him going now!" To cut a long story short, the banter continued for about another 10 minutes until the stooge finally accepted the Queen's shilling, at which time the two comedians left the stage arm in arm. Billy would like to feel that he contributed to the success of the show, which according to the CO would have gone on tour had it not been for the fact that everyone was scheduled to be posted to different camps after Christmas.

On completion of the training, the recruits were given leave for Christmas and Billy enjoyed the company of his girl friend, who he had known for less than a year and was a couple of years older than him. She was an attractive girl with a model figure and a nice face; except that she wore so much make-up, he wasn't exactly sure what was underneath. Before the end of his leave she surprised him with an ultimatum; either marry me or else, and in the heat of the moment, so to speak, he agreed.

He didn't sleep well that night with concern that he didn't have enough money to even buy the marriage license, so he got up early and informed the anxious young lady that all bets were off. Finished, caput - no more!

Later he realised that his intended must have woken up her family that night to inform them of the forthcoming nuptials, because although he called it off early the following morning her big brother, who was previously one of his buddies was singularly unfriendly towards him from then on. Although he didn't feel that he had jilted her in the true sense of the word, the eventual showdown with the big brother would indicate otherwise and is another story!

Dejected by the loss of his true love and wishing to encourage the growth of his thinning hair, Billy had it all removed before returning to barracks. Consequently for a considerable period of time he was easily identifiable, attributing to a number of difficulties.

"Get up you dozy man!"

The Victorian barracks at Kempston, the Regimental Depot of the 16th Foot or Bedfordshire Regiment, were built in 1875-6 at the cost of about £50,000. The first troops arrived on 29th May 1877 and over the next sixty years thousands of men were trained here. In 1881 they became the Depot of the Bedfordshire Regiment and in 1918 the depot for the Beds & Herts. Between 1886 and 1900 the southern frontage of the Bedford Road was developed from New Town as far as the parish boundary, linking Kempston to Bedford. During the Second World War the barracks were used mainly as a convalescent centre, other functions having been transferred to Bury St. Edmunds. In 1958 the barracks closed and after nearly 80 years of decision making, a use as a Masonic Lodge has been found for the building. At least part of the Barracks; including the Keep is to remain, as is the Regimental War Memorial opposite on the Bedford Road.
Yes I thought that - but that would make my Dad a mere youngster when he joined! I should say that I'm more looking for info post-1958. Thanks anyhow :wink:

I've seen this article from a October 2003 press:

A batch of the latest Iraq bound TA troops from Kempston assembled at their Bedford Road barracks on Monday.

The 11 soldiers from 201 squadron, 158 (Royal Anglian) Transport Regiment spoke of their hopes and apprehensions after receiving their call-up papers earlier this month.

They are the latest members of the Army reserve force drafted in to fill shortages in the full-time ranks.

Captain Jake Baker, squadron administration officer, said:

"A quarter of all troops in Iraq are from the TA. The latest deployment will mean that from the Kempston squadron alone, 26 men will have served in Iraq."
Private Richard Connell, 26, is among the latest round of reservists called up.

An analytical chemist for GlaxoSmithKline in Stevenage, he said: "It's going to be a bit different from the day job."

His main role will be driving supply lorries for the Royal Engineers.
He added:

"My family are not too happy about it but after the initial shock, I'm now really looking forward to it.

I have been speaking to the boys who have come back and they have told me to get ready for the heat."
A new barracks must have been opened to replace the old one, why? And when? And who!


Kit Reviewer
I stayed in the Bedford TA centre next to the old barracks site during Op FRESCO. From what I could see, other than the keep, all the barracks have gone under a housing estate, and the TA centre is a nasty 80's building with a modern garage block to the rear.
I was stationed in Kempston from 1967 - 1970 Grange Camp was the T&AVR Training unit it was called Central Volunteer HQ RCT. It was located where Hillgrounds Housing estate now stands. The TA training unit moved to Grantham.
The Keep at Kempston Barracks still stands with the memorial opposite the main entrance. and the married quarters located opposite and behind the barracks were sold by the MOD to civilians.The army cadet force now occupies a site next to the barracks


I've attended numerous Masonic meetings at The Keep in Kempston. While there are many modern modifications, there are still staircases and corridors that are unchanged, as well as plenty of other evidence of the original features of the building. The War Memorial is very well maintained as one would expect. I'm not aware of any tours, but if your Dad wanted to visit and have a look round I'm sure it would be possible if you asked.
I think that, like some other militia camps thrown up in WW2, Grange Camp had a longevity that was probably not originally intended. Most regular army depots had additional hutted camps added to cater for the additional numbers of conscripted men who entered service. More yet were built when US troops started coming over and also forming-up camps prior to D-Day.

Many were later used for POWs and resettlement camps for Polish forces and their families etc.
Part of the Keep does still stand and as a previous post states is a masonic centre. One end of it was demolished in about 1980 to make way for the Army Reserve Centre (TA drill hall in old money). That is currently occupied by 201 Sqn, 158 Regt RLC and various cadet units. I believe the military housing estate opposite was called Marlborough Park in reference to the Duke of Marlborough who raised the 16th Regiment of Foot. Behind the regimental memorial is the memorial garden. Behind the Keep is a new housing estate but dotted about are a few old military houses. The best time to visit is the week after Remembrance
Sunday when the old comrades have their annual gathering, the Keep is open and their is a parade usually with a band
and a short service at the memorial with drinks afterwards. It well attended and has been going on for years.

Similar threads

Latest Threads