Heaving a barrel of concrete up a cliff and over a chasm

Petty Officers on a Corsham course in 1968 with Ian Mackenzie on the far left of the middle row
Petty Officers on a Corsham course in 1968 with Ian Mackenzie on the far left of the middle row
It would take  someone of the age of 55-plus to remember this scene along Commercial Road at the junction of Church Street.

NOSTALGIA: A Portsmouth scene unrecognisable today: Commercial Road in its pomp

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Two weeks ago I published a picture of petty officers in training and wondered where it was.

I had many replies including one from Paul (Legs) Dymond, who tells me it was taken during the Petty Officer Leadership School, a compulsory six-week course for petty officers on their way to becoming chiefs. The course was run at HMS Royal Arthur, a stone frigate at Corsham in land-locked Wiltshire.

It had moved to Corsham in 1947 after being based at Butlin’s in Skegness, Lincolnshire.

Michael Chipperfield tells me the soldiers were there to help with the training and for Chief Petty Officer Barry Jefferies it was one of the best courses he attended in his 22-year service.

Commander Martin Marks says he was there as course officer from 1973 to 1975. He believes it is now based at HMS Collingwood, Fareham, and is known as the Royal Navy Leadership Academy.

One of his former distinguished predecessors was the Duke of Edinburgh, an instructor there in 1946 shortly before he married Princess Elizabeth. The Corsham base closed at the end of 1992 or early 1993, he believes.

Mark says: ‘It was a great job. I enjoyed it very much – a real sense of day-to-day purpose.’

Ian Mackenzie tells me he was promoted in October 1968 while serving in HMS Eagle. During a maintenance period in Plymouth he was sent on the leadership course.

One of the course instructors was a Royal Marines colour sergeant and during the course there was a trek over the Black Mountains in Wales.

In this new photograph Ian is standing in the middle rank on the far left.

Peter Beirne says he experienced the joys of the camp in 1958.

He says: ‘I was a member of 606 course. Your question about the presence of army sergeants might be because our course leader (instructor) was colour sergeant Monk from the Royal Marines. I enclose a few shots of some of the challenges we were faced with such as the cliff and chasm ‘fun run’, where we had to move a one hundredweight barrel of concrete up a cliff and then ship it across a chasm. What fun!

‘The cliff and chasm were constructed from the excavation arisings when a nuclear bunker was created underground... of which I know nothing.’

Peter adds: ‘One of the photos shows us being triumphant on successfully arriving at our destination having been let loose somewhere in the Black Mountains two days previously... and I’m still on the planet, complete with pulse!’

Frances Farmer, of Gosport, tells me her father was in the army from 1951 until 1969 and during his service the family was stationed at Lypiatt Camp, Corsham, on three different occasions. It was a transit camp for families waiting for quarters or about to go overseas.

She says: ‘We were told the camp had been used for training by the navy and that Prince Philip had been stationed there during his navy training.

‘While at the camp, we attended the primary school on the site. I still have my reports from those days.

‘We were a family of four children. The accommodation was basic but I have good memories of living in the area, even though it was only for short periods. We loved Corsham as it had a bridge across the railway lines and we used to stand on the bridge to get bathed in steam whenever a train went through the station.’

The camp closed on December 11, 1992, with the last personnel leaving in March 1993. After much vandalism the site is being demolished to make way for a retirement village.