Home to the army too

National Servicemen ready for their passing out parade at Hilsea in 1956. Harry Bowbrick is in the top row, fourth from the left.
National Servicemen ready for their passing out parade at Hilsea in 1956. Harry Bowbrick is in the top row, fourth from the left.
Portsmouth in 1717 (from William Gates History of Portsmouth, 1900)

NOSTALGIA: A seed of learning planted 300 years ago that’s blossomed into Portsmouth Grammar School

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Portsmouth has always been known as a naval town and city, but many army regiments also made Portsea Island their home down the centuries.

The barracks at Hilsea would have been passed by thousands of people over the years either on foot, by car and especially by bus.

I wonder how many knew of the important work carried out behind the barracks’ wall?

The Royal Army Ordnance Corps moved from Woolwich, London, on to the site in 1920.

It was once a country residence called Gatcombe Park with a fine house at the end of an avenue of trees.

This house was taken over and used as the officers’ mess.

In use from 1921 until 1962, the camp was given over to 13 units of the United States army from 1943 to 1945.

In later years, when young men of 18 were called up for National Service, Hilsea was one of the locations where these men had their first introduction into army life.

For one Portsmouth man, that meant not travelling far.

Harry (Henry) Bowbrick lived at 147, Hilsea Crescent, off Northern Parade, just a short walk from the barracks.

Harry spent six weeks at the barracks and his address was Squad 7, Platoon 9, C Company, 3 Trg Bn RAOC, Hilsea Barracks, Portsmouth.

Not all the men were 18 of course.

Brian Long, of Milton, tells me that as he was serving an apprenticeship he was not called up until he was 21.

Living in Kingston-upon-Thames at the time, he married a local girl and settled in Portsmouth.

He represented the RAOC at football and played Pompey at the Rugby Camp across Copnor Road from Hilsea Barracks.

They lost 14-1 with Brian scoring the only goal.

Although the camp closed in 1962, Eddie Wallace tells me the last parade was on April 1, 1961, with Colonel GH Shortland being the garrison commander.