A large Armed Forces population and rich military history has made Aldershot synonymous with "The Home of the British Army." The British Army first came to the barren heathland of Aldershot in 1854. It proved an ideal military base, close to London and Portsmouth. It was divided into the North Camp and the South Camp, either side of the Basingstoke Canal. The soldiers were first housed in bell tents and later in wooden huts, which were in turn replaced by brick built barracks in the 1890s. Much of this Victorian camp was demolished in the 1960s.
Before the establishment of the "Camp at Aldershot" no garrison or camp existed in the whole United Kingdom for the concentration or training of troops on a large scale. The British Army was stationed in long established garrisons most of which had been military centres from the earliest times and the soldiers occupied castles, forts or similar old defensive installations. Troops not stationed in such recognised garrisons were quartered in the main cities and county towns, for the most part in small detachments billeted on the civil population.
In the 1880s and 1890s the huts were gradually replaced by permanent brick barracks with schools, hospitals, a reservoir, sewage works, gas works, power station, indeed everything, even its own bye-laws, needed to make Aldershot Camp the only complete military town built in the Kingdom since the Roman occupation.
Aldershot became the home of the 1st and 2nd Divisions comprising the bulk of the 1st British Army Corps, and it was from Aldershot that the British Expeditionary Forces set out for France in 1914 and again in 1939. In the first forty years of this century Aldershot was to witness the complete transformation of the Army, from one which fought shoulder to shoulder in open fields to the mobile and armoured force of the type that we know today. The first military motor car came to Aldershot for trials in 1904, and the first aeroplane flew in this country in 1908, developed by S F Cody, an instructor at the Royal Engineers Balloon School at Farnborough.
In 1939 when the main body of the regular Army departed for France, Aldershot became the base for the Canadian Army in the United Kingdom for the duration of the war, while many British units and formations continued to use Aldershot as a transit area before embarking for North Africa, Europe and almost every theatre of war.
When the Canadians left in 1945 a complete change was to take place in the character of the camp for it became a great training centre for the National Service army, including the famous Mons Officer Cadet School. It embraced, too, the depots and training centres of eight Corps of the British Army and the home for the newly formed Parachute Regiment.
For nearly 50 years Aldershot became synonymous with 'The Paras'. However 1999 saw the disbandment of the 5th Airborne Brigade, of which they had formed a major part. Aldershot is now home to 12 (Mechanised) Brigade.
Behind the Royal Garrison Church of All Saints, upon Round Hill, stands a great equestrian statue of the first Duke of Wellington mounted on his charger, Copenhagen. It is rarely noticed now but a hundred years ago it was not obscured by trees and was passed every day by troops marching or riding from Wellington Lines to take part in "field days" in the Long Valley.
Credit: Aldershot Military Museum, Hampshire Cultural Trust, www.hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk