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Life in The Barracks  - Bob Manning's Memoirs

Local resident Bob Manning grew up in the Depot Barracks between 1925-1935.

He remembers that much of the area of the barracks was 'out of bounds' to the children. They were not allowed to enter the site through 'The Keep' itself. Children had to use the steps up to the site, situated on the Poundbury Road opposite the Cavalry barracks. They were not allowed near the soldier's quarter's either.

Bob lived in the 'Little Keep' itself towards the end of his father's posting. Before that the family were billeted in the married quarters. These have long been demolished but they were behind the 'Little Keep' building. The Married Quarters were two stories high with 4 or 5 quarters in each. There was an iron stairway each end and a walkway between them 'Playing chase up one stairway, along the walkway and down the other staircase was strictly forbidden - no that is to day that the prohibition was always heeded. It was too good a chance for the boys to miss'. Bob remembers that the family did their grocery shopping in the NAAFI stores on the barracks site (Navy, Army and Airforce Institutes) and that the children were often sent their on their own. Soldiers used the NAAFI to buy cigarettes and polish.

It was fun living in the barracks as a child as there were lots of places to play. There was a grass bank between the barracks and the railway. The grass was allowed to grow long before it was cut with scythes. The boys were given the clippings to make forts. The old soldiers who had fought on the North West Front of India taught them the word 'sanger' meaning fort. Of course the forts in India were made of stone but the boys played out imaginary wars in their grass forts. The girls played ball games and skipping games in a grassy area near the 'school' room.

The boys also liked leaving the Barracks site to play on the earthworks at Poundbury. There was no industrial site there in those days and they had to climb over a fence and cross the railway line near the railway tunnel to reach the earthworks. They would show off by 'bravely' setting foot in the tunnel. At weekends whole families would go to the earthworks, taking picnics with them. They could bathe in the river from the lower slopes. The boys also enjoyed playing along Poundbury Road itself amongst 'a rather scrubby line of trees and bushes which we called Sherwood Forest'.

There were many places where the children were not allowed to go. They had to keep away from the 'school' room during exams. This was not a school for children but for soldiers. They were not allowed near the stores and offices, the Officers Quarters, the Officer's Mess or the stables where the Officers kept their horses. They were not even allowed to walk anywhere near 'The Square' (the Parade Ground).

Bob recalls that in front of the Officer's Mess there was a small grassy area and that other regiments would sometimes visit for training exercises. They would set up bivouac tents on this area. Bob can remember the Green Howards coming. The boys would try to persuade the visiting soldiers to give them cap badges but they were not usually successful.

The Marabout Barracks

On the other side of the road to the Depot Barracks were the old Cavalry and Royal Artillery Barracks known as the Marabout Barracks. Bob recalls that there was a sports field there and on Saturday afternoons families from the Depot Barracks would gather there to watch football and hockey matches.

There was a drill hall too; where the children would watch the TA band practising marching and counter marching. There were workshops run by civilian staff, under the charge of a Mr Nicholls. Children were not allowed to go there unless Mr Nicholls himself invited them in. They were allowed to visit the pigsties however. The pigs were looked after by a Mr Frampton and he was always happy to chat to the children.

There was a hospital on the Marabout Barracks site which served the families of the Depot Barracks. Colonel Sidgewick was in charge here, assisted by an NCO named Sgt Lemon. All their ailments were treated by Col Sigdewick and he also gave them their inoculations.

The Marabout Depot Commanding Officer was Major De La Bere. He lived just outside the perimeter of the Depot but used to enter through a door in the walls. The lads were expected to raise their caps to him, should he pass them.

Bob was only about 10 years old when he left the Depot but is pleased to share his memories of growing up in Dorchester Barracks.