On Sunday the Nation commemorated the ending of the First World War in 1918: four years of fighting; ten million soldiers dead in a foreign field, including almost one million from the British Empire. In Britain alone about three million people lost a close relative.
Ashridge played its part with a sombre remembrance for the lost lives of local lads from the nearby villages with a bonfire on the Beacon, along with some thirty individual plaques handwritten by the volunteers for the fallen.
The armistice that brought the war to an end was signed at 5am on the morning of 11th November 1918, one hundred years to the day. But to give time for the news to reach the front line, the ceasefire did not come into force until 11am. On that last morning, nearly three thousand men on all sides lost their lives.
Ashridge has been an embracing location for military activity since the turn of the 19th century when William Buckingham the Estate Bailiff volunteered as a corporal in the Ashridge Troop of Cavalry. In March 1860 the Ashridge Volunteer Rifle Corps was formed with a dedicated firing range on Berkhamsted common – the range extended to nine hundred yards and the butts can still be seen today.
The Inns of Court Officer Training Corps trained over twelve thousand men at Ashridge to serve as commissioned officers in the Great War. Colonel Errington writing in 1920 said: “The situation of our camp at Berkhamsted was ideal, pitched in the field on the north side of the station and sloping gently up to Berkhamsted Place. The Squadron, both men and horses, were in the Brewery. Lord Brownlow placed at our disposal his private waiting-room at the station and also a covered-in shelter, both of which were used for Quartermaster’s office and stores. The proximity of the station did away with all transport difficulties. On the west side, we had ample room for expansion, and on the east side another large field, subsequently given the name of “Kitchener’s Field”, made an admirable drill ground. The surrounding country was the best imaginable for training, being so varied … To the north lay the big common, later intersected by some 13,000 yards of trenches, then Ashridge Park, undulating and beautifully timbered, placed entirely at our disposal by Lord Brownlow, and so away to the open downland of the Chiltern Hills. We went where we liked, and did what we liked. The big landowner, the small landowner, and the farmer were all equally ready to help. If there was any trouble, Major Mead at once got on his horse, rode over, and smoothed things out. As soon as we moved into billets the Rector, Mr Hart Davies, placed the Court House at our disposal for an Orderly Room … Through the kindness of Lady Brownlow we were able to begin by using her hospital at Ashridge.” The reclaimed trenches can be seen south of the car park at TL002093.
The later and last invasion of the Estate took place in the Second World War when the American Army were billeted in Thunderdell Wood in preparation for the D Day landings in June 1944, and left their marks as graffiti on the trunks of the beech trees.