During the First World War the small Wiltshire villages of Fovant and Compton Chamberlayne were surrounded by an extensive military encampment. There were barracks, parade grounds, rifle ranges, a hospital, cinema and even a military railway.
The buildings are long gone but the thousands of soldiers who lived and worked here have left their mark in the form of giant military badges, carved into the chalk downs above Fovant. The badge of the London Rifle Brigade was the first to appear, dug by its soldiers in 1916. Other units followed suit until by the end of the war there were 20 badges on the hillside. The largest survivor is the rising sun of the Australian forces –it’s about half the size of a football pitch.
The badges were allowed to become overgrown during the Second World War in case the Luftwaffe used them as a landmark but in the late 1940s the Old Comrades Association of the local Home Guard restored some of them and also added the badges of two Wiltshire units. The Mercury badge of the Royal Corps of Signals was cut in 1970 to mark the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Corps and the eight badges that survive today were preserved in a major restoration programme, completed in 2003.
The best way to see the badges is via the A30. A lay-by just east of Fovant contains an information panel while a little further west a public footpath takes you up to the badges and then on to Chiselbury Iron Age hillfort.
Don’t miss: The British and Australian war graves in the graveyard of nearby Fovant Church.
Off A30, Fovant, near Salisbury, Wiltshire
Viewable all year. Free to view
Salisbury tourist information: 01722 334956