The effect of War on Alton Towers
I recently had the honour of speaking to an ex soldier who was based at Alton Towers when it was under army control due to the 2nd world war. His name is Mr Jake Whitehouse and he was based at the Towers in 1945. All of the information provided and 2 pictures are courtesy of this man. This piece would have been impossible for me to share without his help.
Officer cadet training started at the Towers in 1941, although apparantly there were soldiers stationed there earlier, possibly Polish. Permanent staff at the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU) were in the main from the machine gun regiments: Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, Cheshire, Middlesex and Manchester regiments, though a few came from the Kensingtons, the territorial army machine gun regiment. The course at Alton OCTU lasted 27 weeks.
On arrival at Alton station the cadets were ordered to walk along the uphill winding road towards the towers whilst their kit was transported by an army vehicle.
Cadets were first posted to the infantry company, whose huts were in the area where a fairground stood after the war. Some of these huts seem to have been located under the flag tower as seen here.
A more recent picture of the flag tower.
For the first month the cadets were trained exclusively as infantry, to bring all cadets up to the required standard and to thin out those who were faint hearted. They practiced jungle training up and down the rhododendron covered slopes, did a night river crossing and cleared a minefield at night. The main assault course was laid out in the Deer Park, seen here many years later as a caravan park. Drill and physical training were part of every day. A feature of physical training was the morning run down the steps walk, to the bottom of the hill, and back again.
This picture was taken circa 1946 of the steps walk, notice how the rocks are still painted brightly and the area is generally tidy.
This is a similar view from today. This area now seems to be generally overgrown and not maintained. Modern day visitors will not be seen in this area.
This picture shows another part of the steps walk, featuring the hanging rock.
Here we have another old picture of the Hanging Rock, when the area was maintained regularly.
Now a recent view. The area looks completely different now, and is overgrown.
Weekend leave was not usually granted, but if you could walk or get a lift to Uttoxeter you could reach civilisation for an hour or two. There were pubs in Alton, but the thought of walking down the hill and then climbing back up was usually too much, so the cadets would usually clean kit, study or relax.
After this initial period, the cadets were moved to the mortar company where they were put up in 2 brick barrack blocks, now demolished, which stood on the lawn in front of the towers. The Ingestre stables housed the Sergeants. This period involved being trained to cope with the 3 and 4.2 inch mortar, more drill, physical training and driving. Next, the cadets were extensively trained in the use of the Vickers gun and being part of a platoon.
This period was followed by lectures, drill, advice on behaving like an officer and a passing out parade. The band played 'Auld Lang Syne' as they marched under the archway from the square. Various parts of the towers were still in use during the stay. The library was used as a common room (now without books), the Octogan was used as a guardroom and the chapel was also in use. The Alton Towers armoury (seen below) was appropriately used as the gun store.
The armoury looking through to the Octogan. The following picture shows the armoury in use as a gift shop. It is now known as the queueline for the 'Hex' attraction.
The boating lake was also used for various activities, including the use of assault boats. Mr Whitehouse suggests that most of the gardens seemed to be out of bounds, although maybe they just didn't venture into them very often. The open space across the lake was where the vehicle sheds stood. Beyond this was another small assault course.
Contrary to some reports, Mr Whitehouse suggests that he saw no evidence of mistreatment of the house by cadets and that it largely seemed to have remained in the same condition as when the army took over. He also mentions that only top brass army staff actually stayed in the house itself. Below are 2 pictures courtesy of Mr Whitehouse. The first shows 160 (MG) OCTU taken in December 1945 at the towers.
This one was taken in 1975 and shows the unveiling of the commemorative plaque at Alton. From left to right are: Earl of Lichfield, Rev Blake Harrow, Capt Philip Whitehouse and Jake Whitehouse. The plaque was designed by Jake Whitehouse who also made the wreath and the 160 (MG) flag which he is holding in his hand. The flag is of the same design as the one seen in the picture above.
A close up of the plaque taken in 2006.
A view from the Flag Tower around the end of the 2nd world war (the photo has the date on the back). Notice the pinnacles on top of the Chapel's Tower on the very right.
A similar photo taken from the same place in 2006 (top of the flag tower). Notice how the pinnacles have gone from the tower. These were removed/lowered in the 1950's.