Stobs Camp

Ancient Border home of the Elliots, the estate of Stobs was sold in 1902 (along with surrounding farmlands) to the British Government’s War Office, totalling an area of around ten-thousand acres. Hawick folk were initially sceptical of plans to turn Stobs into a military camp, with worries raised at a Hawick Callant’s Club meeting c.1903, in which it was argued the presence of a military camp might destroy the historic traditions of the town. Nevertheless, preparations went ahead at Stobs, and by 1903 the camp was established as a summer training ground for military troops. The first regular troops stationed there were of the First Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. Postcards of theirs from 1903 show rows of bell tents and men, referred to as being but a small section of the camp’s “thirty-thousand men” – a staggering number if accurate. These soldiers would have reached the camp via a newly-built extension of the Waverley Line, with a new station at Stobs. The many surviving postcards from soldiers stationed there give us a good idea for camp life: they present images of dancing, YMCAs, Guild tents, and church services; their messages tell of nights out in Hawick for soldiers on Pass, as well as gruelling hikes and mock battles.

Stobs Camp took on its first major military role with the outbreak of World War I. Due to its location in the centre of hilly Border country, from which it would be hard to escape without prior knowledge of the land, the camp was chosen for use as a Prisoner of War camp from 1914. In fact, it became the HQ-POW camp for all POW camps in Scotland. At the beginning of the war, Stobs was used to inter foreign ‘aliens’ – meaning that German and Austrian nationals living in the UK were brought to and imprisoned at Stobs (some of their own free will, many others not so); a response of the UK Government to a rising fear and paranoia that ‘enemy’ internationals on home-soil might serve as German spies. In Spring of 1915, Stobs began hosting a military presence once again, and at its height supported perhaps around fifteen-thousand troops, on top of its civilian and POW population. The size of the camp lent itself to a new nickname: “the Scottish Aldershot”. In 1916, the internment of foreign ‘aliens’ was moved to a camp on the Isle of Man, and Stobs became a purely-POW camp, housing around four-and-a-half-thousand German prisoners of war. Postcards and articles in the camp newspaper (the Stobsiade) survive, detailing camp life; some tell of games of football, lectures, concerts, prisoners tending to their own private gardens, whilst others tell of a bleak and lonely life in camp.

Stobs was a POW camp until late-1919 and remains one of, if not the best-preserved example of a First World War POW Camp in the UK. Unfortunately, although somewhat inevitably, not everyone interred at Stobs survived their stay. The cemetery within the camp’s old grounds was the site of some forty-two prisoners’ and ‘alien’ civilians’ graves (though the first prisoner to have died at Stobs was buried in Wilton Cemetery). Locals tended to the graves in the succeeding years, and one local, Mrs Borthwick, recalled a father visiting the site of his son’s grave every year until his own death.

In the interwar years, activity at the camp quietened, with few summer training camps held there, and the size of the Waverley Line’s siding at Stobs reduced. Come World War II, the camp was used for military training once again, and regiments stationed there included the Cameronians, Royal Scots Fusiliers, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, Royal Artillery, Pioneer Corps, Royal Norfolk Regiment, Suffolk Regiment, Yorks & Lancs, and others. Searchlight-training and D-Day preparation both took place at the camp, and it is possible that tank-training also took place near Shankend, a little to the east of the camp. Stobs was used as a POW camp once more, though held far-fewer German prisoners than it had in the First World War.

In the aftermath of World War II, the camp was used to house Polish soldiers until they could be repatriated, in response to the Polish Resettlement Act of 27th March 1947. Polish troops remained at Stobs until around 1950. The camp then continued its life as a military training ground, now for Territorial troops, and was especially busy during the Korean War. However, in 1956 the camp was officially closed, being finally sold in 1959. There remains today a couple of wooden buildings, along with concrete foundations, steps, and terracing, showing the location of many more.