Basildon Park during the First World War
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The family that owned Basildon Park in Berkshire contributed significantly to the First World War effort. The house and estate were used by local soldiers as a place to recuperate and learn new skills, as well as providing food and materials which were in short supply for the general population.
James Archibald Morrison inherited Basildon Park in 1910; his grandfather had purchased the property in 1838. Morrison played an active part in the war; he re-joined the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards on 19th August 1914. At the Battle of Loos, 1915, he earned himself a DSO (Distinguished Service Order) for his conduct when he took command of his battalion after all his superior officers had been killed. Harold Macmillan (British P.M.1957 to 1963), served as a lieutenant under his command: He recalls in his memoirs that Major Morrison was calm and courageous and 'always insisted on walking rather than crawling under enemy fire'. Macmillan also referred to Morrison as a 'man of equal wealth and generosity'. Nowhere is his generosity more evident than at Basildon Park.
Basildon House was lent to the Brigade of Guards to be used as a 50 bed convalescent home for officers.
The White House on the estate served a similar function providing 14 beds for local men of all ranks. In the first 13 months that the home was open, upwards of 500 cases were dealt with. Outings were arranged for convalescents by local residents to places such as Hartslock Woods in Gatehampton. Morrison established a training centre for disabled soldiers and sailors to learn a variety of trades, including basket making. As a result of his initiative, Basildon had a small basket-making business for a number of years after the war.
The grounds were directed towards the production of essential national supplies.
With all the able-bodied men serving in the forces, the Basildon estate was run by the Women’s Land Army which had been established by the Board of Agriculture in 1915. 60 women of the WLA worked on the estate undertaking a broad range of roles, such as, caring for livestock, making cheese, charcoal burning, and brick making. Country Life (1918) reports that 2 women on the estate turned out an average of 3000 bricks weekly.
The estate produced large quantities of cheese, butter, eggs, bacon and fruit, and what was not required for home or hospital consumption was sold to the village co-operative society which Morrison presided over. A herd of milking goats were acquired with the specific purpose to supply milk to the poor. By May 1919, the WLA had 23,000 members but that same year it was disbanded as men returned home and imports resumed.
Basildon Park did much to improve the circumstances of the local community and further afield during one of the worst times in the nation’s history.