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In the Bull Ring at Sling Camp

Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plains of England was home to four or five thousand New Zealand soldiers at any one time, from 1916 until after the end of the war. It was staffed by New Zealand officers, with the exception of physical instructors whose job it was to get the ‘colonials’ into fighting shape. These men were veteran sergeant-majors of the regular British Army and their territory was the training ground known as ‘The Bull Ring.’  In a 1964 radio interview, Jack Archibald of Nelson recalled the grim conditions he faced there in the harsh winter of 1917.

Year:1917 (Recorded 1964)

Location:Sling Camp, Salisbury, England

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In the Bull Ring at Sling Camp

Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plains of England was home to four or five thousand New Zealand soldiers at any one time, from 1916 until after the end of the war. It was staffed by New Zealand officers, with the exception of physical instructors whose job it was to get the ‘colonials’ into fighting shape. These men were veteran sergeant-majors of the regular British Army and their territory was the training ground known as ‘The Bull Ring.’  In a 1964 radio interview, Jack Archibald of Nelson recalled the grim conditions he faced there in the harsh winter of 1917.


Year: 1917 (Recorded 1964)

Length: 02:49

Source: Radio New Zealand Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: S238019 [J. Archibald on Sling Camp and resettlement in New Zealand after World War I].


People: John Alexander Archibald

Location: Sling Camp, Salisbury, England


Image Title: NEW ZEALAND BOYS AT SLING CAMP. NEW ZEALANDERS IN ENGLAND.

Image Source: Screen grab of Soldiers training at Sling from F17937


Situated on the open Salisbury Plains, Sling Camp was isolated and exposed to the British weather, which did not endear it to new arrivals. “Who will not remember the bull-ring of Sling, with its bare slippery surfaces, its bleak winds sweeping across, its snow-covered rifle ranges, or its dreary heat, and its monotonous tasks? ... Discipline, such as he had never yet experienced, came as a shock. It was enforced the moment the feet were placed in camp—smartness, absolute steadiness on parade, saluting of officers. It was all part of the training, though it was scarcely carried to the forward areas in France.” (1)

In the Bull Ring, the New Zealand men learnt the skills they would need to survive in France, such as putting on gas masks, Lewis gun drill, bomb throwing and bayonet fighting, but the tough military discipline rankled with some.

“Every other day is the same here. “At the double” all the time – sergeant-majors barking, sergeants yelling and officers demanding “What’s that man doing there?” “Stand steady there!” from morning till night…We have passed through what is known as the  ‘Bull Ring’,  nearly three weeks of it and I am not anxious to go through it again.” (2)

Men typically spent about a month at Sling Camp, emerging fitter and more disciplined before being shipped across the Channel to fight in France.

At the end of the war, New Zealanders were again housed at Sling until transport could be arranged to take them back to New Zealand. To keep idle hands busy, they were put to work in 1919 carving a giant figure of a kiwi into the chalk hillside overlooking the camp, which exists to this day.

(1) “The New Zealand Camps in England” by Lt. H.T. B. Drew, in The War Effort of New Zealand, 1923.

(2) “At Sling Camp”, a Wellington soldier writing to his friends, Grey River Argus, 30 June 1917 p. 8.