Bicester Garrison - Past and Present
Bicester Garrison has its main area located south of Bicester town and incorporates what was once the site of a Roman Military Settlement. The local military command of the Roman General comprised of a legion of soldiers and a Roman Army Supply base at Alcester. The Bicester Garrison emblem incorporates some of the elements of the Roman General's standard.
Whilst Bicester Garrison has responsibilities extending to Banbury in the north, Milton Keynes in the east and Oxford city in the south, the Bicester site occupies an area of some 12 square miles. This is primarily because of the storage depots which were spread out and dispersed to minimise the effects of conventional aerial bombing. The Garrison roads stretch over 32 miles and the Army railway has over 41 miles of track which connects into the main line rail network south of Bicester Town. The perimeter fence is 23 miles long round the storage areas, but the estate boundary is considerably more.
Construction of the Central Ordnance Depot (COD) Bicester, as it was called, began in 1941 and by September 1942, the Headquarters and first storehouse had opened and in 1943, the Depot assumed its role as a main Support Base for future operations in Europe and an Army Mobilisation Centre. The Depot achieved its peak activity in the later part of the war, when some 20,000 troops and members of the ATS were employed here. Since then the Depot has had a number or roles but have still had storage as its central raison d'être.
It was in 1961 the COD Bicester was selected to perform a key and central role in a major reorganisation of the UK Base Ordnance Installations. The Ordnance Depots at Didcot and Branston, together with their associated 'out-stations' were closed and their functions concentrated on Bicester. OSDD Ruddington closed in 1983 and this meant the transfer of further responsibilities to Bicester. Some of the sites within the Garrison such as at Caversfield have been sold off as they no longer play a part in the current plans as have a large number of married quarters as the military numbers have reduced.
The other main areas with the Bicester site are: St David's Barracks; which has been home to 23 Pioneer Regiment RLC who have been disestablished as part of ARMY 2020 and they are due to be replaced by 1 CLS Regt RLC in the later end of 2015 and it is located on the side of Graven Hill on the Bicester Town outskirts. The Depot has always had a strong association with the Pioneers, stretching back to its opening in 1942 and they have had a continual presence in Bicester ever since. St George's barracks; which, is at the southern end of the site, on Arncott Hill, is the current home of the Garrison Headquarters and the Garrison Support Unit. The support unit provides the Quartermastering, personnel administration and pay support to all military within the Garrison, less the resident RLC Regiment, which as an operational unit, is self supporting. The other main units are the Defence Explosive and Munitions School (DEMS) training Regiment and 241 Signals Sqn – 10 Regt Royal Signals Regt. There is also a Medical Reception Centre and a Defence Dental Service Centre which covers both the Garrison area and North Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire units.
Currently about 1000 Servicemen and 1200 Civilians work within the Bicester site resulting in the Garrison being one of the largest employees in the Cherwell District Councils' area. The Garrison therefore plays a significant role in the life of and in the local economy of Bicester Town. The Regiment has been granted liberty of the town by the Bicester Town Council and its peoples and exercised its rights during the disbandment process.
Looking to the future, the Garrison is set to continue in importance with the recent opening of the National Search Centre, the Defence Explosives Munitions Search School Bicester, which opened in Sept 2012. This involved a major new build project, the refurbishment of a number of buildings within St George's Barracks and the expansion of the same barracks to include some of the Depot site, namely B Site. This school is run by the DEMS Training Regiment. Student numbers will run at about 250 – 300 per week and it will deliver IED search training for all units deploying on operations. There are plans being considered to concentrate the remaining elements of IED training onto the DEBS Trg Regt site in Bicester.
The following is a list of the main units within the Garrison area, most of whom most are located within the Bicester site:
HQ Bicester Garrison & Bicester Garrison Support Unit (HQBG & BGSU)
Defence Explosive Munitions and Search Training Regiment (DEMS Trg Regt)
241 Signal Squadron R Signals
262 Signal Squadron R Signals
142 Vehicle Squadron RLC (Banbury)
710 Operational Hygiene Squadron RLC (Aylesbury)
ACF Trg HQ (Oxon & Bucks