Great War: How our area helped groom raw recruits

Thousands will have learned to shoot on a large rifle range at Wormald Green

The  time when the sound of gunfire resounded daily round Bishop Monkton

Research by Bill Flentje 

In 1915 extensive army camps, with a capacity to house up to 30,000 troops, were built at Ripon and some 350,000 soldiers would eventually pass through these camps. Many of these were new recruits, who would undergo a course of rifle training lasting four weeks. Adequate rifle range facilities for this large number of troops did not exist locally at that time, but the War Office identified as a suitable rifle training area the Wormald Green – Bishop Monkton – Burton Leonard triangle and a crescent-shaped strip of land, some 1,000 yards long and 600 yards deep was requisitioned just east of Monkton Mains.

While the range was active, these fields lost their agricultural use, as here lines of firing points were set up, from which shooting took place in an east-north-easterly direction towards a line of targets more than half a mile long. These lines of firing points, located every 100 yards back to 600 yards, can still be identified on post WW2 aerial photos. This suggests that some may have been low linear earth banks and others were firing trenches.
The construction of the ranges was supervised by the 12th Battalion K.O.Y.L.I. (Pioneers) and largely carried out in about May - July 1915 by the battalions of the 31st Division. 

The key physical feature of five main ranges was a series of trenches, end-to-end, the sides of which were secured by revetments made of strong upright timbers, behind which planks would be slotted. Eventually a total of some 240 targets would have been displayed from these trenches, which also provided protection and shelter for the target operators (markers). In front of the target trenches (between trenches and firers) protective linear earth banks or mantlets were constructed, intended to catch low stray bullets. Behind the target trenches much higher earth banks, known as backstops or stop butts, were built, which would safely absorb all bullets penetrating the targets and hopefully those too, which were aimed too high.

The alignment and position of the target trenches was chosen in such a way that the villages of Bishop Monkton and Burton Leonard were not in the line of fire. However, an area about 2500 yards deep from the trenches and extending laterally between the outskirts of the above villages, was defined as a ‘danger area’ and would have been ‘out of bounds’ during periods of shooting. All activities and travel in the area would have been stopped, Mains Lane and Red Hills Lane would have been closed to all traffic and local farms would have had to arrange their agricultural activities around the hours of shooting. Special ‘Ripon Rifle Ranges’ bye-laws were drawn up, which authorised the above restrictions during the hours of firing and directed the hoisting of red danger flags and the posting of military look-outs and sentries at key points around the perimeter of the danger area. Depending on wind direction, the noise of shooting would have been carried to the local communities, which would have experienced substantial inconvenience and disruption to their lives.

The partially completed ranges (with 192 targets) were opened on August 19th 1915 by officers and N.C.O.s representing the ‘Accrington Pals’ and Captain G.A. Schofield, conveniently residing at nearby ‘Riseley Hall’ (now named ‘The Rookery’), was appointed Commandant of the ‘Ripon Rifle Ranges’.

The late William Turner, and more recently Andrew Jackson, wrote books outlining the training and service of the ‘Accrington Pals’. These books contain many references to the ranges, variously referred to as Ripon, Bishop Monkton, Wormald Green or Burton Leonard ranges, which, with 240 targets, became possibly the largest range complex ever built in Britain. Others sources show that the ‘Bradford Pals’, Leeds Pals’ and ‘Sheffield City Battalion’ also underwent rifle training here at that time.

With the end of WW1 the range became disused and in 1921 the ‘Government Surplus Property Disposal Board’ advertised the sale of huts and buildings at the ‘Rifle Range, Wormald Green’. Until at least 1938 the ‘York and Ainsty (North) Hunt’ was reported to ride ‘past Monkton Mains and down past the rifle butts’. In early June 2013 the late Keith Whitfield recalled, ‘As kids we were always digging for bullets. I remember the large earthen mounds being demolished’; this I assume took place in about 1945.

Nothing now remains of what once was possibly the most extensive rifle range complex in Britain.

: Bill writes: 'I visited Wormald Green the other day and walked down Mains Lane towards Bishop Monkton to explore the former range location – nothing now remains it seems, and sadly even the memories fade.