THE CLUB AND DEVIZES
Above the Devizes Home Guard in 1941 outside their drill hall – now the Wyvern Club – on Church Walk Devizes.
Photo courtesy Hugh Burn.
DEVIZES HOME GUARD DURING WORLD WAR II
The Home Guard (initially named the “Local Defence Volunteers” (LDV) or in slang, Look-Duck-Vanish, hence the name change) was a defence organisation of the British Army. Operational from 1940 until 1944 the Home Guard – comprising 1.5 million local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service usually owing to age, hence the nickname ‘Dad’s Army’ – acted as a secondary defence force, in case of invasion by the forces of Nazi Germany and her allies. The Home Guard guarded the coastal areas of Britain and other important places such as airfields, factories and explosives stores.
THE ORIGINS OF THE WYVERN CLUB
The Wyvern Club origins begin with the Territorial Army (TA). The building we occupy was originally built by the firm WE Chivers of Devizes circa 1936-38. Prior to that time the TA was located on Station Hill off of the Market Square in Devizes. It is believed it was co-located with the Bus Station there.
As needs for expansion arose prior to WW2, a new TA Centre or Drill Hall was required and therefore land was purchased by the MOD on which the Drill Hall was built and that is the building the Wyvern Club now occupies.
From that time, and until approximately 1992, the Drill Hall housed numerous Territorial and other Reserve Forces units including The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, The 4th Bn The Wiltshire Regiment, The Home Guard (Fondly known as ‘Dads Army’ a photo of which is shown above) and Wiltshire Cadet Forces (ACF & ATC).
Most of the above and their successor units eventually moved out of the building and were located within Le-Marchant Barracks, the old Depot of The Wiltshire Regiment, the remnants of which can still be seen on the London road out of Devizes. The current Members Bar of The Wyvern Club started life as an administrative area for the occupying units but was later turned in to the ‘Wet Canteen’ for the Other Ranks (ORs) of those units.
This Wet Canteen, which ran under the TA Canteen Structure, originally thrived through the use of it by the members of those units. Unfortunately due to the MODs plans for Drawdown in the late 1980s early 1990s, its use was diminishing and membership was extended to past members i.e. retired TA personnel and other qualified persons to ensure its survival.
However the MOD Drawdown continued and the writing was on the wall for the eventual loss to Devizes of all of its TA units. During the early 1990s the Reserve Forces Association, who had full control of the property, vacated it and it was put up for sale on to the open market.
A gallant team of dedicated members saw an opportunity and with the full support and assistance of Lt Col APB Lake, who was the first president and later became a Trustee of The Wyvern Club, managed, not without some significant problems, to secure the purchase of the building from the MOD for the members of the then TA Club. The building needed to be refurbished and the membership pulled together to do this by self help. At this time the Club was still administered by the local Reserve Forces Regiment – ‘1 Wessex’. After this refurbishment the TA Club moved back to the building from Le-Merchant Barracks during in approximately 1994.
By circa 2000 the membership, management and use of the club was predominantly retired TA personnel and members who had little or no military connection, indeed prior to that time they were unable to become full members and had no voting rights under the TA Canteen structure. The committee of the time decided that there was now a requirement to consider a more appropriate name for the club and this coincided with a further refurbishment to update and upgrade the building and member’s facilities.
Members were consulted and a new name, which incorporates the history of the club and the building, was agreed. Hence the current name and insignia which is the mythical Wessex Dragon, known as The Wyvern. The Wyvern surmounted on a bar with the word WESSEX embosed on it was the Cap Badge of the last TA Unit to occupy the building when it was owned by the MOD.
Wadworth Brewery were very supportive of this venture to purchase the building and create a Private Members Club, even to the point that our mortgage was arranged through them and much of the refurbishment was done with their assistance.
Our mortgage has since been redeemed and the club is now fully under its members ownership. The club continues to thrive and has a membership which hovers around 600. It is a Private Members Club but will always welcome applications for membership, especially from local people, as it is a social club as well. It maintains its historical connection with the military through its constitution and also supports charities local to Devizes wherever possible.