Bicester Military Railway
Construction of what is now the Defence, Storage and Distribution Centre (DSDC) began in 1941. By September 1942 the Headquarters and first storehouse had opened and in 1943 the Depot assumed its first role as a main Support Base for future operations in Europe , and an Army Mobilisation Centre. The depot achieved its peak activity in the latter part of the war when some 20,000 troops and members of the ATS were employed there. Since then the depot has had a number of roles:
It was in 1961 that Central Ordnance Depot (COD) Bicester was selected to play a key role in a major reorganisation of the UK Base Ordnance Installations. The ordnance depots at Didcot and Branston, together with their associated “outstations”, were closed and their functions concentrated at Bicester.
Further reorganisation in 1980-82 led to the closure of other Depots – Chilwell and Ruddington (near Nottingham) - and the transfer of its stock holdings to Bicester and even more responsibilities.
The Garrison occupies an area of 12½ square miles. The storage area was initially dispersed to minimise the effect of conventional aerial bombing. The Garrison roads stretch over 32 miles and the Army railway has over 41 miles of track. The storage areas are enclosed by 21 square miles of perimeter fence.
In April 1999, the depot changed its name to Defence Storage and Distribution Centre (DSDC) Bicester.
In 2000, the Garrison had 850 servicemen and 2500 civilians working within its boundaries. They were the largest employer within Cherwell District Council.
Depot to Desert: Feeding the Supply Line
By Emma Campbell, BBC Oxford - 2003
The sign above the warehouse says it all: Britain's Defence Distribution Hub.
A depot on an obscure Oxfordshire military base sends supplies to the entire UK force in the Gulf.
In a single warehouse on the edge of Bicester, more than a million ration packs wait to be loaded. Within weeks, they'll all be in the Gulf.
Two and a half million of them had already been sent out from this base in the first two months of the year, along with tents, uniforms and even shower blocks. You name it - it all comes from the depot at Graven Hill, just south of the town.
If all the containers and equipment sent from here in those two months were laid end-to-end, they would stretch the length of the M40. It's no easy task getting that much food and equipment out to the 40,000 troops who need it. A network of railway lines run through the site. Containers loaded in Bicester are transported directly to the coast or across the county to RAF Brize Norton, then straight out to the Gulf.
Getting it right is essential to Colonel Chris Murray.
"When we despatch a container from here," he says, "we are conscious it's going to be unloaded, probably in the desert, perhaps at night, so we despatch it in good order. If there's a construction pack for Royal Engineers, and there is a generator inside the container, it will work - we've checked it."
Nearly all the staff at Bicester are civilians. For them it's been a testing couple of months. Their workload has quadrupled.
"We've moved the same volume of stores as we did in the last Gulf War," says shift manager Mick Thorne.
"It's been just a great effort by everybody to achieve that - but we've done it in half the time that we did then. Those guys are relying on us to get the stores out there for them to be able to do their job."
Urgent supplies go by air. In the main warehouse, they can pack 60 aircraft pallets a day. That's the equivalent of twenty 40-foot lorry loads.
Keeping track of each pallet involves using electronic gadgetry, says Warrant Officer Jonathan Kerswill of the RAF.
"We attach a tag to each aircraft pallet, so at any time I can tell where that pallet is in the world," he says.
"Say somebody from Kuwait phones me and says, 'Where's that pallet?'. A couple of seconds, a click on the mouse, and I can say, 'Yes, it's departed Bicester, it's arrived at Brize Norton, or it's on its way into theatre.'"