Each of the 12,000 collection items has its own story to tell. Stories about the battles that have been fought, weapons that were used or personal letters that were written on the battlefield. This former headquarters of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry houses more than three hundred years of military history, a library and conference and exposition rooms.
1859 - Building the Keep
The museum is housed in The Keep, one of Bodmin’s most important historic buildings which dates from 1859. The Keep became the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry headquarters in the 1880s and was a depot for weapons and munitions. The site gradually expanded and by the late 19th century there were stores, cells and living quarters for more than 399 officers, soldiers and married soldiers’ families.
1914 - The Barracks in WW1
In the First World War the Bodmin barracks saw more than 2000 soldiers set up camp as men from all over the country came to get three to six months of training before being sent into battle. The First World War Memorial Monument in front of the Keep which was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in 1924, reminds us of the battles in which the Regiment fought. The war memorial is by well-known sculptor L S Merrifield. The soldier was modelled on William Harvey Triggs, who also modelled for the Newlyn School artist Stanhope Forbes.
1940 - World War II
During the early part of the Second World War, the Barracks continued to be used by the Regiment, and in May 1944 USA forces occupied the Keep for training for an invasion of Europe at Omaha Beach in Normandy, where a bloody battle was fought. After the Second World War the Keep building was more or less deserted, although the barracks was home to the Combined Services Foreign Language School where MI5 recruits learnt Russian. In 1962 the Keep started its new life as a regimental museum.
1950 - The Keep During the Cold War
The Cold War saw the need for greater numbers of interpreters, and intelligence officers and this led to the establishment of a ‘Foreign Language School’ at Bodmin Barracks in 1951. The Joint Services School for Linguists (JSSL) was founded by the British armed services to provide minty Russian language training to specially selected conscripts undergoing National Service. These included young men such as Alan Bennett, Michael Frayn and Dennis Potter. The school closed with the ending of conscription in 1960. The Keep closed as an operational depot in 1962. In the years that followed, the huge barracks site was gradually sold off for redevelopment, with The Keep the only building retained by the MOD. It housed the museum, the County Regimental Office and a recruiting office.
2016 - The Museum Today
Today, the Keep is the only Ministry of Defence building that remains on the old Bodmin barracks site. The museum is run by a charitable trust which aims to preserve and share the heritage of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and the Light Infantry with as wide an audience as possible. The current regiment is The Rifles which was formed in February 2007 by the amalgamation of the Devon and Dorset Light Infantry, the Royal Green Jackets, the Light Infantry and the Royal Gloucester, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry into a huge single regiment, the largest in the army.