Gumboda Hed

Address: Gumboda Hed Show map

Address: Gumboda Hed

Gumboda Hed (Gumboda heath) is now probably most associated with mushroom picking (in the autumn). Nonetheless, there are reminders of the heath’s glory days when Västerbotten’s military forces conducted exercises here every year. The firing-line, an ice cellar and foundations from the long-gone barracks are all that remain.

Towards the end of the 17th century, military training grounds were set up all around the country. Gumboda Hed became the exercise site for the southern battalion of the “Westerbotten regiment” (i.e. the force in the area that is now Västerbotten county). Under Sweden’s old “allotment system”, each province had to be responsible for 1,200 soldiers. Västerbotten could only support around 1,000 men split between “collaboratively supplied” soldiers’ crofts. The croft in Robertsfors, which can now be hired, is one of the few remaining in its original position.

Those supplying the croft “escaped” military exercise duty. The croft soldiers themselves had the opportunity to establish a position in society. A croft made it possible to provide for a family. With the passing of the centuries, the risk of a croft soldier being called to war grew less. Life on the croft dominated, interspersed with long, regular periods of military exercises and a few individual days of theory.

As an exercise site, Gumboda Hed was gradually expanded. Officers lived and dined in real houses while privates had tents and the open sky as their dining backdrops. Spending several weeks together in the same place in battleground conditions presented problems, especially in the summer with cold snaps and bad weather. In the latter half of the 19th century, the officers’ pavilion saw the addition of barracks, a hospital, jail, new marquetry detailing for officers’ quarters, stables, etc.

Exercises were carried out in the summer, between the first spring sowing and the autumn harvests. The soldiers who were to train on the heath came from all over Västerbotten. As various parishes banded together, the number of marchers grew until, finally, the combined troop filed onto Gumboda Hed in pomp and splendour. The most distant soldiers needed a full nine days of marching to reach the destination.

The duration of exercises depended on rank and, at a later date, type of soldier. Anything from 10 to 90 days was possible. In the 1890s, every Swedish man between 21 and 40 who was not a croft soldier had to serve 90 days a year. These were known as “on oath soldiers” (i.e. conscripts). The croft soldiers still had the obligation to turn up for exercises once a year.

A major reorganisation of the Swedish Armed Forces started at the end of the 19th century. It was decided that exercise sites should be near railway junctions. Consequently, Gumboda Hed was phased out as such a site. The last exercise here took place in summer 1897.

Source: Gumboda Hed – The croft soldier, activities and district (Swedish only), Siv Rehn, 2007

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