Still defending Winterton 7 decades on
WHO would have thought that when Privates Wells and Russell gouged their names into the surface of a huge concrete anti-tank block on Winterton Dunes their handiwork would be considered important by academics and still prompting discussion nearly 77 years later.
Maybe they wondered what people would think in the years to come when the war was over and memories started to fade. But even so, it is doubtful they gave it much reflection when they succumbed to temptation and set their names in the still wet cement on September 18, 1941.
Now, following the winter high tides and an attack by the Beast from the East, their scribbling has generated new interest in Winterton's important role in keeping the UK safe from a German invasion.
According to the Pill Box Study Group, the village's defences were built by Norwich-based construction firm May Gurney and the anti-tank blocks started arriving in 1940, when the fear of invasion was high. Each weighed 13 tons and they were arranged in ranks stretching across the dunes.
The defences also included an artillery battery built between what is now the Hermanus complex and the lighthouse, which served as an observation post. On the beach and dunes there was tubular scaffolding, barbed wire, mines, mortar emplacements, and slit trenches, along with command posts.
The Archeology Data Service reveals the first soldiers tasked with defending the area in the wake of the Dunkirk evacuation, the 37th Brigade of 18 Division, were replaced in 1941 by the 213th Brigade. One area, Winterton Gap, was watched over by a platoon from the Royal Berkshire Regt and the two 4ins naval guns were manned by the 384th Coastal Battery and the Home Guard.
Winterton was important because it was close to Great Yarmouth and would have been attractive to the enemy as a way of attacking the port from the side. Measures to prevent this happening were taken as far away as Beccles, more than 15 miles inland.
After the war the concrete defences were left behind. The remains of many of them can still be seen - the Royal Observer Corps underground monitoring post within the skeleton of its compound, the occasional glimpse of a spigot mortar pedestal on the shoreline and bits of the battery buildings that have been absorbed in the housing and holiday developments overlooking the dunes.
The archeologists who compiled the report on what was known as Defence Area 56 are in no doubt as to the significance of the remains. "The defence area represents an important sector of 1940/41 coastal defence, where buildings of a coast battery survive alongside other defence works. The massive lines of anti-tank blocks are a monumental structure of great importance, which documentary research can now place in relation to the other works, long since removed, of which it was a focal component." they write. "This is a compelling place on which to reflect on the 1940 invasion dangers."
They regard the surviving defences, including the blocks and the monitoring post to be of national importance, while the graffiti added by Ptes Wells and Russell adds "an extra emphasis to the historic value of this important structure."
Some of the tank traps remain in their original position, framing the car park at the end of Beach Road. Others have been overcome, not by invading armies, but by the sea. Erosion resulted in some of them tumbling over the edge of the dunes to the beach below and in the early 2000s, following a winter of storms and high tides, they were gathered up and given a new role defending the Dunes Cafe.
As time passed the beach built up again, covering them in sand until the spring tides and storms of January and February 2018 chewed great chunks out of the beach, laying them bare once again.
For more information on the Norfolk defences visit archaeologydataservice.ac.uk and the pillbox-study-group.org.uk