A Home Front Mystery

March 29, 2021 by admin

They’re not in the books. I can’t find anything about them on the internet. No-one who should know, appears to know. It’s eighty-one years old, weighs tons (I mean literally weighs tons) and is bullet proof.

Say hello to the “Type-Unknown” Pillbox.

You see, I’m a pillbox nerd. Since being taken into an air raid shelter aged five, I’ve been a fan of the defensive buildings of the Second World War. I’m also really lucky because pillboxes are a big part of my job. (I know it’s niche but it’s my niche), so when I first saw one of these ‘unknown’ pillboxes I was surprised. In 1940 as Britain faced the threat of invasion, about 28,000 pillboxes were built across the country. To achieve such a monumental feat, pillboxes were designed to standard patterns or “Types” that made them quick to build and strong against enemy attack.

The most common pillbox is the Type 24, a hexagonal building that would fit seven soldiers. Across the Tame, Trent and Dove river valleys these are the backbone of Stop Line Number 5. A network of pillboxes ready to delay an invading Nazi army until reinforcements could arrive and drive them back towards the sea.

Then I met the slopey pillbox. The first one I saw was in a private garden. It had a roof like a wedge of cheese. Then I saw one in Marston-on-Dove, a few yards from the road bridge. I found more of these pillboxes that I hadn’t seen before.

Pillbox geekery is not unique to me. There is a band of fellow geeks across the country and through the magic of Facebook I have asked the internet to tell me what Type these were. No one has answered yet. I have been through the books I have and old pictures. No other pillboxes like these appear to exist.

So why does a stretch of the Dove Valley in Staffordshire and Derbyshire have this unique type of pillbox? They are often situated by railway bridges or by roads near railways. Is there a connection between these small rectangular pillboxes and the wartime railway network? Were some strategically weak places under defended when the first batch of pillboxes were built along the network? Were these smaller pillboxes an attempt to fix this and plug the gaps in the stop line?

And why the sloping roof? Mono-pitched roofs like this are a good way to build a shed roof. Were these pillboxes designed to look like a shed? I have found one which bears the stump of a dummy chimney on its roof. That was certainly an attempt at camouflage and subterfuge but was it the reason for the design or an opportunistic/artistic addition by the builders.

The pitched roofs are solid concrete. That’s a very thick piece of masonry at the high end. Could the roofs have been an attempt to deflect bomb blasts? TTTV Military Heritage Researchers are volunteers investigating the things we don’t know about the pillboxes. Are you interested in these small forts across the landscape? Would you like to help us with our research and become one of our volunteers?

The Second World War ended only seventy-six years ago. Yet there is still a great deal about it that we do not know.