Bowers Gifford Pillboxes (1940s)

We headed up toward the new Sadler’s Farm upgrade, and turned off to the road which leads to St. Margaret’s Church, a more country lane. After exploring a few fences, we managed to get where we needed to be to visit the numerous pillboxes. ‘Pillbox’ is the name for the firing bunkers planned for use by the Home Guard in the Second World War, if the Germans invaded. The name ‘pillbox’ comes from the cylindrical ones used on the Western Front in the Great War, named after the shape of contemporary pill-boxes, in which personal pills would be stored.

The first field backed straight on to the main farm buildings, which for that reason contained a good-condition pillbox clearly kept well by the farmer, and from the inquisitive members of the public (except us of course!). It was mounted on a concrete platform, and was brick-faced due to the moulding process which would have used bricks rather than wooden strips (causes the lines in concrete ones from where the concrete seeps between cement). It was a Type 26 (square with four standard loop-holes) and features a blast-wall protecting the entrance. This one however din’t have a loop on the entrance face of the pillbox, so only had three. It also featured an air-vent hole on-top through the ceiling to let out bad air produced from the firing of the guns inside.

We then painstaking (yes it was literally quite painful too) squeezed under a barbed wire fence and some thorn bushes into the next field west, we’re we found a large Type 28 pillbox. These pillboxes differed from the rest as they were designed as fortified anti-tank positions, with a large stepped loophole big enough to fit a 2-Pounder large gun, which was mounted with a shield across it’s front, and fired large 40mm (diameter of bullet) caliber rounds designed to pierce tank armour. It also features many standard loop holes for light-machine guns or rifles (there was a dividing wall in the pillbox which separated some normal loop-holes front he big gun loop-hole. Note how stepped-sides of loop-holes are to make incoming bullets deflect outwards and not inwards onto the crew. Sandbags would have been placed around the loop-hole to fill the space between it and the gun’s shield.

Myself at the 2-pounder loop

Joe on the east side (regular loop can be seen)

A contemporary diagram of an Ordnance QF 2-Pounder gun which would have been fired from this pillbox

We then cot back in the car following an easier public footpath along the south of the field, to which we then went back up the lane to opposite the farm’s main gate. In this field was another Type 26, with another blast wall. Although vines and the elements had started to get the better of it, we did go in and found tons of Peacock butterflies suspended around the ceiling. At first we thought these to be dead, but soon realized they must have gone in to feed from a salt or similar solution produced from the concrete in the presence of moisture. We also saved a butterfly from a spider’s web despite testing our courage in this pillbox, ridden with cobwebs and quite dark.

Watching over farm and field

Closer view

Beauty in decay

The final pillbox was a Type 24 – almost like a flat-ended hexagon. It had six sides, one being longer than the rest (containing the entrance with two pistol loops either side), with the other smaller sides having one regular loop hole in each. This was much further back up along the main road, to the north of it, in a public park. It featured a wall in the middle to stop explosions killing all the crew inside, instead just the ones in front of the wall.

The small sides

The larger side with pistol loops

Here is a plan of an average Type 24

So all in all it was a good trip out to liven-up a Sunday. Below is a great shot Joe got of a train powering down the adjacent railway, plus a slideshow of all our images from the day (you can mouse over it and flick through them yourself).

  1. Alan Steed says:

    When I was growing up (back in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s, I used to play around these pill boxes. They could be seen from my bedroom window where I lived on London Road. (I now live in Canada).

    • BTP Liam says:

      Thanks Alan very interesting, there was certainly many more built than are left today even though they still remain a big part of the landscape.

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