Canvey’s Pillboxes

In the early Second World War – being 1939 or 1940, a total of nine pillboxes, along with other defenses and bunkers, were built across Canvey Island. Canvey Island formed the start of the first line of defense against an invasion coming towards Western England from the Germans. This line is known as the GHQ line, and was intended to mainly protect factories producing equipment which was needed to keep Britain fit and fighting.

Is there a pillbox that is left today?

Today, only a handful of WW2 structures remain on the island, plus the final out of the nine pillboxes. The other eight were demolished upon the building of the new seawall in the 1970s and 1980s. The last one, a Type FW3/98 (extremely rare in Essex) for those keen enthusiasts, stands today off of Haven road, on the side of the new Roscommon Way extension.

This extension has done the pillbox nothing but a good revitalization, as it previously was partially engulfed by trees and bushes. What is also good now, is that you can follow the roadside path to access it, rather than having to go leaping over barbed wire fences to say the least. Before I was truly into Canvey’s history and remains, I visited the pillbox in what must have been 2009. It had much litter inside it, from a mattress, to the bones of an animal. Now, the inside has been cleaned out, and the bushes which obstructed it removed. It now stands in excellent condition, maintaining all outer layers, unlike many of today’s pillboxes. It’s entrance has now been neatly sealed off with a green wire mesh, which could be seen as either a bad or good thing. Although it means we won’t be able to gain access, it does mean that it will be protected from vandals and litter on the inside.

One thing to note for those who don’t know much about pillboxes, is that the average-sized holes, called loops, would be too small to house a ‘stereotype’, massive, belt-fed machine gun capable of cutting down hordes of approaching enemies. Instead, the average British pillbox was designed to be used to fire only a rifle or light machine gun (a machine gun which could be fired on the move by a single man). Those which could house a machine gun of a bigger sort, the Vickers machine-gun, are recognizable by having very large rectangular holes in them, with ‘stepped’ sides.

What pillboxes has Canvey lost?

After looking at old footage of Canvey from around the late 1970s, I found footage of one of Canvey’s old pillboxes at 0:28 on this video. It can be seen at the sea wall’s corner. This type of pillbox would have had an entry area behind the sea wall with possibly a single loop-hole, and would lead ‘through the wall’ to the main firing part of the pillbox on the other side.

http://www.itnsource.com/shotlist//ITN/1970/07/27/FS270770007/?s=canvey+island&st=0&pn=1

Here is an image of it in the distance, on the corner of the wall:

Glimpses of Canvey’s other pillboxes can also be found in various old photographs, although there are none which show any in detail except for one under demolition – see the ‘Thorney Bay Sea battery/Army Camp’ for information/pictures.

You can find out about other pillboxes and their locations here, at the truly excellent ‘SEAX Archeology’

http://unlockingessex.essexcc.gov.uk/uep/custom_pages/monument_search_results.asp?content_page_id=81&content_parents=61,62&monument_name=Pillbox&search_related=0&admin_area_id=400013

Whilst the information in the video below is relatively accurate, its production quality is not representative of the high-standards of documentary-making we use at present.

An accurate scale model of the pillbox made from wood by Roger Mander and painted by Liam Heatherson.

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