Posts Tagged ‘WW1’

This post continues from Part 1.

From 1827 the tunnels had remained derelict although from graffiti carved into chalk walls, it is known that soldiers were based there guarding an ammunition store in the 1850’s and 60’s. This is because they were on high alert for invasion although this threat never came to anything. In the First World War, the same tunnels were also mainly used for ammunition storage and perhaps as emergency stationing for soldiers about to make their short trip across the channel to the trenches of Northern France and Belgium. The tunnels were under the control of the Royal Navy during the First World War.

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey who died in 1945 from a plane crash. Photo from

Without much action for the next two decades, the tunnels were called back into action when the Second World War commenced. They were first converted into an air-raid shelter in 1939 although later became a secret military command centre and underground hospital. In May 1940 Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey directed the biggest operation ever seen at the site, from deep inside the White Cliffs, – Operation Dynamo, also known as the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The tunnels needed to be upgraded and transformed and this was a big mission itself. Over three miles of new and secret tunnels were dug out (by hand) to accommodate these changes. New levels of tunnels were commissioned from 1941 to provide separate, hidden and secure centres of operations for Army, Air Force and Navy. Many of the older tunnels were fired back into use by being lined with plywood or corrugated iron, of which much remains today. In addition space was needed for kitchens and mess rooms, maintenance and communications centres, barrack accommodation and a hospital for the wounded. The existing casemates were converted into offices, workshops, a telephone exchange, generator and planning rooms.

By the end of the war there were completed tunnels on three levels, one below the other.

A – Annex level, which from 1941 contained the hospital, dormitories, kitchens and mess rooms.

The planned B – Bastion level, behind Casemate level, was to be combined military headquarters and dormitories, but was never completed and never used.

C – Casemate level (the original 1797 tunnels and casemates planned by Twiss), held Admiralty Headquarters’ plotting, telecommunications and planning rooms, workshops and offices.

D – Dumpy level, the lowest level, built in 1942, was intended to be the main operations headquarters for the Army and Air Force.

Wartime life at Dover Castle

Photos Copyright English Heritage Photo Library

Post War

The DUMPY sign still at the Castle.

The Admiralty retained an interest in the tunnels until 1958 when they were handed over to the Home Office for a new defence function – a Regional Seat of Government to be used in the event of a nuclear war. The final phase of the working life of the tunnels came in the 1960s during the Cold War when tensions between East and West were at their height. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962, with its serious threat of nuclear war, particularly concentrated the minds of politicians and military planners in Britain. The government response was to identify a number of sizeable and secure fall-out shelters from which some vestige of local organisation could be continued in the event of a nuclear attack by the USSR. Dumpy level of Dover’s still secret, underground tunnels was chosen as the Regional Seat of Government for South East England, known as R.S.G.12. This Government centre was to be controlled by a cabinet minister with a staff of service personnel and civilian administrators after a nuclear war.

The work of converting the tunnels started again although this time converting them into radiation proof T.V. and radio studios, living accommodation and operations centre. Doomsday rehearsals and civil defence training were carried out regularly in the modified tunnels throughout the 1960s although the tunnels became increasingly difficult to maintain (and keep secret) during the 1970s. It was also realised that the porous chalk would have offered barely any protection against contaminated rainwater percolating down from any nuclear winter at ground level. The tunnels were abandoned as a Regional Seat of Government but were kept secret until 1986 when they were passed into the hands of English Heritage for eventual opening to the public.

Present Day

Scent bottlesToday English Heritage take pride in creating a realistic experience for people to a glimpse into what it would have been like during the war. The tunnels are open to the public with tours available for free (entrance fee to the site applies). While some of the tunnels maintain the wartime look and feel, some are making the most of technology with projections and immersive sound effects. Bottles like these are used to create realistic smells of some unusual things such as the boiler room, beef and a general musty smell.


The Rainham/Purfleet area has been in use by man since the days of the so –called ‘Cavemen’. You can see some of the petrified tree trunks still remaining today from a 6,000 year-old Neolithic forest, opposite the very northern end of Wennington Marsh, in the Thames foreshore. However, much of Rainham came to use in the last few centuries by the Ministry of Defence on Aveley Marsh; this is what we investigated with guests Luke Baker and Michael Clark, paying a visit to the now RSPB-owned nature reserve.

The article following has been designed in manner which both documents our visit, informs readers on the location, and offers advice enabling you to make a visit yourself as part of our ‘iBTP’ scheme. If you do wish to visit, follow the numbers on the satellite map below which correspond to the places mentioned in the following article. We recommend you download and print our ‘printer-friendly’ trail-guide version of the article found below the map. Please note trail shown on map is not to be followed religiously. May contain errors or be subject to change over time. Please note the historic structures shown in the article are not accessible and are on potentially dangerous land. However, they can be clearly viewed at leisure from the footpaths.

Purfleet Train Station (not to be confused with Rainham Station further down the river) is part of the C2C train line. It will take you towards London or Southend-on-Sea. Trains only run roughly once an hour so make sure you plan a train. Alternatively you can drive and park in the Rainham Nature Reserve car-park next to the visitor’s centre. The reserve has been designed with nature in mind, although with respect to the sites heritage, so the marshes are well worth a visit if bird-watching or any other kind of wildlife enthusiasm is of interest to you.


Download Printer-Friendly Trail Guide Here

  1. Purfleet Heritage & Military Centre is a museum set up inside 1759 Magasine No.5 from the Royal Magasine of Gunpowder Check opening times here: We took some video footage and photographs during our visit, and were fortunate enough to speak to founder Alan Gosling. We will release a short video and more in-depth article on the building in the near future which will be linked here.
  2. Rainham Marshes Visitors Centre was built around 2006 after the MOD land was bought and cleared by the RSPB in 2000. It has a café and toilet facilities, and houses views of the marshes as well as its own impressive architecture. We visited and the food/facilities were respectable and ideally located.
  3. The Anti-Submarine Blockhouse can be found at the end of one of the longest sections of the walk (around 10 minutes) which takes you to the western side of the central reserve. However, you can appreciate views of the Thames from here, also ideal for bird watching. This is a pillbox-type outpost made of brick and concrete, although much larger than conventional pillboxes, and is the first sign of the areas use during the First World War. It is said that in March 1916, decoy beacons were lit on Wennington Marsh, and the structure shot down a German zeppelin via the machine gun that would’ve been mounted on its roof. It remains in fair condition, but is water-logged and inaccessible.
  4. The Firing Ranges span across the green line marked on the map, and divide the two marshes. The war department created this rifle range in 1906, and the structures you see today were built in 1915. The firing range sheds (‘mantlets’) remain, which were where the target-mechanism operators would stand, as does one of the three ‘butts’ (the area in which the targets are set up).  The target area (butt/backwall), made up of a brick ‘Aztec-looking’ plinth with wooden numbers on, is visible from path. Its size means it can be seen across most of the reserve. It is on private land and inaccessible to the public. The surface of the remaining butt is littered with quite sizable bullet-holes in the brickwork, probably inflicted by the standard issue service rifle of the time – the Lee-Enfield and its .303 calibre bullets. The firing sheds (mantlets) were on private land and are inaccessible. They were made of metal and still held original wooden seats and other decor, as well as a corrugated iron shed. The mantlet roof was covered with earth from the bank to protect the target-mechanism operators from fire coming at the back-wall overhead. They span the entire western side of the central reserve in two sections. The green line on our map above marks their location. They were highly impressive.

  5. The Cordite Store was a large magazine building that once stood on the square area extant today. You can see the blast mound around the outside of this which would’ve contained an accidental explosion. We can imagine this must have been an immense building when it stood, more like some form of hangar or hall than a store-room.
  6. Only one of the eight Anti-Aircraft Ammunition Magasines remains today; ruined and overgrown just north of the visitors centre. The rest were demolished shortly after the RSPB gained the land in 2000. It lies off of the main footpath and is not accessible to the public. It was surprisingly large and had a small walkway between the blastwall and the exterior of the main structure. Window-frames inside were still present although no other features survived. You can see all eight magasines in the 1940 image at the bottom of the post.
The marsh in 1940

The marsh in 1940

That concludes the trail. If you decided to follow it you can now return to the Visitors Centre or go straight back to the C2C train station. Beyond the Point certainly enjoyed our visit and found it highly fascinating. First-time heritage-explorer Michael Clark said the trip was “thrilling; history meets adventure, and it really captivated me”, in the same way that BTP Joe and Liam were by their numerous adventures into remaining glimpses of the past.

To commence Beyond the Point’s coverage of the First World War Centenary, in partnership with the Imperial War Museum, we thought we would visit the museum itself. The museum itself spans Duxford, North London, Cardiff, the HMS Belfast, and the Churchill War Museums, which I must say is a clever way of housing locations themselves as museum artifacts on a large scale. Not only is the museum a vital contributor to historic research, but its roots relate to the First World War. It was founded in 1917 in response to the First World War, as an attempt to record the sacrifice and war effort. It was opened in 1920 within Crystal Palace, moving to the Imperial Institute in South Kensington in 1924. This was a close shave considering the palace burnt to the ground in 1936. The IWM again moved in 1936 to the early 19th Century building of Bethlem Royal Hospital, where it remains today. This displacement saw the hospital demolished except for its central section; the rest becoming the surrounding park.

We took a short walk to the premises from our visit to Big Ben which you can read about here. After admiring some of the more recent architecture,a nd also posing for some grungy tunnel shots in our suits, we entered the museum. The most impressive thing they had here initially was the sheer scale and number of the artifacts suspended in the central lobby. From Spitfires, to V1 & V2 bombs (which landed on Britain in the late Second World War), all the way down to Russian T34 tanks, we felt a sense of awe both at these huge weapons themselves, and at how they had been displayed; some suspended from the ceiling by wire alone. We also payed homage to their poppy display.

There was a large exhibition holding artifacts and information about the First World War. I was pretty good but absolutely packed so it was difficult to have a thorough look. There was everything from very ghastly gas masks and camouflage suits; which captured the peril of the front, down to the hand-painted trench signposts which stood bizarrely in the 21st century environment; looking as if they belonged in hell. We also saw nuclear missiles suspended from the ceiling, an ROC post ground-zero indicator, and a bio-hazard observation shelter; like a modern-day nuclear ROC post. It was certainly time well spent.

We recorded a video of our trip that day to Big Ben, the poppies at the Tower of London, and of the IWM. Much of it focuses on Big Ben although it still compliments this article on the IWM.

Stow Maries is a village and civil parish in west Essex. In September 1916, during the first World War, an airfield was established at Stow Maries for the Royal Flying Corps. By 1919 the need for airfields lessened and Stow Maries was closed. The site was then considered for development as an airfield during the Second World War but it was considered unsuitable due to the clay soil and even though not opened it played a role nevertheless, being bombed by the Luftwaffe and used as an emergency landing site by a damaged Hurricane fighter plane.

11The first aircraft to arrive at the new aerodrome in September 1916 belonged to “Flight, 37 (Home Defence) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. The Squadron was charged with the eastern aerial defence of the capital. In the earliest part of its existence the accommodation consisted of wooden hutting and tents. The buildings now present on the airfield are later additions when the possibility still existed of the aerodrome being made permanent. The first commanding officer of Stow Maries Aerodrome was Lieutenant Claude Ridley. Educated at St Pauls School, London, he was barely 20 years of age but had already seen service with the Royal Flying Corps on the Western Front.


Following a period of organisation and training at Stow Maries the first recorded operational flight took place from the aerodrome on the night of 23rd/24th May 1917 when Ridley (now promoted to Captain) and Lieutenant G Keddie were ordered aloft in response to a large Zeppelin raid targeting London. They scored no success on that occasion but as time went on the amount of operational flights grew as did the aircraft establishment of the station. Both day and night patrols are recorded but it was to be “Flight at Goldhanger that claimed the Squadrons first confirmed destruction of an enemy machine, when during the early hours of 17th June 1917, 2nd Lieutenant L. P Watkins was credited with the downing of Zeppelin L48 at Theberton in Suffolk. This was to be the last Zeppelin brought down in Great Britain during the war.


One of the stations busiest days was 7th July 1917 when aircraft were ordered after a formation of twenty two Gotha bombers heading for London. Stow Maries pilots engaged the enemy aircraft in a running fight and scored several hits. Fire was returned however and the ground crews found a number of bullet holes in the returning aircraft. Day and night patrols continued but it was the fragility of the aircraft of the period and the inexperience of the young pilots that caused the loss of aircrew from the station. June 1917 saw the loss of 2nd Lieutenant Roy Mouritzen from Western Australia in a flying accident and July of the same year serious injury to Captain E Cotterill through engine failure. Captain B Quinan crashed at Woodham Walter on a training flight and was severely injured. He died in July 1918 in which that year saw continued losses at the aerodrome.


Flight moved to Stow Maries from Goldhanger in February 1919 bringing the total staffing levels to around 300 personnel and 24 aircraft, the first time the whole Squadron had been located at one Station. It signalled the end for the Essex aerodrome however and the following month the Squadron moved to Biggin Hill in Kent, leaving the site empty. An interesting fact now…the floor tiles below are from the old, now derelict, Castle View School site on Canvey Island.


The airfield buildings are still mostly intact, with some evening having the original windows still in place! The buildings were used to store grain and farm vehicles until 2008 and has since been purchased by Steve Wilson and Russell Savory and is being restored to a state that it would have been found in 1919. Liam and I visited the site last year and we are hoping to return soon.


Starting in 2014, to commemorate the Centenary of World War I, and in partnership with other companies, 5–8 different WW1 aircraft will be brought to the UK to tell the story of the technical and tactical aerial combat that occurred between allied and German aviators throughout the Great War. Subject to funding, WAHT (WW1 Aviation Heritage Trust) will acquire a WW1 aircraft each year on behalf of the nation to tell the story of each year of the War at airshows and commemorative events in the form of air displays, flypasts and static diorama. It is planned that ultimately these aircraft will be based at the Stow Maries site supported by an apprenticeship scheme to foster the preservation and restoration of WW1 aircraft.

See the rest of the Stow Maries photographs we took here:

In other news, we’ve been busy recently in the press so hop over to our Facebook Page (there is a link on the left) where you can see scans of the articles. Also, the Explore Your Archive campaign is still going on, so why not visit their website by clicking on their logo on the left?

Southend Airport

Posted: March 6, 2014 by BTP Joe in Case Study
Tags: , , , , , ,

Copyright Southend Airport

Today, the airport is an expanding hub however the airport has quite a history. In the 1960’s it was the third busiest airport in the UK and remained so until the 1970’s when Stansted Airport took over the title. Located between Rochford and Southend, it has a six thousand foot runway (1.2 miles) and can take the weight of a Boeing 757.

In 1914 the airfield was established by the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and was the largest flying ground in Essex, also with the greatest number of units. It was taken over by the Royal Naval Air Service in May 1915 and remained so until 1916 when it became RFC Rochford. It was designed as a night fighter station and many sorties were flown against Zeppelin airship raiders. It was closed in 1920 and was reverted to farmland for a while however it was officially opened on September 18th 1935 by Philip Sassoon the Under-Secretary of State for Air. On the west boundary there used to be an aviation museum.

The Cantilever Pillbox by the Airport (Not BTP)

In 1939 the Air Ministry requisitioned the airfoil and was formally known at RAF Rochford in the World War II. (However it was known as RAF Southend between October 1940 and August 1944.) It because a satellite base and a base for fighter aircraft including Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes as well as Bristol Blenheim (bomber). There were 50 pillboxes built to protect the airport from paratroop landings (military parachutists) with just under half remaining today. The underground defence control room near to the current Southend Flying Club still remains today. Roughly 20 or so pillboxes remain in the surrounding area. In Canewdon, 2 miles north-east of the airport, a World War II Chain Home radar station was built. Chain Home, or CH for short, was the codename for the ring of costal early warning radar stations which were built before and during the Second World War by the British. A 110m tower at Canewdon was relocated to the Marconi works at Great Baddlow during the 1950’s.

Southend Airport 1961 (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

In 1946, after the Second World War, the airfield was decommissioned from military use and returned to public use in 1947. The name ‘Southend Municipal Airport’ name also returned. The airport is often remembered for the car ferry flights. A Carvair ATL-98 was a product of Aviation Traders and subsequently there was one at the airport. Annual passenger numbers peaked in 1967 at 692,000. The airport continued to handle more traffic than Stansted until well into the 1970’s. It took 45 years to beat the previous annual passenger traffic recording, ending in February 2013 with 721,661 passengers. In May 1972 an aircraft museum was officially opened however, it closed in May the following year and the majority of their entire exhibits was sold in 1983. The Museum had been open quite a long time earlier than its official opening on 26th May 1972; many of the exhibited aircraft were placed there as early as May 1967.

As well as this new record, the airport also holds a UK record for having the first airliner flight flown by an all female crew on October 31st 1979. Since 1986, the airport has been home to the Avro Vulcan XL426, one of just 3 in working condition. It is owned by the Vulcan Restoration Trust, a registered charity, which keeps the systems and engines of it serviceable, allowing it to be occasionally taxied although it is not airworthy.

The Big Vulcan! (Not Courtesy of BTP)

Southend is also known for the annual airshow, which is currently at threat. The very first show was on May 26th 1986 and was the first of 27 successive annual shows with the last being in 2012. Many of the aircraft featured were held temporary at the airport whilst they were not flying.

1990 to Present

In 1993, the airport had been making losses for a number of years and the decision was made by the council to sell the airport. It was purchased and re-branded to the current ‘London Southend Airport’, dropping the term ‘Municipal’. The largest ever aircraft to land was a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar which landed at the airport in 1998 to be scrapped. A debate was started in 2001 over the possible relocation of the Grade 1 listed church next to the runway with the council rejecting the plans in 2003. The airport was put up for sale again in January 2008 and was bought by the current owners Stobart Group for £21 million. EasyJet signed a ten-year contract with Stobart Group in June 2011 and the following year, around 70 flights a week were taking place. The destinations also increased including places such as Alicante and Malaga. A new terminal was built and opened in February 2012, being opened officially by the Secretary of State for Transport. That year also saw more flights, destinations and an increase in the runway length.

Here is a video filmed and edited by some college friends on the airport currently. Liam and myself will filming a documentary over the summer.

The following exclusive photos show the airport currently, taken from some great angles. Courtesy & copyright of Southend Airport.

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Information from Wikipedia and Peter Brown. With thanks to Peter Brown and London Southend Airport.

This week, I have been proudly speaking to all year groups at Castle View School, with a friend, to education them on Remembrance Day. In addition to this I have been selling poppies and I am going to event on Remembrance Sunday at the Paddocks on behalf of the school.

Heroes is one of those words that is bandied about too readily these days, devaluing and diminishing the actions of real heroes. The brave young men and women in our Armed Forces, especially those who are serving on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq, wake up every morning knowing that it could be their last. These are people who are our true heroes. Serving thousands of miles away from their home and loved ones is tough. In World War 1 and 2, it wasn’t much different. They had even worse conditions, they suffered with deadly diseases and infections and they were given protection that didn’t even work.

But we aren’t just remembering those whose lost their life in WW1 & 2, our thoughts are also to remember those who have died in wars since. Afghanistan and Iraq are both deadly wars that are currently ongoing despite them not being classed as ‘Official Wars’. I have great pleasure to say that my aunt helps out the army by working for them to support the troops. She is currently situated in Fallingbostel, Germany where she loves it.

Respecting the brave people that protect and serve for our country daily is so easy and painless. Simply purchase a poppy and wear it to show your support and/or stop for 2 minutes on 11/11/11 at (you guessed it..) 11 O’clock to remember those that have died whilst fighting for us. The current Poppy Appeal has raised £1,825,128 and you can add more to that by buying a poppy or donating to them here.

Where did the poppy originate from… The practice of wearing a poppy at this time of year is not solely a British one. Indeed, the adoption of the poppy had a very international birth. In November 1918, a poem by Canadian military doctor, John McCrae, inspired American humanitarian Moina Michael to wear and distribute poppies in honour of fallen soldiers. Two days before the armistice agreement was signed, Ms Michael bought and then pinned a red poppy to her coat. She gave other poppies out to ex-servicemen at the YMCA headquarters in New York where she worked. The poppy was officially adopted by the American Legion at a conference two years later. At the same conference, a French woman named Madame E Guerin saw an opportunity for orphans and widows to raise money in France by selling the poppies. Since then, they have become an international symbol of remembering fallen soldiers, especially in Commonwealth countries.

The Royal British Legion, which adopted the poppy in 1921, distributed 45 million in 2010 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This year, it hopes to raise £40m ($64m) in donations, which will be used to assist retired or injured soldiers. The legion in South Africa had 300,000 poppies shipped from England’s poppy factory this year, along with 50 wreaths. Three million poppies are sent to 120 countries outside the UK, says Nick Buckley, head of the legion’s Poppy Appeal. These are mostly for British expats living in countries such as Spain, Germany and France, he says. But the poppies, which are made in a factory in London and sent to British embassies in countries as varied as Argentina, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka, are sometimes used by the local community as well. In Scotland, about five million poppies are distributed each year by Poppyscotland, but they look slightly different. Unlike the standard two petals and a single green leaf, the Scottish ones have four petals and no leaf. The Scottish poppy pin “is botanically correct”, says Leigh James, spokeswoman for Poppyscotland. There’s also a financial reason for the difference – adding a leaf would cost an extra £15,000 ($24,000) a year.

More Information About the Distribution of Poppies Can Be Found Here

As we will not get another 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year for another 1000 years, Beyond the Point has made a short video which shows you some images of war.