A Stroll along the Mole or “Wanna see some Tank Traps?”

To which the answer is always a resounding “Yes”.  And who knows what else one might see on the way?  Twenty years ago people would have flocked from all over the country to see one of these.  Now I spot them most days along the river.

So, yesterday afternoon, off we set,…

…just a few miles up the road,…

…to search for tank traps.

Now look, I ain’t no country boy.  My teenage stamping ground was all a bit different – see inset – but we managed to get away to more exotic parts of the U.K. for wonderful holidays when I was a kid, and I’ve always felt at home in both environments.  That’s Box Hill up there, by the way, but I draw your attention to the ditch or embankment in the foreground,…

…water filled in parts, which is actually an anti-tank ditch, and in no way a natural feature.  And nor, on the very far left,…

…are these.

A little research reveals that these twelve anti-tank cylinders were part of what was known as the GHQ Line,…

…constructed in 1940,…

…one of a number of anti-invasion ‘lines’ that very quickly began appearing following the evacuation from Dunkirk, and the most important one after the coastal defences.

The GHQ Line ran from the Bristol Channel right across the country,…

…circling London to the south before heading up the east coast nearly as far as the Wash,…

…this particular section running along the southern edge of the North Downs through what is referred to, by those in the know, as the Dorking Gap.

So, anti-tank defences, and that’s not all, because a little further on,…

…what appear to be huge concrete slabs on the river bed, and they certainly didn’t get there by accident.

My intrepid companions.  Guess which one is Curly.

Anyway, look at that.

That’s a pillbox.

Actually a Type 24 Pillbox, three of its four embrasures (the one on the left in shadow) visible here,…

…and the fourth here.  The entrance has somewhat restricted access, but I reckon we can get inside without too much difficulty,…

…but just before we do, this view shows the field of fire directly across the river where runs, just the other side of the field, the A24, the direct route from Worthing, thirty miles as the crow flies away on the south coast (that’s to the left), north to the southern suburbs of London, and thus guaranteed to be used by the Germans – Blitzkrieg relied on rapid movement – in the event of an invasion.

The pillbox would also have covered the bend in the river at this point (and whatever those concrete structures we saw earlier on the river bed were), with a machine gun in this embrasure pointing upstream, towards the anti-tank cylinders.

Crawling inside,…

…on our immediate left (and below), the embrasure facing up river, and on the right, one of two that face directly across the river towards the road (second below).

Rusted steel rods showing through the concrete roof,…

…and in the centre of the pillbox, on the right here, blast walls to lessen the chances of small arms fire or grenades finding their way through one of the embrasures and wiping out the whole complement of men inside.

The third embrasure (above & below), this one again facing across the river,…

…and the fourth, facing more downstream, presumably to ensure the pillbox wouldn’t be outflanked from the north.

You can see how this type of pillbox was constructed, concrete corrugations evident within,…

…and without.  It’s actually rather smart compared to a lot of pillboxes, many of which are constructed of brick, and few of which have a chamfered roof!

This, I think, was an important pillbox along this section of the GHQ Line.

Looking roughly south, upstream, across the meadows at the foot of Box Hill (to the left), anti-tank obstacles, anti-tank ditch and three more little egrets all in shot as we begin our return journey.

These defences formed only a small part of the original defensive line, much of which is now gone, but nonetheless significant evidence does still exist – out of some 28,000 pillboxes constructed across the country, for example, about 6,000 still survive, and I have learnt of another, further along this stretch of river, and more tank obstacles, that I shall go and photograph soon.  If the Gods, or the Government, allow.

It seems clear, as the Germans attempted to funnel through the Dorking Gap, that the anti-tank obstacles, ditches (I think it likely, incidentally, that the anti-tank ditch would have been full of burning oil, or similar, should the Germans have appeared on the scene) and pillboxes, and the river itself, would all combine to create a defensive barrier for any German tanks moving off the road to attack British forces and artillery further up Box Hill who would have been pouring shells down on to the invaders in the valley below.

Or at least, that would be the theory, I would have thought.  Mind you, I imagine the Luftwaffe might have had something to say about it.

Crossing the mill race, a reminder,…

…that fifty years ago, before the words climate and change had ever met, rivers still used to, on occasions, show off their might.

Finally, if anyone can confirm the original use for this (I have a few ideas) I’d be most grateful.  And if you’re interested, click the link to see a different Second World War pillbox I explored in Pevensey, on the south coast, a couple of years back.

Other than that, keep smiling.  And look after each other.

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14 Responses to A Stroll along the Mole or “Wanna see some Tank Traps?”

  1. Sid from Down Under says:

    Magnificent post thank you – wonderful photos and descriptions which I really enjoyed.
    Do you by chance have any photos of manned Pill Box interiors during WW2?
    It would be interesting to see how machine guns were mounted, ammo stored and so forth and how the soldiers deployed inside, how many ….. etc

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Sid. The link at the end of the post will take you to another pillbox where the machine gun mounting is still in position. Although of course different guns would require different mountings.

      • Sid from Down Under says:

        Yep I had already looked at that link – my “wondering” was whether your photo collection might spoil us with interiors in a future post. You’ve whet my appetite so I shall do some research.
        For what was “Fortress Fremantle” we have remains of WW2 pillboxes on Rottnest Island (11 miles offshore) and on the mainland but nowhere in as good condition as yours. The ravages of time, salt air and wind have taken their toll.

        • Magicfingers says:

          I shall look in some books at some point, but I couldn’t publish the pics here – copyright and all that – but if I find any I’ll scan and send them.

  2. Morag Sutherland says:

    Thank you for such an interesting start to my day. As always I learnt a lot….

  3. Nick Kilner says:

    Superb! Back in the day when google earth was new and in its prime, every known pillbox was marked. Sadly no longer. That one is a really fine example! Those I use to play in on the Cornish coast have not weathered quite so well it must be said.
    Looks like an old line kiln to me. Use to play in and around a few of those down at Morewellham quay as a child too.

  4. Steve Monk says:

    Interesting, we have a pillbox just down the road from us, in Ashford, I will go and have a look at it and maybe take a few pictures. I drive by it most days.
    Also where I was born, Rolvenden in Kent there was a tank trap out the back of Great Maytham Hall, my Grandad called it a tank wash, a big concrete whole in the ground, but whatever we used to go over the fields to it as kids. I might go back and take a look to see if I can find it again sometime.

    • Magicfingers says:

      There’s definitely a pillbox – another Type 24 I believe – in the Ashford Asda car park! And I gather there is a pillbox at Kingsnorth on the corner of the playing field adjacent to the primary school. Do let us know if you do go and have a look for any of this stuff.

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