Posted: 30 October 2006 22:50

Since my interest in anti-invasion defences came to the fore, I have developed the habit of checking the DoB before I go anywhere, in case there's defences to be seen.

With my mum deciding at very short notice that she needed to drive all the way out to Haywards Heath (over the border in West Sussex) to buy a new digital camera, I offered my services as navigator, digital camera purchasing advisory officer and official photographer of any defence works we should happen across on the way. (I don't think she was neccessarily in need of the latter service, but the upshot was that I got a free ride, out to some places that I wouldn't be easily able to reach on my bike until next summer; I haven't owned a car for a few years now).

One place I've been meaning to get to was Cuckfield Cemetery; I was hoping to find the grave of a Sgt. Fall of the Royal Engineers here. Sgt. Fall was seriously wounded when a mine he was laying at Newhaven exploded on 20 September 1940; an N.C.O. of the Royal Sussex Regiment was killed outright. Fall died of his wounds at Cuckfield Hospital the following day.

A day later on the 22nd, another mine accident occurred at Cuckmere Haven, killing four men; see my blog of 11 June for more. I'll write some more on this subject around November 11th.

Moving on, the DoB stated that I should find a "coffin" by a bridge over the River Ouse at Scaynes Hill. This type of anti-tank block is the subject of much confusion in the DoB; according to the Defence of Britain Project Handbook, coffins were triangular in section and 5 feet long, sloping up to a height of 3 feet. Their name is probably derived from their similarity to some triangular-section tombstones. (Imagine a bar of "Toblerone" chocolate (solid, not "toothed"), three feet high at one end sloping down along its length.)

'Tombstone' cubes at Rickney

However, whenever I encounter a "coffin" listed in the DoB as being in East Sussex, it turns out to be a "dragon's tooth" anti-tank cube; in Sussex, there is a unique design of cube that is often described as a "tombstone" which bears a resemblance to a coffin standing vertically.

The photo at right (of "tombstone" cubes at Rickney, from my blog of 19 March) shows how this error occurs.

When I reached the bridge at Scaynes Hill (there's actually two bridges in quick succession), I almost expected to find a tombstone. I was right. It was covered in vegetation, so I haven't posted the photo I took, but it wasn't a coffin; I've never actually seen one, so I wasn't surprised.

Roadblock buoy at Scaynes Hill

However, I did find a buoy embedded in the verge just to the south over the road from the local pub; this wasn't listed in the DoB, but is evidence of a road block having been situated here.

I only spotted this one because mum decided to use the pub car park while I was "coffin-dodging" up at the bridge.

A quick rummage through the surrounding undergrowth didn't reveal any more buoys, although there may be some hiding in the locality.

Type 28 pillbox at Newick

Digital camera successfully purchased, the journey home provided an unexpected bonus in the form of a Type 28a pillbox in a field, sited to protect a bridge on the A272 just outside Newick.

I wasn't expecting this one, as I'd only searched DoB for "Haywards Heath" and although this pillbox is listed, it was too far outside Haywards Heath to have appeared in the search.

However, my habit of scanning the countryside for anything unusual picked this one out of the blue!

The past two days have proved the value of impromptu visits to the countryside; I've seen ten pillboxes and evidence of a roadblock in the form of a cube and a buoy. I don't think I could have planned the weekend better.

I couldn't have timed this blog better either; all this talk of cemeteries, coffins and tombstones is appropriate, it being halloween!

- Pete



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Small concrete roadblock obstacle comprising a truncated cone with domed base. A hollow shaft down the centre allowed the buoy to be manhandled using a crowbar. Buoys were deemed of little value by 1941 and cylinders seen as a better solution.


An irregularly-shaped anti-tank obstacle, triangular in section and increasing in height from front to rear. Complex and time-consuming to produce, coffins were rendered obsolete by 1941. The term is occasionally incorrectly applied to buttresses and a distinctive style of cube seen in Sussex.


Anti-tanks blocks, popularly known as dragon's teeth. Not to be confused with smaller blocks known as pimples, cubes can be upwards of 1m square. Many examples in Sussex have apexes or chamfered edges, leading to them being incorrectly recorded as coffins.

Defence of Britain Project

A large project run by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) 1995-2002, collecting data on 20th century military structures submitted by a team of some 600 volunteers. The result was a database of nearly 20,000 records which is available online. The anti-invasion section of the database contains nearly 500 entries for East Sussex.


Generic term for a hardened field defensive structure usually constructed from concrete and/or masonry. Pillboxes were built in numerous types and variants depending on location and role.

Type 28 pillbox

A pillbox designed to house a small artillery piece (typically a WW1 6-pounder gun), usually sited to cover a bridge or other defile. Type 28a variant had an additional compartment for infantry defence.

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Hibbs, Peter A cemetery, and coffin versus tombstone (2018) Available at: Accessed: 18 June 2018

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