Posted: 5 September 2010 10:05

A lot has changed on the Defence of East Sussex Project front over the past year, not all of which is apparent from reading this blog or other section of the website.

The 'past year' actually began in July 2009, with the economic crunch resulting in my being made redundant. To cut a boring story short, I decided that I would take some time out for as long as I dared (I was thinking about a year), to crack on with my research. A regular scan of the job market was highlighting how little there was available for which I could realistically compete in a buyer's market, and so the research continued.

The high points...

During the past year I have undertaken 16 visits to the National Archives (my highest rate for any 12-month period without lodging in London), implemented a new online strategy and found a lot of bits and pieces when I've been out and about. I've also been giving talks on my research and have been involved with historical guided walks.

The scope of my research has broadened as a result; I'm now taking in post-invasion scare sites such as those associated with the build-up of troops for Operation Overlord; I've also been looking at a series of army camps built by the Canadians in 1942.

...and some low points

The end of NBCD

There have, however, been some low points during the past year; job interview failures and a feeling of hopelessness at the job market in general, and the difficult decision to take down my NBCD website.

From some of the email I've received, this has not been an altogether popular move and I would like to thank everyone for their support of the site since its launch as "Gas! Gas! Gas!" back in 1998.

I removed it not just because I couldn't afford to keep hosting it, but that also because I was unable to devote any time to it. Many of you will be aware of how this blog actually caused me to end up moving away from chemical warfare and into anti-invasion defences and this enthusiasm doesn't show any sign of letting up. I've never been able to adequately maintain a personal website when my mind isn't focussed on it and to my mind, the site needed too much work to keep it current.

Back to work

Car crash

Perhaps the lowest point of the year was a car crash.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but the upshot of this episode was my car being written off despite the damage seeming only to be light.

I was quite shaken for a few days after the crash, but the loss of my car had a major impact on myself and my research as I was now without transport and in a situation whereby my dwindling funds could either see me survive without a job until Christmas or replace the car and find a job immediately.

The past few weeks have been quite tiring, and despite going back to the early days of the project and taking to the countryside by bike, being without a car was much harder to cope with than I had imagined.

At last, a job!

However, just a month ago a job offer came my way at long last and so I'm now back in the land of the driving and working.

I've made great strides by devoting the past year to my research; many friends have expressed envy at my being able to take time out to pursue my hobby, and overall, it has been great. I'll certainly look back on this period as a strange time of my life; enjoyable yes, but at the time there was always a background noise of uncertainty that meant that it wasn't exactly a holiday for me, as I've outlined above.

Blogging, email and social networking

So if I've had all this time off to focus on my research, why hasn't the blog been packed with daily entries describing what I've been up to? Several reasons; the main one being perhaps having (ironically) too much spare time. I've been pushing myself quite hard on the fieldwork side of things and so was often feeling too tired to compile a blog entry at the end of the day when the possibility of 'doing it tomorrow' always existed; of course, it never happened.

Then there were many site visits that uncovered new evidence (mostly slit trenches) that would be nothing more than photos of grass with Photoshopped trench outlines at an undisclosed location - not prime blogging material, particularly as I've done this so many times before.

Finally, a lot of places I've visited require discretion. I've mentioned previously how some of the Downland trenches I've been locating now show signs of deliberate digging, and the sudden appearance of signs warning of the illegality of metal detecting indicate that some thoughtless individuals have been helping to trash an archaeological landscape. I've never identified previously-unrecorded locations online to anything more precise than a vague place name or general area covering one or more grid squares and will continue this habit, but the blogging side of my fieldwork will focus more on the 'concrete-spotting' side of things, as the majority of hardened defences are already known about.

My Twitter and YouTube activity has been almost non-existent and I've been absent from several online forums of late. As for email, as usual, I'm proving to be hopeless at it. If you have emailed me and are awaiting a response then I will try and get back to you soon!

Concrete Evidence database

By far the greatest advances over the past year have been in the main project database. I've been spending a lot of time catching up on data entry and have added over a thousand new records, including many awkward things such as petrol pumps and telephone exchanges for which grid references needed looking up.

Correlating other survey data

Another job I'd been putting off for a while is cross-referencing my data with other surveys, ie the Defence of Britain Project (DoB) database and the East Sussex Historic Environment Record (ESHER). The former has been referenced in my database on a very limited scale since 2006, but I'm now attempting to fully identify which DoB records match my own and where discrepancies lie.

The main problem is in the GHQ Line pillboxes, as there are so many clusters of them in small areas, working out which ones match the documentary listings is proving problematic, particularly as several Type 28 Pillboxes that still survive are not listed in the original records and DoB contains one or two duplicate records, as does my own data, as I'm now starting to find out.

I'm working towards assigning a status to each DoB record in order to account for each of the 491 sites recorded in East Sussex. Of these, 246 have already been cross-referenced with my own database, 41 sites are confirmed but not yet included in Concrete Evidence, 25 are outside my area or period of study, 78 have only been recorded from German sources but are not yet confirmed by other sources, leaving about 100 pillboxes listed by DoB fieldwork that I have yet to link with my own data or fieldwork. Once I've got this sorted, I'll be saving myself a lot of time. Where DoB fieldwork and the documents agree about a pillbox location, I won't need to confirm the data by field visits - I'll be able to focus on those pillboxes where there are discrepancies. Although I'd love to be able to visit and photograph every single pillbox, it isn't essential to the project that I do so when archive documents and previous fieldwork support each other.

The ESHER records are also throwing up some interesting points. Many County HERs are now online at: http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/gateway/.

One thing that struck me having had a look at some of these HERs is that the DoB data does not appear to be included in them en masse, despite the latter data having been turned over to become part of local HERs. I suspect that this is due to the time and effort that would be involved, as most HERs already contain many military sites and the wholesale import of DoB data would result in numerous duplicate records. Each database also has its own structure with fields that may not easily match up.

No, as I'm finding out for myself, there is no easy way to do this, it is very time-consuming and mistakes and ommissions are inevitable. So it's not surprising that many HERs contain fewer WW2 military records than are listed in the DoB for their area. (Two notable exceptions to this are the Essex and Norfolk HERs). At least my comparison of both ESHER and DoB against my data will by definition also cross-reference the former two surveys.

ESHER currently contains 444 military sites for the period 1939-45, although I think that not all of them belong to that time period and I've identified at least two duplicate records. To date, I've cross-referenced about 100 sites from ESHER. Again, once I've completed this I can see which sites are missing from my database, and then begins the process of locating documentary evidence of them.

1 year = 5 years

I've been thinking long and hard about what I'm doing and the impact of the database on the project, and over the past year I've started looking at Concrete Evidence in terms of how many years of work have been saved by it.

Since July 2009 I've merged the two databases, restructured and tidied the resulting product, and about 1,000 new records have been added. These are all tasks that could not be done in a series of short evening/weekend sessions; they all required several days (in some cases, weeks) of solid concentration to achieve.

What I now have is a system that can process the data in a way that no other means (such as a card index) can achieve. If I were to attempt to assess the data I have using hard copy methods, I estimate that it would take perhaps five years of hard work to do it.

Without having worked solidly on this for the past year, I would not be where I am now, which is effectively 10 years into a project that only began five years ago.

Anyway, for a relatively non-illustrated blog entry, this post has gone on for long enough and I've strayed into personal thoughts more than I usually permit myself; normal service will be resumed shortly...

- Pete

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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.


GHQ Line

A series of arterial stop lines designed to prevent German forces advancing on London and the industrial Midlands.


Operation Overlord

The codename for the Allied invasion of occupied Europe on 6th June 1944.


Pillbox

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.


Slit trench

Small, narrow trench designed to provide protection against shrapnel and other battlefield hazards. Technically distinct from a weapon pit (which was intended soley as a defensive position) slit trenches were also used as defence works.


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.



This site is copyright © Peter Hibbs 2006 - 2017. All rights reserved.

Hibbs, Peter Back to work (2017) Available at: http://pillbox.org.uk/blog/216663/ Accessed: 23 November 2017

The information on this website is intended solely to describe the ongoing research activity of The Defence of East Sussex Project; it is not comprehensive or properly presented. It is therefore NOT suitable as a basis for producing derivative works or surveys!