Posted: 10 March 2011 22:52
"I may get out and about during the summer to visit the invasion coast." It's been five years since I wrote these words on 10 March 2006, unwittingly sparking the Defence of East Sussex Project; I still can't believe how I've got to where I am now.
I reflected on the past year back in September and so I'll just quickly summarise this.
In a nutshell, redundancy, a lot of time spent pursuing my research, a car crash and thankfully back into work (in a new car) one year and six weeks later.
As I said back then, that year will always seem weird, as in hindsight it seems as though I had a field day, effectively paying myself from my redundancy package to do what I enjoy doing most.
I'll make another mental note here not to forget that, although in many ways it was a holiday, there was a background of uncertainty of ever getting back into work promptly. My funds were certainly closer to running out than I wanted to believe when I got back into work.
Advances in the past year have included the move into social media, a website redesign and significant database development.
This year has seen some fantastic media opportunities come my way; in April 2010 I very briefly appeared on Channel 4's Restoration Man with architect George Clarke talking about Martello Towers.
A second TV outing was on the Discovery History Channel's Wartime Secrets with Harry Harris, in which I was presented with the opportunity to set up a Vickers gun in a pillbox as seen in the photo below.
Another breakthrough was the publication of an article in Spanish journal Casamata at: http://issuu.com/arama/docs/casamata-arama-2009/80?mode=embed.
I've also been doing some public speaking and will be describing The Battlefield Beneath Your Feet at the Sussex Military History Society Study Day in May 2011 - book your ticket now!
Fieldwork guided by documentary research has continued to yield success. Concrete spotting revealed remains of a demolished Type 24 pillbox at Southease and enabled me to reconstruct a roadblock of pimples and buoys at Rye as seen below.
I've been seriously busy as ever; unfortunately, unlike the early days, not everything I do gets blogged any more; the photos here show a few things that got lost between happening and reaching the blogosphere.
The photo at right shows a 4.2-inch mortar fin which I found in circumstances so bizarre I couldn't even begin to describe them here.
This was a special find as this is the first evidence I have of this heavier mortar being used in the training area I was on; previous visits over the past 20+ years had only revealed evidence of 2-inch and 3-inch mortars.
A question I often get asked is: do I use a metal detector to find things like this?
The answer is no; the documents guide me to locations where things happened and once I'm there my vigilance is increased, leading me to find artefacts on the surface with the naked eye.
I've also been on a few excursions outside of East Sussex to visit some fascinating sites, as seen in the photographs below.
It's interesting to note that these things didn't get written up at the time; a couple of years ago these would have been blogged to the hilt. I'm doing so much nowadays that even exciting things such as these don't get a proper mention.
I've been overturning a few myths in recent months, starting with the Type 25 pillboxes on Seaford Golf Course.
Other myths that I haven't yet blogged include the circumstances surrounding the destruction of Martello Tower No.63, the question as to whether German troops actually landed in Sussex in 1942 and one controversy that I'm unable to fully reveal until a few more years have passed.
One further mystery I've fathomed out surrounds the structure seen at right that demonstrates the ability of virtual reality technology to reconstruct the past. The past year has seen me improve my technological reconstruction skills; still a long way to go though.
This locality has instantly become one of my favourites, based on its high state of preservation and the level of documentary evidence I have regarding its design, construction and occupation. This structure will be described in a forthcoming series of posts that I'm currently preparing.
My largest find in five years was a set of experimental landing strips. My methodology was proved effective as a combination of fieldwork, oral evidence and documents enabled me to uncover the hidden history of a site that was only in use for a matter of a few short weeks, hence it hitherto being shrouded in mystery.
Another mystery solved this year concerned odd features on aerial photographs that I identified as anti-landing trenches on the Downs.
Five years ago, the virtual reality graphic seen above would have been unthinkable; I was only able to locate what others had already found or was blatently obvious in the landscape, never mind digital reconstruction. In those days, the number of pillboxes you had visited was the benchmark; in 2011 having turned over an estimated quarter of a million sheets of paper in the National Archives, I know that earthworks are the benchmark and I've probably recorded 600+ slit trenches.
The series of databases I've created have saved me years of processing work. In my reflection back in September I estimated that the databases were equal to five years of research. Further reflection following development of an image indexing system has pushed this estimate to ten years as the data entry goes on.
The Concrete Evidence database now contains 3,131 records, with at least another 2,000 estimated sites and features yet to add. The system can now reconstruct lines of communication between telephone exchanges, civilian telephone boxes, army field telephones (including serial numbers of the individual cables) and well as radio networks.
Five years ago, the prospect of my writing a book on all this would also have been incomprehensible; however, I'm hoping to embark on this later on in the year and may even be ready to publish my first book (I'm thinking of writing five or six) as soon as 2012 - we'll have to see how things go.
The fifth year of DESPro has been the best so far - each year has bettered the previous one - and so I'm looking forward to what's in store in 2011-2012!
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.
The Defence of East Sussex Project.
Napoleonic gun towers built along the vulnerable coasts of SE England 1805-1812. Most that still stood in 1940 were occupied for military defence, as artillery observation posts or by the Royal Observer Corps. Many towers had a concrete roof added for extra protection.
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.
Small anti-tank block in the form of a truncated pyramid. Pimples were used to extend anti-tank obstacles and roadblocks and were intended for use on soft ground.
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.
A six-sided (but not a regular hexagon) pillbox. The Type 24 is the most frequently seen pillbox in East Sussex, mostly along stop lines. It can be found in thin wall (30cm) or thick wall (1m) variants.
A small circular pillbox, usually cast in concrete shuttered with corrugated iron. Sometimes referred to as an Armco pillbox after its manufacturer.
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Hibbs, Peter Five years on - and the best year so far! (2017) Available at: http://pillbox.org.uk/blog/216682/ Accessed: 22 September 2017
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