Posted: 11 March 2013 22:06

Driving through Lewes last week, I was held up in a long tailback by the traffic lights near the prison. Glancing out my window I happened to notice what looked like a loophole cut in the prison wall.

This embrasure is actually in the wall surrounding the car park, so there's no breakout on the cards - but was it part of the wartime defences?

The loophole is seen in the photograph below, looking east towards the prison crossroads.

A loophole in the law?

Closer examination convinced me it was a loopholed wall. The photo below shows a close-up. One particular giveaway is the insertion of an iron plate to provide a lintel above the loophole. The odd shape of the mortar at the left end looks like a slot was deliberately cut to receive the plate. I've seen similar plates used in some of the Type 24 pillboxes along the local stretch of the GHQ Line.

A loophole in the law?

The vegetation appears to have been cut back recently; the Google Streetview image shows ivy covering the entire corner of the wall. The ivy has damaged the brickwork and a small block of masonry beneath the loophole looks displaced. The ground level seems to be above the hole on the inside of the wall.

So, embrasure cut during the invasion scare of 1940, or a hole for some other purpose, such as drainage? I believe it to be the former, especially after consulting Bob Elliston's excellent Lewes at War 1939-1945 (1995).

In it is a redrawn map of the 1941 Nodal Point defences of the town, and at this very spot an observation post is marked. I've not yet seen the original map, but other details on it fit with my own research on Lewes.

A March 1942 document I found at TNA lists the full defences of Lewes and how 380 Home Guards were to hold them. It was noted how dispersed these positions were, and that the garrison was insufficient for protracted defence. It was feared that small parties of enemy troops may infiltrate into the town and mop up the posts one by one.

While the prison crossroads locality itself was to be defended (there was a roadblock, two pillboxes, two flame fougasses (barrel flame traps) and two petrol pumps to be immobilised to prevent the Germans from using them), no mention of an observation post at this corner of the prison is made.

A loophole in the law?

However, an undated document that I believe dates to April 1942, lists a flame fougasse just up the road from this corner.

The lorry seen at right (and photographed from just in front of the loophole) marks the approximate spot at which I estimate the trap was sited.

I say 'estimate' as I only have a distance between the prison as it was then and the fougasse.

The firing party were situated 50 yards away from the trap, and this distance would just about fit in with the loopholed wall.

It would make sense to have reused this position; it already existed and it had a good view down the road.

The fact that the earlier list of defences bemoans the dispersal of defence posts makes it unlikely for the firing party to have been too far up the road. The loophole provides the necessary observation and, crucially, would permit the party to rattle off a burst of fire to keep any advancing infantry at bay after the trap had been sprung.

A withdrawal under cover of the prison's outer wall could then be made back to the crossroads locality to await the next action.

All of these points identify this as a loopholed wall originally used as an observation post in 1940 and subsequently used as a firing point for a flame trap in 1942.

I don't mind traffic jams if they lead to this sort discovery...

- Pete

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Barrel flame trap

Incendiary booby-trap comprising a battery of oil drums dug in and concealed, usually in a roadside bank and detonated remotely as an enemy vehicle passes it. Also known as a flame fougasse.


Embrasure

A loophole or slit that permits observation and/or weapons to be fired through a wall or similar solid construction.


GHQ Line

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


Loophole

Embrasure


Loopholed wall

An existing (e.g. garden) wall into which a loophole has been made by the removal of bricks or stones. Usually applied to freestanding walls as opposed to walls in buildings, which are known as defended buildings.


Nodal Point

Defended road junction(s), usually within a village/town with a Home Guard garrison intended to deny enemy use of the roads. Nodal Points were not to defend the village, but solely the road network. Category 'A' Nodal Points were to hold out for 7 days after invasion without outside assistance.


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.


TNA

The National Archives (formerly The Public Records Office or PRO).


Type 24 pillbox

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.



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Hibbs, Peter A loophole in the law? (2017) Available at: http://pillbox.org.uk/blog/216720/ Accessed: 22 November 2017

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