February 2010, A type 24 emerges from the undergrowth.
On a cold and wet February day a keen PSG team tackled one of the most overgrown pillboxes to date, this time it would reveal what we believed to be the best surviving bullet proof FW3/24 on the MOD land at Ewshot, Hampshire.
Dozens of this design can still be found in this rural location many are spread throughout an area of a square mile, some hidden in hedgerows, a few tucked behind private houses and more lurking in surrounding woodland.Virtually nothing could be seen of this brick shuttered defence that sits at SU813504, its location is 100 foot from a pair of Vickers emplacements, both of these sit dug in to the sloping high ground above Ewshot Lane.
For many years the box had gradually been overcome by nature and well defended with masses of spiteful brambles and Hawthorne surrounding its perimeter and ivy covered roof. Waist high nettles guarded each side of the doorway making entry difficult without getting uncomfortably stung.
Stepping down inside the pillbox it is surprisingly dry and should be in good order once the floors covering of silt has been shovelled out, a small drain slot sits at the base of one wall, and this may well have kept the box from becoming waterlogged. Fortunately the inside has not been vandalised and on its lower walls the white wash is still just visible.
In several of the cast loopholes parts of the flame proof flaps still remain attached to metal pivot points.
Externally many of the metal hooks are still in place to hold camouflage netting [it is planned to photograph this pillbox with nets in place once the project is completed]
This was the first bullet proof type 24 that we had tackled as a group and due to its close proximity to its pair of Vickers counterparts will make an interesting visual study once the remaining Vickers box is cleared of its covering.
The PSG renovation team of the day included Graham Matthews, Mike Hopton, John Bennison, Tony Clarke; we were also joined and helped during the day by Matthew Bennison, Tim Horne and Tim Burt.
Before making a start it was necessary to get a decent fire going to burn the mountain of branches and brambles piled up a few weeks earlier during work on the adjacent defences.
With the wind blowing in the right direction and some dry kindling wood the fire was a success from the start, with Tony and John tending the fire it quickly burned all the waste placed upon it.
Well insulated against the cold and damp weather we all tackled the undergrowth with enthusiasm and energy, a system of transporting the cut branches from the box to be thinned out with a billhook and then thrown on the roaring fire worked well, keeping the immediate area clear and tidy.
Although Graham managed to remove some of the lower branches of the Hawthorne with long handled pruners much of tree had to be cut down with my chainsaw, being able to use the saw looks effortless and quick, in reality it is still very physically demanding and with its weight and movement puts a tiring strain on your arms and back.
Time flies when doing this sort of work and after a couple of hours we stopped for a rest with several of us cramming into the tight internal space of the “Vickers Cafe”. As previous Graham had brought along his gas stove, utilising a loophole as its base it provided boiling water for hot tea break, after a bite to eat and a chat we were off again leaving the relative shelter of the gun emplacement till later for lunch planned at around 1pm.
The afternoon continued with relentless cutting of brambles and Hawthorne, all of which was removed a short distance to the fire. The roof of the type 24 has at present a covering of ivy, with not enough time in the day this will have to be approached later to see what lays underneath.
While Mike had been clearing the ivy and brambles around the doorway he uncovered what seems like a concrete border, it was decided this was possibly here to prevent water entering into the dug in pillbox. Just within the doorway a step can be found each side of the Y design central blast wall, it was also noted how narrow the space is in which to squeeze through to actually get into the box. Once in the overall height is somewhat shorter than a standard type 24, several of us noted it was not possible to stand up straight without having to bend your neck to avoid the corrugated shuttered ceiling.
Eventually the pillbox was totally exposed, probably the first time it had been this way for decades. Externally the brick shuttering is intact and in good condition although one area shows light deterioration where trees have pushed against it over time.
Sometime around 5pm ,we called it a day a few remaining brambles will be removed in the coming weeks and the fire re started to get rid of the remain waste and then other work will start such as cleaning the interior out, as well as measuring, and photographing build details. I think all of us were very damp and tired by close of play and some had to travel home further than others but overall a great deal was achieved.
The following week we returned to finish clearing off the final Vickers emplacement, now this with this work complete it has allowed a clear view of three closely spaced defences in a way that they have not been seen for decades. Work continued for the next few months on smaller details such as clearing out the interiors and some ground work around the perimeters of the pillboxes in an effort to record and help their survival for the future.