Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Axe Valley WW2 Defences - Taunton Stop Line (Part One), Devon

Following the evacuation of Dunkirk during WW2 in 1940, the fear of invasion led to a defence plan comprising fortified 'Stop Lines' in order to delay enemy advancement until troops could be deployed where needed. Overseen by the Royal Engineers, pillboxes and other defences were constructed quickly, using local materials and some ingenious camouflage relevant to the area. The Taunton Stop Line was the major line in the South West and ran between Pawlett Hill, near Burnham-on-Sea, to Axmouth...a distance of around 40 miles. It was designed to consist of 293 pillboxes and 15 gun emplacements, along with anti-tank blocks, defensive walls, anti-tank islands and other defences at strategic points. Construction was abandoned in 1942, when invasion seemed unlikely, and many of the defences were never manned. However, many of the pillboxes remain to this day.

The photo above shows the Coastal Artillery Beach Battery that's situated right at the end of the Taunton Stop Line, on the outermost position of Axmouth Harbour,  in East Devon. Below shows the rear; behind and to the side of which are blast walls.

According to the 1940 Royal Engineer map, there are two more pillboxes between the battery and the next one found, but they have either been destroyed, or are hidden by shrubs and trees on private property and cannot be seen from the road.

The next defence along (below) is this T24 which has been blocked up. The Type 24 is probably the most common, especially along the Stop Line, but with it's quirky 6-sided shape with one side longer at the rear, I have to say that it's my favourite type.

I first became interested in pillboxes in early 2007. It took me a good 18 months, off and on, to research, find and document the Taunton Stop Line ones in the Axe Valley. This first part is from the harbour up to the village of Axmouth. Part Two is from there up to Boss Hill Cross near the Axe Bridge. I haven't completed all of the remaining stretch to Axminster, but Part Three contains what I have managed so far, which also includes the area around Whitford and some defences near to the railway at Axminster.

Continuing on, the following six pillboxes are situated in a series of fields on the eastern side of the Seaton to Axmouth road that runs alongside the River Axe. Fortunately there are gaps in the hedges between each field so they were quite easy to locate.

Above is a partially sunken T24, with a view of the side below.

At the end of the next field sits a row of four emplacements situated along a sloping field adjacent to the road. Lowest in the field, and overlooking the road, is a Type 24. Two sunken MG Vickers Emplacements are mid way and almost to the top of the hill is another sunken Type 24.

The following photo shows the two MG Vickers in the distance. The T24 is situated on the far left of the gap in the hedge at the lower left, whereas the upper T24 is quite high up and can't be seen from this angle. 

Below is the lowest T24 overlooking the road and river.

The two MG Vickers on the hill.

 

The lower emplacement, partially overgrown, and a close-up showing some detail of the embrasure (below).

The higher MG Vickers, below.

A great view and also a perfect place to sit whilst having a coffee and ciggy break. ;)

Above that is the sunken T24 (below), which can't be seen clearly as it's totally overgrown with mature trees sprouting around and through it.

 

The view from here is amazing, and an excellent one to enable sight of any enemy action.

As I turned to go back down the hill I spotted what looked like another T24 much further up. I knew there wasn't one indicated on the maps but as I was there I decided to investigate. It was an almost vertical climb through knee-high wet grass and bracken, but the closer I got the more convinced  there was another emplacement there on the edge of a hollow amongst some gnarly trees. Long oblong shape with loopholes in the right places: definitely a pillbox, so I continued on. It wasn't until I was almost on top of the damn thing that I realised it was an almost perfect oblong made up of clumps of dead bracken. Talk about camouflage in reverse!

Further along in the next field there's a block-shuttered T24. Unfortunately I was unable to get close enough as it's fenced off and surrounded by deep clumps of undergrowth, but I did get a partial sighting from the road, below.

That concludes this first section. There is another T24 before the Axmouth turn-off, but it's well tucked into the grounds of private property and unseen from the road. Now used as a viewing platform, I could see the remains of wooden fencing indicating a look-out, but not enough to verify the actual pillbox. I called at the house to ask for permission to have a look, but haven't found anyone at home yet, so I'll add the photos if and when I do.  

Part two can be seen here, and  part three can be found here. Many more photos can be seen in the Photo Gallery albums along with these.

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