All images © Marc Wilson 2018
Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland. 2011
A line of defences ran along the Moray coastline between Cullen Bay and Findhorn Bay through the Lossie and Roseisle forests. Anti-tank blocks ran the full length of this part of the coast, forming a barrier with the pillboxes that were placed between them at regular intervals. Some of the defences were constructed by a Polish army engineer corps stationed in Scotland. Kazimierz Durkacz, a medical student who joined the Polish forces, wrote: “At first, we used wood to make the moulds for the large concrete blocks and then a
combination of corrugated iron and wood… I remember mixing concrete with a shovel.”
Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. 2012
A one-kilometre-long anti-tank wall was built across Newburgh’s sand dunes, 100 yards inland. This barrier consisted of a mound of sand, a deep ditch and a large wall made from steel scaffolding poles. It was designed to protect a gun battery up in the dunes from any flanking attack by tanks managing to get through the main defences on the beach.
Lyness, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland. 2013
Hoy is one of the islands encircling Scapa Flow, which was the Royal Navy’s chief anchorage during both world wars. On the hillside above Lyness stands the Wee Fea Naval Communications and Operational Centre. From 1943, this was the main base for, and controlled, naval operations in Scapa. It enabled direct communication to all defense sectors and then to the outside world. Lyness Naval Base was the site of the operation to salvage the German Fleet scuttled in 1919 during its internment at Scapa Flow at the end of WW1. It took eight years to raise 45 of the 52 scuttled ships.
This piece of work aims to reflect the histories and stories of military conflict and the memories held in the landscape itself. The series is made up of 86 images and is documenting some of the physical remnants of the Second World War on the coastlines of the British Isles and Northern Europe, focusing on military defense structures that remain and their place in the shifting landscape that surrounds them. Some of these locations are no longer in sight, either subsumed or submerged by the changing sands and waters or by more human intervention. At the same time others have reemerged from their shrouds.
Tilbury, Thurrock, England. 2011
Coalhouse Fort, a 19th-century Palmerston Fort built to protect London from invasion by France, was re-armed during WW2. A monitoring station inside the fort used cables laid on the riverbed to check the magnetic fields of the steel hulls of passing ships, which could trigger German magnetic mines. If necessary, the boats were ordered back to Tilbury Docks to be degaussed (demagnetized) by fitting electric cables around the hull and passing electric current through them.
Brean Down, Somerset, England. 2012
Brean Down, a 19th-century Palmerston Fort 60 feet above sea level, was part of a chain of defences protecting the approaches to Bristol and Cardiff. Rearmed with a coastal artillery battery, it was also used as a test site for rockets and experimental weapons, such as torpedo decoys and the bouncing bomb designed by Barnes Wallis.
Dengie Peninsula, Essex, England. 2011
In the eventuality of a German landing, Burnham-on-Crouch on the Dengie peninsula would have offered a short and undefended passage to London, bypassing the defences of the Thames and the Medway. This fortified minefield observation and control tower – a two-storey hexagonal tower, ten metres high, surmounted by a cupola – was built on the edge of an open field adjacent to the sea wall, in order to control the estuary minefield that defended the River Crouch.
Hayling Island, Hampshire, England. 2013
During an air raid in April 1941, Sinah Common, a decoy site on Hayling Island, attracted more than 200 German bombs and parachute mines intended for Portsmouth. Some sections of the Mulberry harbours used on the D-Day beaches were built on the island. In late 1943 and early 1944, Hayling Island-based COPP survey teams, trained as frogmen and canoeists, were taken by X-Craft mini-submarines and dropped off in two-man collapsible canoes three to four kilometres off the coast of Normandy. After paddling closer to the shore, the reconnaissance man swam to the beach, while the second commando stayed in the canoe conducting offshore surveillance. They recorded every detail of possible landing sites and assault areas, and information about the German enemy defences. A geological assessment of the beach was also vital, including the gradient of the underwater approaches. Core samples of the sand and gravel were taken to find out whether heavy armed vehicles and tanks would be able to negotiate the terrain. These commandos returned on D-Day, when they guided the Allied ships to the landing beaches.
Portland, Dorset, England. 2011
The Verne Battery was built in 1892 in a disused stone quarry on the Isle of Portland in Dorset as part of Britain’s coastal defences. Decommissioned in 1906, it was used after WW1 for storing field guns brought over from France, and during WW2 to house ammunition in preparation for the D-Day landings. It also became an AA battery (anti-aircraft artillery). Thousands of gravestones were hewn from Portland Stone for the fallen Allied soldiers who died in both World Wars. It was also used to build the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
Studland Bay, Dorset, England. 2011
In April 1944, after months of intensive planning and practice, a full-scale D-Day rehearsal for the Normandy landings was held in Studland Bay. ‘Exercise Smash’, in which live ammunition was used, was watched from Fort Henry, a nearby reinforced concrete observation bunker, by King George VI, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces General Dwight D Eisenhower.
Wilson traveled 23,000 miles to 143 locations to capture these images along the coastlines of the UK, The Channel Islands, Northern & Western France, Denmark, Belgium and Norway.
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