The Atlantic Wall in Hankley Common

While writing a short article for a newsletter, I mentioned the Royal Observer Corps underground monitoring post inside the Pirbright ranges. Looking at the Defence Training Estate [DTE] website for more info, which I sadly didn’t find. We are, though,  blessed, if that’s the right word, with lots of military training estates land in and around us.

I thought you might be interested in what I found in the DTE’s Home Counties Public Information Leaflet. There are a couple of places I’ll be keen to visit, when possible of course. One of which is the Atlantic Wall – see more about it HERE. I’ve included a photo of it, which you can click on to expand.

Many training areas are the homes of archaeological sites. These include bowl barrows and a variety of other tumuli. Many, once common, Second World War pillboxes and bunkers scattered round the Estate have survived because of their location, and are now in the process of being listed.

Few visitors will know of the Atlantic Wall built in the heart of Surrey. This wall, complete with the evidence of the breaching methods, still stands erect on the slopes of Hankley Common. Built during the Second World War, it was used to train D-Day troops in the art of attacking Hitler’s fortifications. Visitors may think and reflect on how many lives were saved because of the thoroughness of the Armed Forces’ training and in doing so realise why training areas are required.

There are 2 war memorials located within the Estate. Bramshott, forever synonymous with the Canadians and the site of their Great War Hospital, is the home of one of their most important war memorials. An avenue of red maples and sugar maples has been planted alongside the A3 road. This is a regular site of pilgrimage for many Canadians, and all visitors are requested to show the normal respect due to such a site. The avenue replaces the original memorial, which was demolished during a non-military road-widening scheme. Visitors should include the Bramshott village church in their itinerary, as 318 Canadians are interred in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery which forms part of the church grounds.

Military hardware is to be found on many of the Home Counties sites: a remnant of an Abbott self-propelled gun (of Cold War vintage) is to be found in the Longmoor area, alongside 2 Chieftain tanks. These weapons are still used as training aids and visitors should look but not touch. This especially applies to children: though attractive, these old vehicles hold many traps. They were never designed as playthings or climbing frames; they are dangerous.

Offshore Patrol Vessels begin new year fishery protection duties

I follow the articles and tweets on Twitter on the Save the Royal Navy website. It daily features photos of the movements of ships Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The photos are often wonderfully photogenic, with ships set against dusk or dawn skies. The photos come from various sources, one frequent provider of photos is Portsmouth Proud.

Save the Royal Navy’s latest tweet is about a compilation of Portsmouth Proud videos into a YouTube video HMS Trent, HMS Tyne, HMS Tamar and HMS Mersey sailing from Portsmouth on New Year’s Eve, joining HMS Severn that sailed on Tuesday.

Good news goes unreported

Save the Royal Navy is one of the websites I often look at. Apart from updates of serious stuff about the Royal Navy, daily it posts photos of Royal Navy ships in action. It’s the photos that draws me to the website, some are spectacular.

One recent item, on the website, was a retweet of a tweet from the Captain of the Royal Naval Academy at Dartmouth about the arrival of a new Training Boat. We holidayed in Devon a couple of years ago and one of our mini-adventures was to take the Round Robin Tour, a circular tour from Totnes by steam train on the South Devon Railway to Dartmouth and back to Totnes via the River Dart on a cruise boat. As we passed the Academy we saw a number of the quaint Picket Boats used for marine training. They looked about 40-50 years old. At the time I wasn’t impressed that these boats were the best that we could provided for Cadet training.

It must be good news that Cadets can now train using the latest in technological advances. Of the arrival of the first of the replacements for the old Picket Boats I found nothing in the news. Surely it’s worth a quarter column announcement in the daily press. Sadly not. I had to search to find more information. I found it on the Defense Brief website, and followed up by looking at the Atlas Elektronik UK website.

I haven’t, as yet, found out where the new training boats are made, that’s unless someone can enlighten me. Meanwhile here are photos of the old training boat and the new arrival.

HMS Bristol, seen in Portsmouth Harbour tour, is decommissioned

Like many of you we’ve been on many a Portsmouth Harbour boat tour, and fascinating they are, especially when the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers are in harbour.

One of the fixtures in the harbour is HMS Bristol, until now the second oldest commissioned ship in the Royal Navy. Laid down in 1967 and accepted in service in 1973, she served in the Falklands war in 1982. In 1993 she was converted to a harbour training ship, lying alongside Whale Island in Portsmouth Harbour, with many thousands of Royal Navy, Army and RAF cadets, Sea Scouts and University Technical Colleges gaining experience of life onboard ship. The ship was decommissioned from the Royal Navy on October 29th. With Defence Brief reporting that,

Although decommissioned from the fleet, Bristol will remain in Portsmouth harbour until the next phase in her remarkable life is determined.

Lying close to the naval dockyard some of the interest in the ship is the comparison in its design to to the latest naval vessels. Here’s my photo of HMS Bristol taken on a harbour cruise in November 2014, and what a lovely sunny day it was too.

Thinking about Armed Forces Day, veterans, and The Cenotaph

It’s Armed Forces Day this coming Saturday. Sadly there’ll be no outdoor events for us to attend. As with everthing else nowdays, celebration events will be online.

I wonder if there will be armed forces veterans at The Cenotaph to ensure nothing untoward happens to it. Talking about veterans, our local veterans help group has changed its name to Veterans & Familes – Listening Project, same focus on helping to improve the day to day lives of veterans and families, now with a wider reach than just Surrey Heath.

Now, a dreadful admission from me about my knowledge of the Cenotaph. I didn’t know the word ‘cenotaph’ derives from the Greek for ‘empty tomb’. The Cenotaph has a closed empty tomb at the top  surmounted with a large laurel wreath.

With the decision not to repatriate the war dead of World War 1, and to bury them close to where they fell, a national memorial was needed as a focal point to the nations’s commemoration of those killed and affected by war. Hence the Cenotaph, designedby Sir Edwin Lutyens. English Heritage, who look after the memorial, say of its design,

Lutyens’s austere and dignified design for the Cenotaph rejected imagery, bombast and religious symbolism. Its timeless, non-denominational form has ensured its relevance to all the dead of the Empire and to audiences ever since. Its message was one of the universality of grief and the human cost of victory.

The memorial is regularly cleaned, and every 10-15years goes through a period of conservation. A feature of Lutyens design is that it does not shed water well at its top, resulting in the empty tomb and wreath becoming saturated with water, attracting biological growth. The Cenotaph was last given a renovation in 2013, such that the Portland stone at the top is now of a light colour.

Here are a couple of historic photos, and a couple more recent ones, where the difference after conservation can be clearly seen.

The Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in 2010.

Finding stuff in my photo library No.2 – Frimley Park Mansion

Frimley Park Mansion is one of Surrey Heath’s largest and most important local buildings. It’s Grade II listed, building begun in 1699 for the Tichbornes, and later owned by the Lawrels and Tekels. When the estate was divided up in 1860, part was added to the Royal Military College Sandhurst, and the rest became part of the newly developing town of Cambridge Town – now Camberley.

The building and grounds are now home to Frimley Park Cadet Training Centre (CTC), the national centre of excellence for Cadet Forces training.

The interior of the Mansion has 18th century work, a 17th century staircase, and imported Jacobean panelling. It acted as a war-time maternity hospital, and since 1959 Frimley Park has been home to the Army’s Cadet Training Centre, teaching almost 2,000 officers and Instructors annually to train their cadets safely.

I visited Frimley Park for the September 2007 Heritage Open Day. Guides were especially proud of its association with the Thai royal family, as in 1898 the Crown Prince of Siam [now Thailand] lived at Frimley Park. His room was at the top of the Mansion – I think attic was mentioned – as Thai royal tradition had it than no one should be able to look down on the Prince.

Some of the rooms were open for visitors, as were the grounds, which are lovingly tended. There were flower beds at the front and side of the Mansion, a walled garden, lake, and specimen mature trees. The groundman, with whom I chatted was particularly pround of their topiary.

Again, the purpose of this post is to show the photos I took of my visit. Apologies for the poor photo quality.

Seeing what’s been hidden for over 40 years

At the beginning of July I wrote about our taking a mini-adventure to the Isle of Thanet and hopefully to see some sound mirrors up close.

How lucky we were, the weather was fine, and we saw much that was new to us. We based ourselves in Ramsgate, which has a busy little harbour, plenty of eateries, and has attractive regency and Victorian buildings that have so often been demollished elsewhere in the country.

One of the main items on our agenda was to visit the recently uncovered first World War sound mirrors on the White Cliffs near Dover.

Built as aircraft and airship early warning devices for coastal towns between 1915 and 1930, parabolic sound mirrors concentrate sound waves enabling detection of incoming enemy aircraft. They were developed from sound ranging experiments during WW1 to fix the postion of enemy gun batteries by plotting the sound of gunfire.  Many of the 20 or so sound mirrors survive being located in quiet and out-of-the-way places. They became redundant as the speed of aircraft increased such that the amount of early warning time became so small as to be of little benefit, and the arrival of the more efficient radar.

Two sound mirrors at Fan Bay near Dover were covered up by Kent County Council in 1970’s along with all evidence of adjacent three coastal gun batteries to rid the coast of unsightly redundant wartime buildings and tunnels. In 2012 the National Trust acquired a stretch of the White Cliffs coast and knowing that gun emplacement, searchights and tunnels existed at Fan Bay decided to open them as a tourist attraction. These are the photos of our visit to the Fan Bay Deep Shelter and Sound Mirrors. [More info about sound mirrors can be found HERE, and HERE and HERE].


A Portsmouth Harbour tour reveals the state of the Royal Navy

In sunny Portsmouth last Saturday we decided on a tour of the harbour, along with many other sightseers. Less crowed on a weekday, but then it possibly wouldn’t have been such a lovely warm and sunny day.

The announcer, on the boat, said that we’d missed seeing th HMS Queen Elizabeth, which had recently sailed to America. I know it was a weekend, but there didn’t appear to be any activity in the Naval Dockyard that we could discern from our tour boat.

It’ll not need saying, but yours truly knows little about naval matters, these are my observations, that’s all. I’ve written about what I’ve seen in Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, HERE, and HERE. Photos follow of Saturday’s visit.

  • The first nval vessel we encountered was M921 Lobelia, a minehunter of the Belgian Navy.
  • Next we saw HMS Medway P223.  She arrived in her home port of Portsmouth for the first time only a few days ago. She is the second of the new River class offshore patrol vessels.
  • Next we passed HMS Defender D36, one the six £1billion Daring class air defence destroyers, back in service having completed an almost 2 year refit.
  • Then we passed HMS Dragon D35, which had not long returned from a six month tour of duty in the Middle East.
  • Inside the dockyard we saw three Daring class destoyers in various stage of readiness, HMS Daring D32, HMS Dauntless D33, HMS Diamond D34. That’s five of the six destroyers not on patrol. Two of the six Dauntless and Diamond are not capable of deployment, Dauntless is classified as a training ship, and Diamond suffering from mechanical issues.
  • In various parts of the Naval Dockyard, were two redundant RFA Fleet Tankers, and survey vessel.

I appreciate that ships require replenishment, maintenance, and the crew home leave after an overseas deployment. My conclusion is that we need all of the Daring class destoyers to be operationable. With shortly to have two Elizabeth class aircraft carriers who will need to be accompanied by capable warships, not ageing frigates.


The worthy winners of the 2019 World Pace Sticking Championships

Following on from the previous article about pace sticking, and the World Pace Sticking Championships held this month at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, here’s a video of the championship winners – the Pakistan Army collecting their prizes.

Lifting their legs above their heads, a truly amazing feat. I asked the two RMAS Colour Sergeants, mentioned in my previous article about this, and they explained how they achieve the high leg kick, but said, they’re not sure they could do it.

Below the video is an article from Forces network on Pace Sticking: What is it really all about.

Great to meet the pace sticking Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Colour Sergeants

I’m repeating myself as I wrote, in detail HERE with a couple of videos, about the pace sticking demonstrations at the RMAS.

We both look forward to the pace sticking demonstration at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Heritage Day. We enjoy the precision in unity of marching with a pace stick, the perfection of smartness in the uniforms, and the approachability and affability of the soldiers.

I made a short video of the pace sticking demonstration, which is not that good I’m afraid as I wasn’t close enough to the action. We were pleased to talk to a couple of the Colour Sergeants in the pace sticking demo, both of whom were in the World Pace-sticking Championships in the Army video below. My inferior video follows.

The Colour Sergeants were proud to be at the Academy for their two year term, and we were delighted to talk to them – two top men.