When it comes to Auxiliary Units excavations in Sussex, CART has been fortunate to receive information from others doing the hard work on the ground.
The Operational Base for the Warningcamp Patrol is a rather unusual one, with a box like structure of corrugated iron let into solid chalk, with heavy steel joists supporting the roof. Though there is no documentary evidence, the general consensus has been that such box like structures represent the earliest phase of Operational Base (OB) construction. The more familiar Nissen hut like elephant shelter appears to date from late 1941 based on a plan dated to the end of that year.
In 2014, the Sussex Military History Society conducted a comprehensive excavation of the site. This revealed a good deal of the structure and fittings of the OB. We can’t bring you the full report on this one but there are a few photos on our report on the Warningcamp Patrol provided by one of the diggers. There is a photo of one of the others mid-dig here, but please don’t be distracted by his excellent website on the Pillboxes of Sussex!
A couple of videos give a good overview of the site.
And mention of the Last Cowboy in Sussex, means we really have to share another Sussex link with you, not least as as it shows what the CART website once looked like. It can justifiably be included here as it shows a single find from the site!
The National Nature Reserve of Kingley Vale had been rumoured to be home to an Operational Base for the West Stoke Patrol. The South Downs National Park project “Secrets of the High Woods” utilised volunteers to investigate further. Oral history and a map marked up by a former site ranger provided clues for further fieldwork. An early report includes an images of the Observation Post.
Section 5.4 Modern on page 54 of the report documents the findings. The oral history account has moved since the report was written, with the extract, “They are the size of a house underground.”, discussing the OB while still accessible. The full Secrets of the High Woods document contains very little about the Auxiliary Units, but plenty of archaeology, with great LIDAR images from the project. It is included here for one CART member with a particular interest in OB water tanks – pictured on page 152.
You may have noticed the name of Mike Kallaway in the previous reports and he appears again as pone of a team from the Chichester and District Archaeology Society to bring us a very detailed report on the OB in Houghton Forest, most likely to have been used by the North Stoke Patrol. We have also been provided with an series of additional images of the OB showing more of the details described in the report. Note the very detailed LIDAR data with 0.2 m contours, but that the OB remains undetectable.
This OB differs from the Binnegar OB we saw earlier in the week, though shares an apparently similar basic structure. The main elephant shelter is set on a low wall. A shaft provides an entrance. The end walls are built from corrugated iron, and as is the case in the Hougton Forest OB, these tend to collapse more readily under the weight of soil. Both have ventilation systems, though at Houghton this appears limited to just four pipes. The drawings show all entering the top of the OB, though design elsewhere might suggest that perhaps those in the missing end wall might have run to nearer floor level. In addition they are made of cast iron rather than the glazed pipes seen at Binnegar. This seems to point to a slightly more basic design, perhaps suggesting an earlier build. The Sussex Auxiliary Units were among some of the earliest patrols to be set up. Alternatively this may simply represent the differences between different units undertaking the construction work, using the materials they were familiar with. In some parts of the country, escape tunnels appear to have been a later addition. In this case the loss of the end wall makes it difficult to determine if this was an original feature or later addition. There remains much to be learnt from a careful study of the construction of Operational Bases, matching that with the limited records of construction, to try and understand the development of their design over the period 1940 to 1944. The level of complexity varies widely, not withstanding local solutions to specific problems such as the waterproof box designs used on the low lying Romney Marshes in Kent. Plenty of scope for further research, which will be aided by careful recording of what remains available for study.
Tomorrow we will take a look at a the use of geophysical techniques to search out Operational Bases.