A little bit of local.

On Friday, I was reading a book about childhood experiences in Swansea during the war. This morning, I was sliding and slipping in mud in Dunvant. There’s a link.

I’ve been researching Swansea during WW2 as a result of some of the stories my mum told me of the bombing, the anti-aircraft guns and the Americans stationed here just before D-Day. I found a book in the local library and read with some interest the first mention of anti-invasion defences in Swansea Bay that I’d ever see. The bay would have been an ideal landing place for enemy troops if it wasn’t for the long journey they would have to make down the Bristol Channel. But Swansea had a big port, an airfield near by and a sheltered bay and it may well have been worth the risk. In fact, Swansea Bay was used (along with other beaches on Gower) to practice beach landings prior to the Normandy landings.

My interest has been in finding any evidence of other defensive plans. One of the threats to Britain during the early part of the war was invasion from the west. It was thought that the Germans would make a pact with neutral Eire and come across to West Wales. Lines of fortifications, known as Command Stop Lines were built all over Britain and there is one stretching north from Pembrey to New Quay that would have been used to delay or block any advance eastwards. I had explored parts of this line north of Carmarthen, on one occasion finding myself at the end of a shotgun when I accidentally strayed on to private land. Fortunately, after explaining to the landowner why I was there and pointing out that there were no fences or signs, he let me explore the particular pill box and told me of several more relics of the war hidden from the road.

This stop line reaches the south coast at RAF Pembrey, which is now a bombing range and private airport. There are remains of pillboxes and anti-tank defences near the estuary and they merge into the defences of the airfield itself, and the fortifications and minefields that protected Cefn Sidan and the Pembrey munitions factory.

Swansea had it’s own defences. With the port, bay and airfield in close proximity, and reasonably good transport links, it needed it’s own protection. The beach had several pill boxes and minefields along it’s length and on the low tide mark, iron girders set in concrete were ready to rip the hulls of craft trying to land. There is a suggestion that flame weapons (either oil to be poured on the water or fougasse firebombs) were available, too. Inland, there were anti landing trenches on the hills north of Morriston, anti-aircraft sites on Mumbles Hill and around Kilvey Hill and decoy bombing targets north of the docks.

I found several pillboxes on the Swansea to Llanelli railway line, now disused, that used to run through Clyne Valley. One overlooks the main road through Killay to Gower. Two more protect a bridge over the railway line some 200 yards further south. I would have expected more but I could find none. The book I read said that there were two more pillboxes at the entrance to the Clyne Valley where it meets the sea at Blackpill. Anti Tank blocks also shielded access to the railway and some parts of an old wall made of wartime concrete (with more aggregate as it was cheaper and quicker to make) line the sea front near by. Much of the land between Blackpill and Killay is marshy and undulating and would have needed little extra protection.

Further north at the Loughor Estuary, there is a line of concrete anti-tank blocks stretching out into the water. They are covered by a gun emplacement near the Chinese restaurant, and the estuary also had artillery as it was at one end of a firing range. When you look at a map, the railway cutting (it’s mostly below ground level) makes an ideal obstacle for tanks and runs across Gower. To be most effective, extra fortification at weak points would be necessary. Infantry trenches would be hard to spot after so long as the ground is wet and overgrown. I expected there to be more pillboxes but knew of none between the estuary and Killay.

I went online to see if I could find more about the Clyne pillboxes and found a reference to Dunvant Brickworks. Dunvant lies north of Killay along the same railway line and an archaeological survey had been done in 2009, showing the site of several small scale collieries and a brickworks. The survey also described two more pillboxes and a spigot mortar site in the area and mentioned the ‘Gower Stop Line’. Suddenly it was all making a bit more sense.

And so this morning, I was scrabbling about in the mud in completely the wrong place trying to find one of the pillboxes. I slipped, skidded, squelched and was nearly tripped up by brambles. I climbed, descended and all the while got wet in the drizzle. But it was all worth it (for me, anyway) as I finally came across the pillbox I was looking for. It was high up overlooking the railway line. And even better, it was an unusual design that was used mainly for observation. It was hard to visualise the context as in the nearly 80 years since it was built, trees and bushes have grown around it obscuring it’s original field of fire. It was impossible to enter as bars had been placed in the entrance tunnel. I later found out that it has become a home for bats so I’m glad I didn’t try to disturb it.

For the pillbox geeks, it was a type 22, modified with a longer entrance tunnel and no embrasures or a roof. This one had railway sleepers over the top to provide shelter for the bats.

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Spring-ing

It’s time for cleansing. The sun is out and it inspires change.

No, don’t worry. I haven’t gone all hippy on you (well, no more than usual). I just find that feeling the sun on my face, looking at a cloudless sky and being able to enjoy an early morning without having to wear 17 layers of fleeces triggers some sort of renewal hormone in my brain.

I was out first thing this morning with Rufus and his real owner (I merely rent Rufus, of course, so that I appear to have a friend).  We spent a lovely two hours on the River Tawe, strolling up and down in the warm sunshine, stopping when we felt like it and, of course, throwing lots of stones for Rufus. We were early enough that for much of the time we had the river to ourselves. In the distance, a walking group appeared in a convoy of cars and set off for who knows where. By the time we were back at the car, it was still only just after 11am.

When we got home, I intended to watch the first Grand Prix of the season. I’ve been a motor racing fan for years but have become disillusioned with Formula 1 recently. However, this season promised to be different, as there had been a significant change in the rules resulting in radically different cars. A significant change for me was the prominence of the energy recovery system and the importance it plays in the performance of the car. Inevitably, this technology will filter down to the consumer and that can only be a good thing.

Instead both Rufus and I fell asleep. Not a reflection on the race but on my lack of fitness and Rufus’ tendency to cover 50% more distance than I do on walks.

But once I had surfaced, I felt ready to get on with some Spring stuff. There are two large fir trees in the garden and I’ve been planning to trim them for a while now. They block the afternoon sun and the night sky. So I had been building up to cutting the tops off. I’ve been put off in the past as I tend to leave it too late and they become a nesting place for birds. It seemed like a good idea to do it today.

I managed to trim the first tree and three quarters of the second tree before, to my absolute horror, I spotted a small white egg drop to the floor. It was quickly followed by a second, and the frantic fluttering of a pigeon. There, in one of the branches I had just cut, were the remains of a nest. The eggs were broken, the pigeon panicked and I was gutted. I should have checked before starting off, but in my defence, the trees were a dense mass of thick branches and it was difficult to get to each one.

I stopped, all the enthusiasm gone and as I cleared up, I saw the pigeon circling before it landed on a nearby roof. I took a quick look out from the kitchen, as the clouds rolled in to spoil the evening, and the pigeon was in the remains of the tree. I can’t look any more.

It needed doing. But I should have done it earlier.

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No rest for the wicked

But I’m a good boy, so today was a day of rest after yesterday’s 6 mile wander in Gower.

Except I find it difficult to do nothing. I’ve talked to friends about this and opinion is divided. Some like to kick back and have no problem doing so, others find it hard to stop. So although I decided early to give my knee a break (not literally, of course) and take it easy, I soon found myself hoovering the house, and then cleaning the bathroom and the kitchen. Then it was out in the garden to remove great swathes of bamboo that grows right at the back.

I’ve spoken about the bamboo before, it’s where the Japanese soldiers live. Today, while they were away, I cut down about half of what was there. It’s still a jungle and it still makes a fantastic swishing sound in the wind, but less loudly now. The plan is to remove all of the bamboo and also bring down the levels of all the bushes and trees on the left of the garden so that my vegetable patch gets more direct sunlight. I also put up some Buddhist prayer flags that went with me to Everest Base Camp in 2011. They’re meant to be outside and only now have I got round to fixing them in place. Sadly, there are photos below of all my garden exploits.

Then it was time for a coffee and time to reflect on the poor choice of TV on a Bank Holiday.

Happy Easter everyone.

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