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Important wartime defence found

The spigot mortar emplacement
Camera courtesy of Fujifilm

Hidden deep in the hedgerow on the north-east side of Brookmans Park is an almost perfectly preserved record of one of the local wartime defences.

And it is so well hidden that it was totally missed by the Defence of Britain survey, carried out by the Council for British Archaeology.

It is a spigot mortar emplacement and is where soldiers, possibly Local Defence Volunteers (later known as the Home Guard), would attach their spigot mortars and guard against an enemy attack.

The spigot mortar (gun) was mounted on the still visible stainless steel pin which is set in a concrete base. The concrete sides have indented areas where the soldiers who made up the gun crew (usually three) crouched.

A spigot mortar emplacement
Image reproduced courtesy of Ian Sanders

According to researcher and historian Ian Sanders, who has built a site about World War 2 Pillboxes and Anti-Invasion Defences, the spigot mortar was also known as the Blacker Bombard and was invented by Lieutenant-Colonel Blacker.

The intention was to design a cheap and easily produced weapon (after most of the British Army's heavy equipment had been lost at Dunkirk).

The spigot mortar was extremely heavy (around 350lbs) and had a four-legged portable mounting. It is said it needed a crew of six to move it.

The weapon would fire 20lb high-explosive mortar bombs, which were propelled by black powder. It had an effective range of 100 metres in its anti-tank role and up to 450 metres when firing a lighter anti-personnel bomb.

It had one major drawback. When the warhead hit its target, the fins would often fly backwards with the resulting danger of injury to the firing crew.

The spigot mortar, or Blacker Bombard, was rejected by the regular army but saw service with Home Guard and airfield protection units from 1941-1944.

Anti-tank blocks
Camera courtesy of Fujifilm

About a mile to the southeast of this site, near Queenswood School, is a line of anti-tank blocks which would have formed part of the same defence strategy.

These, and a number of pillboxes and tank ditches along the way, were intended to hinder any invasion from the east.

The location of the Brookmans Park spigot mortar emplacement is interesting as it was obviously chosen to help protect the Transmitting Station against a land attack during the Second World War.

The outlook from the emplacement affords clear views on all sides especially across fields to the north and south and it is easy to imagine Home Guard soldiers huddled together waiting for an enemy attack.

There is another, far less well preserved emplacement, which is mentioned in Defence of Britain survey, but which is on the southwest side of the Transmitting Station next to the A1000.

The Brookmans Park Transmitting Station Power House
Drawing by W. Baylis Allen

Clearly the Brookmans Park Transmitting Station was worth defending during the war years as author Lilian Caras explains in her study, "A History of Brookmans Park Transmitting Station".

"When France was invaded in June 1940, there was a need to increase the power of the existing European Service and to overcome jamming from Europe. Consequently, a powerful 140 kilowatt transmitter was installed at Brookmans Park in an extension to the original building, which came into service on 2 March 1941.

"The station was of strategic importance to the war effort. To reflect this, the building was painted in camouflage paint and the windows bricked up or had metal shutters placed over them. Soldiers were camped in the driveway to guard the station.

"Although the original targets are unknown unexploded bombs fell in Georges Wood Road and Moffats Lane, Brookmans Park in November 1940, missing the nearby transmitting station."

A pillbox on the Ridgeway at Northaw
Camera courtesy of Fujifilm

There is a small book, reproduced in full on this site, about the Brookmans Park Transmitting Station entitled, "The London Twin-Wave Broadcasting Station Brookmans Park", which was an official BBC brouchure, produced in 1930.

This site contacted the Defence of Britain Survey about the emplacement, but was told that the survey was now closed to new finds. Details have now been sent to Hertfordshire County Council.

Anyone interested in wartime archaeology might be interested in clicking on a site called Fortress Hertfordshire, which has many more interesting photographs and details of WW2 defences.

You can also read about the local tank traps and visit this site's extensive history section.

16 May 2003

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