...British Pill Boxes 1914-1918, from Pen and Sword
Title: Armageddon's Walls, British Pill Boxes 1914-1918
Author: Peter Oldham
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books
First published back in 2014, Pen and Sword have this as part of their 100 years Commemorative titles for WW1. A 286 page hardback which covers in detail a topic I learnt a lot about thanks to reading this book. I have long had a fascination for concrete fortifications, but more of the Atlantic Wall and the British pill boxes from WW2 which can still be seen around the countryside in the UK today. I had been aware of the widespread use of concrete emplacements by the German army during WW1 but before now, little about the British Army use of them.
As with other things in WW1, the horrors of trench warfare threw up lots of challenges as there were efforts to try and protect the lives of the troops. Tanks were one of those developments, in an effort to get forward to the enemy trench lines and bring fire to bear on the enemy strongpoints as close quarters. Early in the war the British Army did not use concrete emplacements for protection, unlike countries such as Germany and France, who had more experience of establishing border fortifications. What this book demonstrate though is how the British Army learnt quickly from their experience. By the end of the war, the British army had surpassed the others in the design and extent to which they used shell-proof shelters.
It starts with some background on the British developments in building concrete shelters, and designs for pre-fabricated 'pill-boxes'. The heart of the book though rests in the following chapters which detail pretty much all of the British made concrete shelters which remain to be found on the continent. Arranged in sections of the front, the chapters cover The Somme to Arras: Cambrai: North of Arras: Arras to Armentieres: Hazebrouck: and Belgium. It details the remaining structures and even their GPS positions for those who would like to visit them for yourself. A few don't have their positions given, and these are where they remain on private land and where the owners have said they wish to retain their privacy and the relics are not accessible to visitors, a wish that should be respected of course. Many of the entries are accompanied by maps which will also help you locate them. Add all the notes on the construction materials and their uses and you have an excellent reference, particularly for the battlefield visitors among us.
It is finished off with some appendices that include the various references that were used for the book, along with a report from Comparative Trials carried out at Shoeburyness, ; the Moir Pill Box in Britain ; and |Comments on the Moir Pill Box.
I discovered a lot from this one and would happily recommend it to anyone interested in wartime fortifications, particularly the Western Front and one to keep in the car with you if you plan to visit the areas it covers.
Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.