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After the defeat at Dunkirk in May 1940, Britain was faced with the imminent prospect of invasion. To counter this threat, defences were hastily erected involving a complicated pattern of defence based on communication ("nodal") points, of which Hungerford was one.

Hungerford was also reclassified as a Category C anti-tank island in 1941, defended by the Home Guard. Its defences included a six-piunder gunpit in the High Street, concrete roadbocks, dragon's teeth, hedgehogs and at least a dozen pillboxes.

The prime purpose of these defences was to serve as anti tank obstacles using natural features such as canals, rivers and railways supplemented by pillboxes and gun emplacements. These were intended to prevent German armoured columns from "cutting loose" as they had in France. The Kennet & Avon Canal was part of a key "stop-line", and there are many surviving defences in and around Hungerford.

Photo Gallery:

Pillboxes and Hedgehogs
Pillboxes and Hedgehogs

Pillbox near "Swing Bridge"

Pillboxes and Hedgehogs
Pillboxes and Hedgehogs

Anti tank emplacements near Dun Mill

Pillboxes and Hedgehogs
Pillboxes and Hedgehogs

The tarmac recesses showing the sockets for the wartime 'hedgehogs' on Hungerford bridge (Apr 2009 - resurfaced Mar 2011)

Pillboxes and Hedgehogs
Pillboxes and Hedgehogs

Anti tank emplacements near Dun Mill

Pillboxes and Hedgehogs
Pillboxes and Hedgehogs

Wartime photograph showing 'hedgehogs' in use

Pillboxes and Hedgehogs
Pillboxes and Hedgehogs

The tarmac recesses showing the sockets for the wartime 'hedgehogs' on Hungerford bridge (Apr 2009 - resurfaced Mar 2011)

20151112 img_5661
20151112 img_5661

The foundations of the pillbox at Cobbler's Lock, Nov 2015

20020700 Pillbox restaurant-01
20020700 Pillbox restaurant-01

Architect's drawing of the proposed 18-cover restaurant at the pillboxes near Dun Mill railway bridge, July 2002.

- Architect's drawing of the proposed 18-cover restaurant at the pillboxes near Dun Mill railway bridge, July 2002.

The threat of invasion:

By May 1940 Germany had captured France after only six weeks. The Third Reich expected Britain to surrender or negotiate terms. The Germans now had two options:
- to lay siege to Britain and to wear it down physically and psychologically through limited military action and through political and propaganda warfare, which would include the threat or bluff of invasion; or
- to actually invade.

After defeat at Dunkirk (27 May - 3 June 1940), Britain was therefore faced with imminent prospect of invasion. The British Army had abandoned most of its equipment in France. Preparations for invasion had to be made.

On 16 July 1940 Hitler issued Directive Number 16. It read, 'As England, in spite of the hopelessness of her military position, has so far shown herself unwilling to come to any compromise, I have decided to begin to prepare for, and if necessary to carry out, an invasion of England... and if necessary the island will be occupied.' Despite having no invasion plan prepared Hitler announced that an invasion force would be ready to sail by 15 August. The operation was given the codename "Sea Lion".

On 27 May Churchill had put General Sir Edmund Ironside, Commander-in-Chief Home Forces, in charge of organising Britain's defence. Ironside acted quickly. He had a large force at his disposal, but one that was poorly armed and equipped and generally poorly trained.

Ironside's defence plan:

In the circumstances, Ironside's only option was to set up a static system of defence which, he hoped, could delay German invasion forces after landing and so give Britain time to bring its small mobile reserves into play. If the Germans could be delayed on the beaches and then delayed as they pushed inland their timetable could be thrown off balance, they could lose impetus, direction and initiative and the British army might be able to counter attack effectively.

In addition to the "coastal crust" of armed defences, Southeast England was to offer a series of barriers or stop-lines utilising natural and man-made features such as rivers, canals and railway embankments, flooded marshland and woods. Thousands of miles of anti-tank ditches were dug. Along these lines he planned a series of concrete pillboxes, gun emplacements, anti-tank obstacles (hedgehogs, hairpins, cylinders, cubes, pimples ("Dragons' teeth")), trench systems, minefields and barbed wire entanglements.

These defences were known as General Headquarters Anti-tank Line, or "GHQ stop-lines". Their purpose was to ensnare and delay the German forces, to prevent an invading force "cutting loose" as they had in France.

By 25 June, Ironside's anti-invasion plan was complete and presented to the War Cabinet as Home Forces Operations Instruction Number 3. Over 50 defensive lines were constructed around England between late May and September 1940, whilst the Battle of Britain went on in the skies above. Not all were completed.

The main GHQ stop-line was the longest and most important, designed to protect London and the industrial heart of England. It ran from the Taunton Stop Line in Somerset, along the River Brue and the Kennet and Avon Canal to Reading, around the south of London south of Guildford and Aldershot, to Canvey Island and Great Chesterford in Essex, before heading north to Yorkshire and Edinburgh. It was split into several sections:

- Stop Line Green from Highbridge on the coast in Somerset, in a great arc running northeast to Trowbridge, Melksham, Lacock and Chippenham, and then northwest to Upper Framilode, Gloucestershire. The purpose was to defend Bristol.

- Stop Line Blue branched east from Stop Line Green at Semington near Trowbridge, and followed the Kennet and Avon Canal east to Theale near Reading). Pillboxes and anti tank gun emplacements were strategically sited along the whole length of the canal, and concrete obstructions placed across canal bridges. Much of the material used for these structures was carried on canal boats.

- Stop Line Red followed the Thames from Reading to Abingdon, then cut across country to Newbridge to avoid the huge Thames loop north to Oxford, continuing south across the Cotswolds to Great Somerford in Wiltshire.

- Eastern Stop line: from north of Edinburgh, inland and south along the east coast, around the east of London to meet the south coast near Eastbourne).

- There were many others, most especially the various concentric rings in and around London: The London Inner Keep, London Stop Line Inner (Line C), London Stop Line Central (Line B) and London Stop Line Outer (Line A). The Outer London Ring was the strongest and best developed of these, mainly because it could be constructed in open countryside.

The Directorate of Fortifications and Works (FW3) at the War Office was set up under the Directorship of Major-General G.B.O.Taylor. Its purpose was to provide specific pillbox designs to be constructed throughout the countryside at defensive locations.


The pillbox building programme started in May 1940, and continued through the summer months while the Battle of Britain was fought out in the skies above. The construction rate was frenetic – by the end of September 1940, 18,000 were built.

There were seven standard designs by FW3, often modified during construction under the direction of the area commands. Occasionally, a 'one-off' type was designed to the War Office standard by the Command and Corps Chief Engineers.

The FW3 pillbox design concept was to provide a simple 'fieldwork standard' that could be constructed very quickly. Most designs consisted of or incorporated some of the following features:
- Minimum of Bullet/Splinter Proof protection
- No attempt was made to provide living accommodation
- Some designs were enhanced to Shell Proof standard
- Simple Blast Walls to protect open entrances
- External flat side walls with rectangular or polygonal shape

The most common type was a small hexagonal pillbox intended for use by lightly-armed troops. Larger hexagonal pillboxes were designed for crews using Bren guns. The largest were rectangular with a wide opening through which a "two-pound" field artillery piece could be fired, with a smaller Bren gun chamber built to one side.

The use of common designs with standard sizes for doors, loopholes and flat sides made it easier to 'mass produce' items for concrete shuttering and hence the speed of construction. However, with the general countrywide lack of material it was often necessary to use bricks as the shuttering. This often fools the casual observer into believing that the whole structure is constructed of brick. Closer examination often reveals the integral reinforced concrete 'back-bone'!

Who manned them?

The Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) had been raised on 14 May 1940 (by Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for War) and comprised men too old or too infirm to join the regular army or in protected trades and thus exempt from conscription. On 23 July, the force became known as the Home Guard, after Churchill coined the phrase during a BBC broadcast.

By the end of July one and a half million men had volunteered, a huge figure which reveals the seriousness with which ordinary people took the threat of invasion in the summer of 1940.

The Home Guard also had rifles, grenades, knives, petrol bombs, flame throwers.

For a variety of reasons, including the impressive resistance shown by the RAF during the Battle of Britain, Hitler changed his strategic plans, and Operation Sea Lion was postponed indefinitely on 17 September 1940. The threat of Germany invasion of England receded. The 18,000 pillboxes were never used in combat. About 6,000 survive, 150 in Berkshire.

Pillboxes near Hungerford:

There were several pillboxes in and around Hungerford. From east to west:

Denford Mill: Near the road between Denford Mill and the bridge across the canal stands a classic hexagonal pillbox.

20220308 08.30.24 PillboxesDenford Mill pillbox, March 2022

Dun Mill Lock: (at the east end of Hungerford Common). The anti tank gun emplacment and accompanying pillbox were designed to mount a 2-pounder anti-tank gun which could be transported between either site. It contains a divided chamber for the protection of the supporting infantry. There were also additional defensive provisions which have been removed, including large square concrete road blocks, and a "hedgehog" (vertical rails plugged into concrete sockets on the roadway - see below). In addition to the large aperture for the 2-pounder, the small Bren Gun chamber is visible.

The lower of the two pillboxes is a fairly common Type FW3/28A. It is actually more common than the original Type 28. The type 28 is the largest of the FW3 designs and the only one with a specific anti-tank capability. It is almost square in plan, with the forward-facing corners chamfered. The walls are about 20 by 19 feet (6.1 by 5.8 m) long, constructed to shell-proof specification at about 42 inches (107 cm) thick. There is a very large forward embrasure. It was designed to take a 2-pounder anti-tank gun or a Hotchkiss 6-pounder gun. The gun shield of the artillery piece would largely fill the aperture. It is wider than the type 28 to allow for a side area for an infantry chamber, giving a forward-facing embrasure suitable for a rifle or light machine gun. This resolved the problem of the type 28 being vulnerable to a head-on infantry attack.

The large upper pillbox is a less common Type FW3/28 Twin. The design was based on the Type 28 and 28A, but this rare variant has two main gun embrasures on adjacent walls giving two possible firing positions for the one main gun together with two adjacent infantry chambers. Once again, this was an anti tank gun emplacement designed to mount a 2-pounder anti-tank gun which could be transported between either site. It contains a divided chamber for the protection of the supporting infantry. On both the south and east fronts, in addition to the large aperture for the 2-pounder, the small Bren Gun chamber is visible. This particular installation guarded the road bridge across the railway as well as the road climbing up to the bridge. The traverse of the gun was limited to about 60°. During the war there would have been additional defensive provisions including large square concrete road-blocks, and a "hedgehog". The Type 28s are fairly common designs. I understand that there are 78 type 28s, 209 type 28As and 19 type 28 twins recorded as extant. 

The three pillboxes near Dun Mill are all in the Locally Listed Heritage Assets, and the special Type 28 Twin is recognised as one of the really special survivors.

20220308 08.24.42 Pillboxes

20220308 08.27.32 PillboxesThe Dun Mill bridge pillbox, March 2023

Sewage Pumping Station: This pillbox remains on the north side of the "swing bridge" at the end of Station Road. It stands on private property, and is obscured by the fence and foliage.

Near Kennet Bridge across A4: This pillbox was removed many years ago.

Hungerford Town Lock: This pillbox was removed (with great difficulty!) when the Kennet & Avon Canal was restored at Hungerford in 1974. It stood on the north side of Hungerford lock. No sign remains.

Cobblers Lock, west of Freeman's Marsh: The foundations of this pillbox were revealed during restoration work to the area in the autumn of 2015.

Near Highclose Farm: A pillbox remains north of the railway to the west of Highclose Farm.

20230901 Highclose pillboxThe Highclose pillbox, Sep 2023


In addition to the pillboxes, it was necessary to adopt a strategy to impede any invading troops using bridges across the canal. Many techniques were adopted, including 'dragon's teeth', 'cylinders', 'hairpins' and 'cubes'.

Evidence of the planned use of 'hedgehogs' on the main canal bridge in Hungerford High Street could be seen when the tarmac surface collapsed into the 'hedgehog' sockets in 2009. (See Photo Gallery). The road surface was renewed in 2010, and no sign is visible thee now. The remains of hedgehogs can be seen, however, on many other rural bridges over the canal.

Dragon's Teeth:

At the entrance onto the Common at the Down Gate are a remaining set of four concrete Dragon's Teeth.

Gun emplacement in High Street:

There was a major gun emplacement near Church Lane which was designed to take a 6-pounder gun, and this was accompanied by permanent concrete road blocks and a "hedgehog" under the railway bridge.

The pillbox restaurant, 2002:

In July 2002 an innovative planning application was lodged with West Berkshire Council for converting the two pillboxes near Dun Mill railway bridge into a restaurant with 18 covers.

The plans (see the Photo Gallery above) were not passed! 

Further plans (in colour) are available here (kindly sent by Andrew Werrell, August 2023).

See also:

- Home Guard

- Bastions in Berkshire - Pillboxes of World War II, Royal County of Berkshire, c1994

- Ramsbury At War, Roger Day, 2004.