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Mapping the Military – Help record the World War II Landscape of Walney

Volunteers photographing the remains of the gun emplacement, now crumbling in a vulnerable position on the shore
Volunteers photographing the remains of the gun emplacement, now crumbling in a vulnerable position on the shore

[M]orecambe Bay Partnership is looking for volunteers to work alongside experts from Manchester Metropolitan University to map the military sites of Walney Island and want you to get involved. Free training/participation events are being held on 7th and 8th of September, on South Walney Reserve, where a variety of archaeological recording techniques will be used creating an accurate record/map of the military remains.

This work builds on records made earlier this year and will record garrisons, old gun positions, artillery stores and even fragments of barbed wire. Help us discover all that now remains of the defensive network of military sites that were positioned to protect Barrow-in-Furness from enemy attack.

Barrow-in Furness was strategically important to the war efforts of both the First and Second World Wars, with the town being a powerhouse of construction, producing battleships, submarines and airships. As such, the town was a prime target for enemy air attack. A fact painfully demonstrated by the Barrow Blitz of spring 1941, during which 83 residents were killed and over 300 injured.

Volunteers recording the remains of a gun base during training in June 2016
Volunteers recording the remains of a gun base during training in June 2016

To defend the town, the War Office and Air Ministry built numerous defensive fortifications across Walney, comprising anti-aircraft and coastal artillery batteries, decoys, air raid shelters, and pillboxes. These defences were built to standard military designs, many rapidly constructed on site using an iron frame. The construction of defences was a rapid response to the enemy threat and was never meant to stand for over 60 or even 100 years. The structures are now degrading and collapsing and coupled with coastal erosion many of the sites are at risk of being lost forever.

This current Heritage Lottery Funded project led by local charity Morecambe Bay Partnership is training volunteers to record the remains of the military landscape. This will ensure a permanent photographic and written record of what remains of this important landscape. The team are also looking at building construction techniques and how the sites interacted within a wider landscape of defence.

Aerial image of the coastal artillery battery on the South Walney Reserve ©Oxford Archaeology North
Aerial image of the coastal artillery battery on the South Walney Reserve ©Oxford Archaeology North

Ben Edwards from Manchester Metropolitan University said: “We’ve already started to make good progress to record the structures that once formed a critical part of the WW1 and 2 coastal defences and military infrastructure of the Morecambe Bay area, but still have loads to record.

“During this next phase of training we will be focusing on one of the coastal artillery batteries, using a range of techniques to record the structures. The detailed archaeological recording will include incredibly accurate total station topographic survey and photogrammetry where we capture a number of digital photographic images and mesh them together to create a 3D image.

“We’ve already got a small team of volunteers involved with this project but the more help we can get the more we can record! With this training, volunteers will be able to research and record the military heritage of Walney, Barrow and beyond, so that we have a clearer picture of what remains today, and a better understanding of the region’s invaluable contribution to the two global conflicts of the twentieth century.”

Louise Martin, Cultural Heritage Officer from Morecambe Bay Partnership said: “This is a fascinating landscape and an important part of the archaeological record, although one that is often overlooked. The coastal position and construction techniques of these installations mean that they are now eroding away, some have already been lost to the sea or through collapse.

“It is important we record what remains of this important landscape before it is lost forever. We would like to encourage more volunteers to join us, learn new skills and make a real difference to our understanding of this often-unappreciated archaeological resource. We would like to thank Cumbria Wildlife Trust, who manage the South Walney Reserve, for their support in enabling us to deliver this project.”

The training/archaeological survey is taking place on 7th and 8th September on the South Walney Reserve from 10am-4pm. Volunteers can either book for one or both days. Places are free but limited so booking is essential via Eventbrite or by calling the office 01539 734888.

The project is being delivered as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Headlands to Headspace (H2H) Landscape Partnership Scheme, hosted by Morecambe Bay Partnership.

The Scheme is providing many more opportunities for communities to get involved in conserving, protecting and investigating the historic landscape of Morecambe Bay.

For further information about how to get involved contact [email protected] or 01539 734888.

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