Neil's News

Over There

23 July 2005

[War poster] World War II was a global conflict which ran from 1939 to 1945. Everyone knows the events, the locations, the people, the hardware and the results. Every November school children are herded into school gymnasiums where they stand fidgeting while adults perform some ceremony. For me, and I suspect most people my age, it's not a real event. It's something that happened before we were born. It's something that happened "over there".

But once in a while, one encounters something unexpected. A short distance from my flat, in a deserted field next to the railway tracks, there's a small concrete structure. The walls are two feet thick. There are empty slots on each side for gun mounts. It is almost completely obscured by weeds. There's no plaque, no marker. It is a mute and unexpected reminder that 50 years ago, Britain was preparing to be invaded.

[Fort - Hidden]
Almost hidden in the undergrowth of thistles and stinging nettles is an octagonal concrete structure.

[Fort - Railway]
It is positioned right next to the Aberdeen-Inverness rail line. At the time of the second world war, trains would have been powered by steam locomotives. Boiler explosions are easy to cause and can have impressive results.

[Fort - Entrance]
A rusty steel door grants indirect access to the interior.

[Fort - Inside]
There is enough room inside for three or four men and their equipment.

Shortly after I moved to Scotland I noticed that most houses were surrounded with low stone walls, each of which bore indications that at one time there was an iron fence on top. At first I assumed that these fences had simply fallen out of fashion, or some idiotic health and safety law had made them illegal. Years later I found out that these iron fences had been confiscated and melted down as part of the war effort. Every day as I walk to and from work, I pass by dozens of houses which still bear the scars of war.

[Fences - Missing]
This stone wall clearly had an iron fence on top of it. The fence was cut off during World War II.

[Fences - Street]
A typical street, lined on both sides by low stone walls which have had their fences stripped off.

[Fences - Spike]
Sometimes the fence removal wasn't done with care. Here a large spike was left behind.

[Fences - Gate]
Gates were usually removed along with the fences. In this case the gate survived, though it looks naked.

[Fences - Replaced]
Here's one of the few houses which replaced their fence after the war. One can still see the original holes underneath the new fence.

[Fences - Survivor]
One of the very few surviving fences. In this case, the garden is at a raised level, so removing the fence would have left a small cliff.

[Fences - Survivor]
Another one of the very few surviving fences. In this case the stone wall is less than a foot high, so removing the fence would leave no barrier.

Despite all the museums, ceremonies and monuments, what made the war real was an abandoned shelter and some sawn-off iron bars. And neither of these would have had the effect had there been signs pointing out their significance.

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