Section Trenches


 

  • A map dated 16th May 1940 shows the defence scheme of Walberswick in some detail, with the location of section positions and arcs of fire for Bren guns, rifles and the Boys anti-tank rifle. The Company effectively occupied a defensive line from the river in the north to an area about 1500 metres to the south.

 

Map 1940

Map of 16th May 1940 showing the dispositions and arcs of fire for the 2nd/4th South Lancashire Regiment at Walberswick and Southwold (From TNA WO 166/4680).

 

Map 1940

Detail of the map showing the dispositions of 'C' Company (TNA WO 166/4680.

 

  • Each infantry section manned defensive trenches. We are fortunate that some of these trenches still survive today as earthworks. In plan, the trenches are sinuous in order to stop enemy fire raking the entire trench line. The firing points were slightly to the front, allowing a slightly greater field of fire. In the base of the trench was a raised fire-step, upon which troops stood to take up their firing positions. 
  • When in the bottom of the trench, the heads of the occupying troops would not stand proud of the parapet. The spoil from the trench was deposited on either side and roughly shaped at the front in such as way as not to restrict visibility but also allow any incoming shot to impact against it, while raised at the back to prevent the occupants' heads being silhouetted to any attacker. 
  • When in prolonged use, or when conditions demanded, trenches were revetted with a variety of materials, including corrugated iron, wood and sandbags. As an added protection, the trenches were surrounded by barbed wire.

 

 

Earthworks

Earthwork remains of section trench, looking north. This photos shows the main part of the fire trench. The firestep would have been to the right.

 

 

  • Such a trench could accommodate one section if required, but shorter lengths could hold fewer numbers of men. In such situations, or where there was an attendant pillbox, sections of fire trench were connected via a communication trench that was narrower and lacked a firestep.
  • Communication trenches were also sinuous in shape, again to prevent intruders or the effects of shellfire from devastating the men sheltering within. The effect of constructing trenches in this way meant that distinctive patterns emerged, often highly visible on aerial photographs.

 

Earthworks

View of the same trench system looking south. This picture shows the earthwork remains of the communication trench linking the fire trench with the concrete pillbox.

 

  • Excavations at one trench in Walberswick in 2009 as part of this project showed the existence of such a large firestep that it raised the possibility that some kind of dugout existed, something that might also be suggested by comments in the battalion war diary that troops were very comfortable while at their posts. The excavation also revealed part of a door lock, indicating that local buildings had been used as a source of materials.
  • The overall appearance of the trenches was probably one of scruffy, but serviceable, positions. The few photographs taken of such trenches on the east coast, such as those at Great Yarmouth in 1940, show examples that were probably very similar to those at Walberswick. 
  • Here, a variety of materials have been used as revetments and the firing positions and pillboxes are heavily sandbagged. While the dependence on the 'official' methods laid down for construction of such positions are clear, the general character suggests a hasty construction.

 

Attack on a Pillbox

Although heavily staged for propaganda purposes, these photos from an 'attack on a pillbox' exercise in Great Yarmouth in 1940 provide very good contemporary evidence for the kind of trenches constructed at Walberswick. The rough and ready character can readily be appreciated (Imperial War Museum).

Trench system
A valuable photograph showing a pillbox with its attendant trench system (Imperial War Museum).

Pillbox