Picture gallery: Teen friends from North Walsham, Felmingham and Sheringham discover Second World War secrets in hidden pillbox

PUBLISHED: 07:00 20 February 2014 | UPDATED: 11:09 20 February 2014

Friends, left to right, Kieran Etherington, 16, Jared Herring, 16, Jake Brader, 16 and Connor Savage, 17, from North Walsham, are renovating a second World War pillbox.

Friends, left to right, Kieran Etherington, 16, Jared Herring, 16, Jake Brader, 16 and Connor Savage, 17, from North Walsham, are renovating a second World War pillbox. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

What started as a boyhood summer holiday adventure has become a fascinating glimpse into history for a group of north Norfolk teenagers who are restoring a Second World War pillbox.

A potted history of pillboxes

■Concrete pillboxes were first used by the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War, in response to the development of the machine gun.

■They were used by the German army in the First World War (1914-18) on the Western Front.

■Pillboxes also became an increasingly important part of Britain’s coastal defences from 1916-18.

■The popularity of the pillbox took off during the Second World War (1939-45). In 1940 approximately 18,000 were built.

■During the Second World War the pillbox was mainly associated with beach defences, anti-invasion defensive stop lines but some were placed to defend coastal batteries, airfields and radar stations.

■At the start of the First World War there were no effective defences in Norfolk. All existing forts had been dismantled except an obsolete battery in Great Yarmouth.

■Defence lines in the county were strengthened in 1916 by concrete pillboxes because of fears of a German invasion.

In north Norfolk they were built in a circular shape and placed mainly in a line inland from Weybourne to Sea Palling.

■Today there are 31 recorded World War One pillbox sites in Norfolk. Of these, seven have been demolished.

■During the Second World War the defence strategy for Norfolk included batteries, pillboxes, anti-tank obstacles, trenches, barbed wire, searchlights and mines. Norwich was surrounded by anti-tank obstacles supported by half a dozen pillboxes.

■Pillboxes were nearly always under two metres high, of squat, heavy construction, and usually flat roofed.

Jake Brader, 16, and his friends have discovered wartime graffiti, wall paintings - and unexploded hand grenades which had to be detonated by the bomb squad.

They first tracked down the hidden pillbox three years ago with a vague idea of turning it into a den.

The landowner has asked that its precise north Norfolk location is not identified.

Last summer Jake, of High Street, Sheringham, Connor Savage, 17, of Northmead Drive, North Walsham, Jared Herring, 16, of Bradmoor Road, Felmingham, and Kieran Etherington, 16, of Patch Meadow, North Walsham, spent two days pulling off the ivy strangling and hiding the structure and began to explore its interior.

Scribbled on the walls were scarcely-legible names of wartime soldiers, dates, and their army numbers.

Jake managed to decipher one name – Pte R Pearce – pencilled with his military number and the date June 20 1940.

That month saw the fall of France to the Nazis and Hitler then turned his attention to his next invasion target – Britain.

The pillbox formed part of the East coast’s line of defence, with Weybourne known to be a possible landing place for the Germans.

Jake’s research has revealed that Roy Leonard Nelson Pearce came from Metfield, in Suffolk, and he was in the 6th Royal Norfolks.

Pte Pearce served in the Far East and was killed, aged just 23, on January 27 1942. His name is recorded on the Singapore memorial at Kranji.

A few metres from the pillbox the teens came across another wartime building which Jake believes is an “elephant hut”, used by soldiers or the Home Guard to rest between shifts in the pillbox.

Painted on its inside walls were the words “Eagle” with the flaky remains of an eagle’s head, plus crossed flags and symbols.

Outside, the blast wall - which protected the entrance from a grenade being thrown into the hut – is intact but lying on the floor.

In the surrounding woodland the quartet stumbled on an ammunition dump containing four hand grenades which were detonated by the military earlier this month. They have also uncovered a network of trenches in the area.

Jake, who is studying history as one of his A-level choices at Paston College in North Walsham, said the discoveries had been exciting and interesting.

“It’s strange to find out about someone 70 years ago in the modern era,” he said. “It drives you on to do more. I think it’s an under-exposed part of our history. We want to carry on elsewhere, with other pillboxes.”

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