Tuesday 29 January 2013

Walls of History

At many of the historic military sites & air raid shelters, we have been lucky enough to document pencil graffiti & etchings, some dating back more than 100 years. Written on whitewashed & eroded walls - names, company units, humour & drawings fill an otherwise vacant space leaving a clue for us to hopefully build a better picture & history of the location.

WWII graffiti beneath Bovisand Fort casemates

Graffiti dating back to November 1914,  four months after the start of World War I

Dedication to a Captain on the walls of a former prison cell

With many sites documented now lost to demolition, these images live on with an important purpose - a reminder of the occupants of the time. What happened to the people in later years? The Private who etched his name in pencil at an underground fuel store in 1914 for example - Was he to see battle in the fields of the Somme? Or the ladies of the NAAFI, names written in chalk adorning a section of school air raid shelter - What was to be their fate during the remainder of the Plymouth Blitz?

A prisoner in a fort prison cell left his mark in December 1914, where it still remains evident today

Initials inside a fort tunnel

WWII graffiti months before the German surrender

Air raid shelters around the city have thrown up some of the finest pencil scrawls from shelters around the UK, with sketches including Churchill, Hitler, Luftwaffe aircraft, names & addresses. Many quality drawings adorn humid walls, the artist unknown in many cases, but leaving their historic imprint for future generations to discover & document, making otherwise unseen places accessible to the public via photographs. Amount of graffiti in shelters does vary with one containing very little left, or drawings that had simply worn away through time. Or, in the case of a shelter we documented last year that had the most drawings I have personally seen, stunningly preserved & after 4 hours of documenting what we found, the chances are there will still be more that we had missed, waiting to be discovered by the next researcher.

HMS Javelin

Support Plymouth Warships Week

Luftwaffe dropping parachute bombs

Crossed out scrawls

Mary had a little lamb....

Victory to the British Empire - We did win!

I often wonder what the person was experiencing at the time of their scrawls in the shelter. Were they filled with fear of the chaotic bombardment that rained on the city? Or calm in their thoughts with the mind being occupied with their drawing? There are, in my opinion, works of art on some of the walls showing true skill of the person sketching & must have taken a great amount of effort & time. We look forward to bringing you more findings over the coming months. If you have any photos taken from other locations please feel free to get in touch!

Recognise this chap?

National Fire Service

Sinister looking gas mask sketch

Standing almost three feet high, this stunning depiction of a worker

Boot sketch

Look out for another feature on the blog coming soon.....Shelter Art of WWII.


  1. Great bit or recording that which many people would overlook.

  2. Thank you Bill. This is one of the more laborious parts to our documenting but the most rewarding. We did one ARP shelter back in 2010 that had been 'officially' docuemnted by a professional archivist who just happened to miss half of the graffiti on the walls. When we presented them with the photos, they swore blind that the drawings were from a different shelter. Made me chuckle.