Wednesday 12 June 2013

Excursions - A Tale of Two Pillboxes

Back in May, I was chatting with the Chairman of Plymouth Caving Group, Dave Warne, who mentioned that one of the group mentioned about some bunkers appearing at Downderry, due to a landslide. Instantly I thought it to be the WWII Radar Bunker that survives hidden from view high on the cliff face. Downderry was the site of a major RAF Chain Home Radar Installation & heavy military activity during the Second World War, but little evidence remains with main part of the site now West and East Camps Bay housing. However, after a bit of poking about some years ago, I came across a WWII looking structure up on the hillside which had myths surrounding it's depth into the hillside and tales of a long tunnel. I'll feature more on that another time as not long after that, myself and a friend came across another bunker well hidden from view. This was sealed up a couple of years back after numerous all-night parties taking place.

Distraction after distraction, the conversation became a distant memory until out on the mine trip last weekend with Jezz in search of Churchill's Army Bunkers. Jezz brought up the same subject, but this time was more specific in stating that two defensive pillboxes had been revealed due to recent landslides and it was only a matter of time combined with more heavy weather for gravity to take it's process.

The landslip that has uncovered WWII pilboxes after  years of being camouflaged  by nature for years

The wife and I finally made a recce visit yesterday to see for ourselves and was pretty pleased to see they were still perched high on the cliff, now exposed after years of nature reclaiming the shuttered concrete defensive positions that would have protected the Radar Installation, obscuring them from view. The weather conditions over the last year in Cornwall resulted in landslides all over the county and Downderry has had quite a few landlsips across a range of around 1,000 metres that we walked. What it has done is essentially brought exposed two previously undocumented buildings important to our research, the results of which will be passed to English Heritage and The Defence of Britain Database Archive, enabling them to update their records.

A sunnier photo showing the exposed pillboxes

Their uncovering sheds new light on this former site that also had a number of air raid shelters,although no trace has been found of any of these so far. Who knows what else the thick knee ripping gorse holds, smothering these pillboxes making them virtually impenetrable, with mother nature almost taking a defensive stance. We have a surveyor of landslips and erosion coming down to take a look from the beach and offer her opinion on how long she estimates their gradual descent and will update you as to her findings.

Do you have any memories or old photographs of Downderry during the Second World War?

Did you explore the site as a child in the fifties before demolition?

If so, please get in touch. We would love to hear from you


  1. An interesting blog. Do you, by any chance, give talks to local history groups? We are arranging a programme for our group in Stoke Climsland and wonder if this is something you would consider? My e-mail address is if you'd like to contact me.

  2. Hi Derrick, and thank you. yes we do indeed do talks and pop-up exhibitions. I shall pop you an e-mail with full details. I have conducted some research around Stoke Climsland and it offers the perfect opportunity!