Photo: part of the Hankley Common Atlantic Wall © Chris Shepheard
Just behind the 11th tee of Hankley Common golf course, on a popular dog walking route, is what has become known as the Hankley Common Atlantic Wall.
A hundred metres long, five metres high and five metres thick, the reinforced concrete wall was constructed during the second world war so that British troops could test weapons designed to penetrate Hitler’s Atlantic Wall in the run up to D-Day.
"What really impresses us," said David Fairhead of the Hankley Common Atlantic Wall Trust, "is the sheer degree of preparation that went into D-Day. They did a proper job."
Photo: some of the many 'dragon's teeth' alongside the wall © Chris Shepheard
Based on intelligence and air reconnaissance, the British created a mock-up of the wall Hitler built as part of coastal defences stretching from Spain to Norway. Then they practiced attacking it.
Visitors to the wall today will be able to see the remains of a range of features including tank traps like 'dragon’s teeth' and the Belgium Gates.
The steel gates, along with other artefacts, photographs, documents and letters will be on show at an exhibition called The Wall, organised by the Hankley Common Atlantic Wall Trust as part of the D-Day celebrations on June 5 and 6.
Photo: a hedgehog of steel rails next to the wall showing signs of attack with explosive charges © Chris Shepheard
Also on show will be evidence of the use of a petard mortar on the site, a large tank-mounted gun designed to attack bunkers and fortifications with shells as big as a dustbin, developed by Colonel Stuart Blacker.
Adapting tanks to take on Hitler’s coastal defences was one of the main aims of the engineers based at Hankley. Known as Hobart’s Funnies, the tanks could perform a range of tasks: Crocodiles were flame throwers, Crabs had a spinning flail attached to the front for mine clearance and some Churchill AVRE’s were fitted with a petard mortar. To find out more about Hobart’s Funnies click on this link to read our feature.
Photo: the Churchill 'Double Onion', capable of placing demolition charges at heights of up to 12ft, on Hankley Common near to the wall. Courtesy of The Tank Museum
The Wall is all about the role Hankley Common training area played in D-Day preparations and in particular about the wall itself. David Fairhead told the 24 Hour Museum it is one of maybe half a dozen or so walls of this type in the UK.
The exhibition will take place in a PortaKabin in the Duke of Cambridge pub car park. A public house has been on the site since the 1800s and German pub landlord, Achrim Klein, is certain that soldiers practising at the site would have drunk at his pub.
David Fairhead says: "The reason we’re holding it at the pub is it is where the top brass would meet before weapons demonstrations".
Photo: the wall today showing one of the breaches created by the double onion and damage from shellfire © Chris Shepheard
It is one of the many facts he and his five-man team at the Hankley Common Atlantic Wall Trust uncovered in the course of their research most of which was done at the Public Records Office. Locals have helped piece together the wall’s history - one local woman living on the edge of the common remembers her ceiling collapsing after one particularly violent army training session.
Today Hankley Common is still used as an army training ground. However, following the discovery of a rare colony of lichen growing on the wall last year the army no longer uses it in its exercises. Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of the lichen, it is hoped that English Heritage will soon list the structure.
Photo: The Duke of Cambridge pub in Tilford. Photo: Barry Field © 24 Hour Museum
The Hankley Common Atlantic Wall Trust was set up in February this year. "The long term aim of the group is to tell the big story and set up a permanent exhibition about the military history of the area," says David Fairhead.
To see some pictures of the wall and to learn more about its history, visit the site of one of the trust’s members and manager of the Rural Life Centre in Tilford, Chris Shepherd, by clicking here and follow the prompts to The Atlantic Wall.