CART Dorset Bunker Bash. A report by Dorset CIO Will Ward.
The 3rd August 2014 saw a memorable get together of three former Dorset Auxiliers and researchers at a rather special location in the south of Dorset. Dorset Home Guard researcher John Pidgeon was the organiser, having been contacted by the landowner via The Keep Museum in Dorchester. During a visit the owner had asked if the museum knew anything about the underground structures on his land. They contacted John, who recognised the site as one described to us previously by a member of the public, during a visit to another OB site as part of the South Dorset Ridgeway project.
CART was represented by CART CIO Will Ward and West Dorset assistant Martyn Allen. A remarkable turnout of three surviving Auxiliers joined the team, consisting of Wrackleford Patrol member George Northover with his son, Abbotsbury Patrol member Gerald Dunford and 94 year old Douglas Keegan from Came Down Patrol near Dorchester. Also present was Sybil Legg, the widow of Chickerell Patrol member Leslie Legg with her son. Lloyd Dare, son of Whitchurch Canicorum Patrol member William Fred Dare and Robin and Charlie Pitcher, grandson and great grandson respectively of Long Bredy Patrol member Charlie Pitcher, came along too. Finally we were joined by Gary Sterne, who runs the D Day Museum in Weymouth, as well as Maisy Battery in Normandy, so is well used to exploring bunkers, but normally German ones instead of British!
Surviving Dorset Auxiliers (from left) George Northover, Gerald Dunford and Douglas Keegan, meeting for the first time (the Aux Units in West and South Dorset did not meet up as a group ever). Photo by Martyn Allen.
We had a fascinating chat to start, with some displays of Aux Units weaponry from John and some of the CART displays from the recent Broadmayne event. The veterans talked about some of their experiences. Though Fred Dare is still alive, he still refuses to talk about his Aux Units service. His son did mention that he had described guarding some of the vulnerable sites in the Purbecks around D Day, a role we know Dorset Auxiliers were allocated. He also recalled that June 6th had seen a brief snow flurry, sufficient to turn the ground white, which goes to show what a close call it must have been to say the weather was adequate for the invasion to go ahead. George Northover was one of the youngest Dorset Auxiliers, having replaced his brother when he left for the RAF. He recalled how his OB had a hatch in a hedgerow. The plants of the hedge would rise up when the hatch was opened! Douglas Keegan did not receive his Aux Units stand down enamel badge at the end of the war. He would quite like one, but at over £300, they are a bit pricey. CART has arranged the next best thing and has given him one of our enamel badges.
Together we then headed uphill to visit not one, but two OBs on the farm. The first was built into the bottom of a disused cottage and the Auxiliers were impressed by the quality of the construction, which was much sturdier than usual. It is still in good condition, even if flooded on a regular basis.
The inside of the cottage bunker prior to pumping the water out
We then moved a relatively short distance to a second and largely collapsed site in a small wood. This had originally been thought by the owners to relate to an antiaircraft gun site known to have existed nearby (nose cones from the shells are sometimes ploughed up in the fields). However our visited revealed all the hallmarks of a typical OB, with entrance and exit designed for hatches, not steps, the remains of bunks and shelves inside and typical Elephant shelter construction. What isn’t clear is which patrol used this OB! The patrol that used the cottage OB are said to have moved to another in a copse within site of the cottage, suggesting another patrol used this site. With no surviving members from the likely candidate patrol, we can’t be sure.
A view looking along the collapsed chamber of the second OB.
In the foreground is a collapsed wall, with concrete showing the indentations of the corrugated iron elephant shelter, and with with a square cut out in the brickwork, most likely for a ventilation pipe. Between the overgrowth in the distance can be seen daylight coming through the doorway into either an entrance or exit chamber. Just beyond the brickwork is the curved roof of the collapsed chamber. Tape measure, notebook and pencil are poised to record the site. (Secateurs and gloves are to clear the undergrowth!)
Look out for full reports on this website soon. Many thanks to John Pidgeon for making the arrangements, and to the landowner and their family for a superb visit in the summer sunshine. We all learnt a lot from an enjoyable day out.
Please note that these OBs are on private land are not normally accessible. Both are in a dangerous condition and we made special arrangements for confined space access equipment, including gas detectors and rescue harnesses, with trained operators, to be available for this visit.