MILITARY ACTIVITY

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TANKS ON NORTH HILL MINEHEAD
 

Military use of the high land within the parish has been considerable.
From the time of the iron age to World War II

 
A hill spur enclosure known as Furzebury Brake is situated at the crest of a hill overlooking steep slopes to the sea and to Grexy Combe.It was presumably used for normal living purposes, and probably also for defence.
Henry VIII planned to build a round tower for the protection of the coast at Hurlstone Point, just outside the parish to the west, and a battery at Minehead to the east, both equipped with heavy cannon. However, these appear not to have been used, and indeed may never have been constructed. Queen Anne authorised a navigation light to be shown, also at Hurlstone, but this again does not seem to have been built.
A beacon was set up and maintained above Selworthy from 1555, eventually giving its name to the site.
Modern military use of the area started in the late 19th cenutury with the establishment of a training camp on North Hill. This camp was on a large scale and possible extended across the whole northern part of the parish.
There were 4000 men from Severn Brigade, presumably infantry, transferred to the area in 1893. Welsh volunteers were brought to Minehead by cross-channel steamers and by the Great Western Railway.
The area continued as a major military training zone up to the First World War, and in 1907 the Army Summer Camp at North Hill even had its own special postmark. In 1914 the permanent garrison was withdrawn and the camp used by various corps for training new recruits.

Below left is a picture of D Squadron, West Somerset Yeomanry, in Minehead 1915. Below right, a picture of North Somerset Imperial Yeomanry, Minehead in 1908 .


 
   
 
 
   
 
   
This picture, on the left, shows the 12th Somerset Light Infantry on horseback riding along the road at Horner, Near Porlock, their camp in the background. I have a relative amongst them, he sent this actual postcard to his mother. He died in France in 1918 aged 25.
 
 


Between the wars, the moorland was only occasionally used by the military, mainly the 5th Somerset Light Infantry embodied as a territorial force.
. Mobilisation in 1939 saw this battalion become a major unit, and it served generally in West Somerset, until transferred in 1940 as part of anti-invasion preparations. The 9th and 10th Somerset Light Infantry were raised in this period and allocated to coast defence in the whole county. Parts of these units were stationed on the coast within the parish.
The moorland zone became a major military camp and training ground. All the high ground was place out of bounds to civilians and farms were evacuated. Units active in the area were specialised support groups rather than basic infantry or armoured battalions, but Canadian and American tanks used the area for training.
The cliff area was again considered for coastal defence purposes, and the coastline came under the command, firstly by the Portland Naval Base, and then the 20th Coast Artillery Group. At least two 4inch naval batteries were installed and the remains of their sites may still be seen. The whole area was militarised at this time with the construction of a light railway, roads, watchtowers, underground storage rooms and shooting areas. Activity delined before the end of the war and had ceased by 1946. A systematic program of removal of all military structures was started being formally completed by the early 1950s, when the area reverted to common land or the original owners. The general area was officially declared safe for public use, but bomb disposal parties were still operating in 1978.

Link to History of the 81st Tank Battalion

Major evidence remaining includes foundations and buildings, the site of part of the light railway, possibly for moving targets, miscellaneous brickwork and land damage by tracked vehicles. Two old quarries were reopened by the military in 1939 for roadmaking. Mounds cover blocked-up underground chambers. The northern end of moor wood is covered with massive concrete aprons and various mounds and ditches all of military significance.
A bumper water supply with frequent standpipes was installed in 1935 along the length of North Hill. Most of the pipes were later removed, but one, just above Bramble Combe remains.

Update 2010, I have taken pictures of a lot of the foundations which have just been uncovered and can be viewed here

 

 
   
Below is a postcard sent from Minehead in 1906
 
   
 
      An interesting site about the Imperial Yeomanry CLICK HERE  
         
   
 
   

MINEHEAD HOME GUARD WW2. PICTURE SUPPLIED BY DAVE LLOYD
Photo taken outside of Womens Institute Hall that stood adjacent to the Telephone Exchange and close to the postal sorting office.
This building was demolished c.1955 and replaced by houses

Members of D Company 15th Gloucester (Post Office) Battalion.

Key:  E = PO Engineer  P = Postal staff  MT = Motor Transport & d = those I know are deceased.

Names Dave remembers - if anyone can correct or add, please email me.
L to R back row first,
Dave Stoate(Ed) Gordon Edwards(E) John Bruford(E) Ray Howe(E) Ken Stoate(Ed) Dave Lloyd(E) Douglas Bryant (P)
Middle Row: Mr Nation(P )Eric Newcombe(Ed) Jim Hurley(E) Harry Stevens(MT) Mr May(Pd) Mr Mason(P) Mr Double(P) Clem Williams(Pd)
Mr ?(Pd) Mr?(P) Bart Naylor(Ed)
Front row: Bert Reed (Ed) Mr Agas (P) Sgt?Bill Gill(Ed) Mr?(MT) Mr Moore(P) (Mr Baggett or Puttock?)

I think this is the stand down march of the ARP wardens probably the same march as the Home Guard. My dad is the first on the left.
he was an RSM in the First World War.  Dave

MORE ABOUT DAVE LLOYD CAN BE FOUND HERE

 

 

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