WWII Island Heritage buildings and relics
If you have an interest in old war relics there are plenty on the Isle of Wight. The Island has always been thought of as strategically important, and a potential gateway to the rest of the UK, so it was heavily fortified at all times of conflict during our history.
Puckpool Park, overlooking the Solent, was a manned fort in both World Wars and whilst none of the interior rooms are open to the public, you can wander around the exterior, picking out gun emplacements and features from the former garrison. Bembridge Fort on top of Culver Down was armed during WWII and had soldiers garrisoned within its walls, with the round ball style Alan Williams anti-aircraft gun turrets on the top. These rusting features have now been painted National Trust green and can still be seen through the greenery growing up there.
Bembridge Fort has lots of tunnels down to the brick bastions at the corners of the fort that buttress into the huge dry moat. There’s also a huge brick vaulted room that held gunpowder for the guns in the late 1800s when it was built to defend us from a rumoured French invasion, but at that time it never fired a gun in battle. The National Trust do organise guided tours of the fort in the summer months. Click here for more information.
It is not reported that any of the guns on Bembridge Fort shot down German fighters or bomber aircraft, although the top of Culver Down must have seen a fair amount of gun battles. The road that runs along the top of Culver Down, past Bembridge Fort, carries on down to the newer battery and gun emplacements that were built especially for WWII at the end of the chalk down, with much larger gun sites. These are open to the air, with no entrance fee – just park in the small parking area overlooking Whitecliff Bay and you can explore the gun emplacements and the remains of the battery on foot.
There are still gun emplacements or ‘pill boxes’ on the cliffs around the south of the Island, in particular at Yaverland where you can make out a brick structure that has almost fallen down the 100ft cliff. Almost opposite Isle of Wight Pearl is a concrete gun pill box that is clearly visible from the road.
Wroxall Down still has one of the round ball style Alan Williams Anti-Aircraft Turrets close to the entrance to the railway tunnel that runs down to Ventnor Industrial Estate. You can view this from the St Boniface to Wroxall footpath number V8, and it’s in a field close to a ventilation shaft for the long tunnel running from Ventnor to Wroxall. This gun must have been to guard the steam trains which emerged here from the Ventnor tunnel, and to help protect the radar towers on top of Ventnor Downs.
On top of Ventnor Down (drive up Downs Road from Newport Road) are several brick-built snipers huts, again from WWII, which you can explore if you wish. These were quite close to the radar station, and you can see communication towers still now on top of the downs. A former bunker that once had anti-aircraft guns, has recently been converted into a stunning holiday home overlooking Ventnor Bay, and this can be seen from the road as well.
Sniper huts on Ventnor Down
Just above Ventnor Industrial Estate, which was once Ventnor Railway Station, there are the remains of a rifle range used by soldiers in WWII. If you walk up the footpath to the west of the entrance to the Industrial Estate you will come across them, and on this path you will encounter a small brick built shelter, which may have been connected to the range – perhaps for ammunition. Little of the range remains, save a few crumbling walls. It’s difficult to make out what was there during the war, but there is an eerie feeling to this small valley, as if you are being watched.
The Markers Hut near Chale Recreation Ground is almost intact however, and it is easy to see how it might have been used. Soldiers were stationed here to put out markers in the fields on each side so that Allied aircraft might practice shooting at them. It must have been a terrifying job putting out those markers and making sure that you were back in the brick structure before the machine gun fire commenced – with only radio communication available to alert those involved. Walk down through Chale Recreation Ground to the coastal path and turn right and you will see the Marker’s Hut come into view. If crops are in the field in which it sits, don’t tread on them when you make your way over to the hut!