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Surprise! A concrete bunker

By 08/11/2022November 28th, 2022News

Groundworks contractors in Plumstead have found an unexpected air raid shelter! Our evaluation trenches in different parts of the site had previously uncovered two phases of 19th century occupation.

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The client called us for advice and after consultation with HE GLAAS, we recorded the bunker.

Charlotte Matthews, Head of Historic Buildings and landscapes at PCA said “The bunker is a significant find because the location of most air raid shelters is known, it’s rare to find one that nobody knows about. The Second World War is part of Britain’s national history, and the find is therefore of significance as part of the war effort. The amount of concrete used in the bunker suggests that it was built early on in the war because later on in the war building materials were in scarce supply. The air raid shelter reflects the fear people felt for their safety at the beginning of the war. Plumstead suffered particularly heavy bombardment due to its close proximity to the Woolwich Arsenal.”

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PCA Project manager Jon Webster, who specialises in conflict archaeology, shares his thoughts:

“The construction of this bunker with two airshafts and entrances is a demonstration of lessons hard won during the Great War and is almost identical to many I have seen on the Western Front. It’s a sobering thought to think how many of that generation sat in bunkers just like this one and what thoughts must they have had? It’s a reminder that during the Second World War nowhere was truly safe and that everyone, young or old was forced to endure.”

It is clear that this bunker was the result of concerted effort, it was not the typical Anderson type that families put in their garden. This was a communal effort, either by a company or one of the many ‘street communal shelters’ which were undertaken from March 1940. The design of this one has been heavily influenced by the lessons learnt during the earlier Great War and you can clearly see two air shafts. It is likely that there would have been two entrances also so that there was always a way to escape if one entrance was blocked by falling debris. Many of these shelters had large metal doors and often paraffin or electric heating, examples can still be seen and are open to the public around the country. It’s a sobering reminder that everyone, regardless of age, was forced to endure during these dark days and you can’t help but ask yourself “How would I have coped?”

It is often forgotten, and with remembrance day just around the corner worth remembering, that during War those at home could often end up on a battlefield as well. It’s a sobering reminder that conflict has touched and shaped all our lives, each one of us has relatives who lived through this defining pinch point of history and regardless of what they did or how old they were this was their reality. It’s a discovery that helps remind us how lucky we are and the sacrifices those only one or two generations from us made.”

We’d love memories of World War II in Plumstead to be unearthed along with the shelter; please get in touch if you have any you’d like to share.

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