Fear of German invasion from the summer of 1940 led to the creation of extensive series of defence lines and defended localities across Britain. Chief of these was the epic GHQ Line. This crossed southern England from the Bristol Channel to the bank of the Medway and then across the Hoo Peninsula to the edge of the Thames at Cliffe, resuming on the Essex shore north to shield the industrial Midlands. The section across the Hoo peninsula comprised a discontinuous anti-tank ditch backed by supporting pillboxes. Until later removal to extend a lagoon, a short length of this crossed the Cliffe Pools reserve to the edge of the river, where – just outside the area – a 100m section survives, together with some concrete obstacle blocks and a pillbox. There is a possibility that a short length of anti-tank ditch was provided to run west of Westcourt Farm but this needs further investigation.

In common with practice in riverine and coastal areas, the riverbank was patrolled by the Home Guard, to protect against the possibility of the landing of German agents or raiding by small sabotage groups. Inland, the Home Guard patrolled to look out for the possible landing of agents by parachute. 

It is said that poles and wire obstructions were erected in the marshes to deter the landing of enemy troop carrying gliders, and there are some general references to this in contemporary documents.

It is likely that the high ground, which overlooked the marshes from the SE quadrant of the Study Area, figured in anti-invasion measures, perhaps involving the siting of trenches and fire positions, but the evidence for this has yet to be discovered. However, records show that in September, 1941, there was a second Home Guard Battle Headquarters for 2 platoons at Cliffe School, close to Cliffe Church. Regular troops were sometimes present and it is known that these included the Worcestershire Regiment. 

Known from memories of local people rather than from any records yet found, a chalk quarry just west of Manor Farm was used during the Second World War for the training of the Home Guard, marine commandos and others, in target practice with rifles and in the use of such weapons as Molotov cocktails, spigot mortars and improvised explosives. A variety of semidefunct factory buildings within the quarry enhanced the potential of the site for military training. Explosions were heard in Cliffe Village at all times of the day or night. Anecdotally, this activity started in 1940 but its longevity is unknown. It is said that in 1944 some specialist troops intended for the D Day landings in France used the quarry for practice in the climbing of chalk cliffs.

 

by Victor Smith 

Courtesy: RSBP/ASE


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