GHQ (Defence) Line "B"
2nd Surrey (Farnham) Battalion

By Adrian Chan-Wyles

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As the Battle of Dunkirk (May 26th to June 4th 1940) raged and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in northern France was fighting for its very existence, defences were being planned, dug, built and arranged across the mainland of Britain with a particular and direct emphasis upon the fortification of the east and south of the country. This was because the BEF, French and Belgian armies were in full retreat under the onslaught of the Nazi German forces. As the BEF was evacuated from France the British military authorities quite logically expected Nazi Germany to maintain the momentum of its attack on the UK mainland, and invade through the use of paratroops and soldiers landed from the sea. Such an attack would have involved a comprehensive and well-co-ordinated Nazi German campaign that combined the Airforce, Army and Navy.

As a result the UK military authorities, acting under orders from the UK Government, devised numerous defensive methods to ‘hold’ and ‘check’ any and all Nazi German military incursions into the British homeland. An integral part of this strategy was to involve the effective and efficient use of the Home Guard – a voluntary military formation (originally founded by the Spanish Civil War Veteran Tom Wintringham). The Home Guard recruited men who were too young or too old to serve in the regular military, and worked upon the principle of trained soldiers learning to effectively defend the area within which they lived. Local knowledge was quite rightly considered an important advantage over any invader who did not intimately understand the landscape and positioning of roads, walls, hedges, ditches, rivers, houses, bridges and the like. Home Guard units were tasked with holding the enemy attacks at key strategic and tactical local points, making the best possible use of difficult (and/or deceptive) terrain, as well as natural or man-made barriers to prevent the enemy from advancing (or retreating in good order) depending upon circumstance.

Between June and August 1940, General Head Quarters (GHQ) designated the Farnham and surrounding areas of southern England as GHQ (defence) Line B (also known as 'Ironside's Line' - and 'Defence Area 13 Waverly Abbey'). In fact the River Wey area south of Farnham was designed to be very heavily defended, as the shallow water and relatively low-lying banks were not thought a sufficient enough obstacle to stop or prevent Nazi German tanks from attacking from the west and the south.


To assist in Farnham’s defence (and the defence of the nation) the War Office established the Camouflage Development and Training Centre (CDTC) within the rooms of Farnham Castle. This was an interesting initiative that saw Regular Army and Home Guard units learning together how best to use ‘deception’ and ‘camouflage’ as a means to combat what was then perceived as the superior Nazi German forces. This was the developed use of a flexible military logic that was forced to adapt to ever changing circumstances in a manner that benefitted the British defenders and disempowered the enemy. There are least three surviving pillboxes or gun emplacements around the Waverly Abbey – River Wey area of south Farnham. These defensive positions were designed to cover the River Wey and the anti-tank ditch that was dug to augment the river as a natural barrier, so as to prevent successful enemy crossings of military personnel and machinery – as the River Wey itself was not considered sufficient enough in its natural state to act as an effective barrier. The anti-tank gun emplacement that survives in near perfect condition in the Waverly Bridge car park area possesses a rear open courtyard, with its frontage facing south and west looking-out toward Waverly Abbey to its left, and the River Wey (and anti-tank ditch) to its right. This is the view to the west through the front (main) gun portal of this emplacement today:

The roof of the gun emplacement was built using criss-crossing metal rods set in concrete (for extra strength), whilst the walls were made of bricks and mortar. When viewed from above, this gun emplacement is designed very similar to a number ‘6’ in shape, with the underbelly serving as the front area and the curved top as the rear area. The walls of the emplacement possess 5 distinct rifle or light machine gun loopholes. These features (one of which has the date ‘1940’ etched into its frame) enabled the defenders of the structure to protect the emplacement should it be attacked from the sides or rear. Where part of the inner roof has fallen away due to age, the inner structure of the roof can be clearly discerned (see right).



This gun emplacement is believed to have housed a single 2-pound anti-tank gun served by at least a three-man crew similar to the photograph shown left.





This is how the front, sides and rear of this Farnham gun emplacement would have looked to the enemy:

This is how the Home Guard gun-crew would have seen the inside of their gun emplacement:

This gun emplacement has another unique feature. Placed along the wall tops (and above the front operation area) are a number of ‘castellations’ apparently for camouflage reasons, perhaps in an effort to make the structure resemble the nearby Waverly Abbey ruins when viewed from the air:

The troops that manned this gun emplacement (and the various other defence structures in the area) were from 'B' Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Surrey Home Guard, the 2nd Surrey (Farnham) Battalion. This gun emplacement acted in an integrated manner with the other pillboxes placed in and around the Waverly Abbey area to cause a deadly cross-fire over the River Wey. The object of this design was to make the maximum use of ‘static’ defence locations so as to slow down and/or ‘halt’ an enemy advance in the area. As this was a purely defensive strategy in 1940, the Home Guard were expected to hold each position no matter what. This can be seen in the design of this gun emplacement as it appears to have been structured to hold-out even if completely surrounded and cut-off by the enemy. Its rear design can be disorientating to an attacking enemy as not only does it ‘curve’ in a deceptive manner, but the pathway channels any attacking infantry that enters the rear area, into specially designed ‘kill zones’ facilitated by the various loopholes. This gun emplacement has in its design the urgency of the Second World War felt in the UK in mid-1940 and the defensive psychology that was present at the time. As the war progressed, and the direct threat of a Nazi German invasion receded, the British military developed a more aggressive strategy, but the Home Guard always worked through the concept of a strong (and aggressive) defence, even if this meant potentially holding static positions until the bitter end, and thus giving the Regular Army crucial time to fully mobilise and respond to enemy action.

This gun emplacement at Farnham is one of a number surviving testaments to the bravery and commitment to duty of the British Home Guard.



Waverly Abbey – Defence Area 13

2 Pound Anti-Tank Gun

Surrey Home Guard

Farnham Castle – Permanent Historical Exhibition


Grateful acknowledgement is made to
Dr. Adrian Chan-Wyles for researching and writing the above article and for generously permitting its publication on this page.

Text and images © Adrian Chan-Wyles 2015.




x123 November 2015