First World War pillbox for riflemen, thought to have been built in 1917 as part of a strong point defending the exit off Auburn Sands/Fraisthorpe Beach.
Reasons for Designation
First World War pillbox (BA19) south east of Auburn Farm is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity: a rare surviving First World War pillbox, thought to have been amongst the earliest to have been built in England, using techniques developed on the Western Front in 1916;
* Adaptation: the reuse of the Auburn Farm pillboxes in the Second World War adds to their interest;
* Design: as illustrations of the early development and use of reinforced concrete for infantry defence;
* Group value: the way in which the pillboxes are arranged as a group of mutually supporting pillboxes forming a strong point is of particular special interest as an illustration of First World War defensive thinking.
British concerns about German military ambitions grew steadily during the first decade of the C20 and it was realised that the previous emphasis on the provision of defences along the South Coast of England was misplaced. Work commenced on the provision of new coastal defences for the Humber around 1913; however, little consideration was given to the possibility of a German invasion. This situation changed dramatically with the German invasion of Belgium, which resulted in Great Britain declaring war on Germany on 4 August 1914. With the German Army lodged in Belgium and eastern France, the East Coast of the British Isles suddenly became vulnerable to attack or invasion. Initially the British Army moved mobile bicycle battalions into the coastal areas and stationed reserves in camps and barracks close to the coast. Fieldworks were prepared along vulnerable lengths of coastline, consisting of trenches, redoubts, barbed wire entanglements, and field-gun emplacements; in addition, extensive hedge clearances were undertaken to improve fields of fire and some pre-existing buildings and farms were fortified. These fieldworks were typical of the time; however, hard lessons learned on the Western Front from 1916 onwards, showed the value of mutually supporting concrete emplacements. These structures in soldiers' slang acquired the term 'pillbox', 'pill box', or 'pillar box'. The term 'pill box' first appeared in print on the front page of The Times newspaper on 2 August 1917. The appearance and distribution of First World War pillboxes in England would suggest a degree of centralised design, with circular, square, rectangular, trapezoidal and hexagonal designs. Some of the Commander Royal Engineers (CRE), responsible for over-seeing the construction work would have had experience of building pillboxes on the Western Front, hence the variations in the choice of designs. Square and rectangular pillboxes dating to the First World War can be found in Kent, Suffolk and Norfolk; however they are all built with much more substantial walls and roofs. Although it is not known precisely when the pillboxes were built at Auburn Farm, they do represent some of the earliest pillboxes in the British Isles and are likely to have been built in 1917.
The disposition of the defences reflect the principle of 'defence in depth', with pillboxes at the rear of the beach, covered by pillboxes further inland, and a strong point created at Auburn Farm, to cover the exit off the beach. The design of the pillbox is much simpler and less robust than those built on the continent at the time, but this may reflect the fact that it was only intended to resist an infantry attack, or that the availability of concrete for its construction was limited. The First World War pillboxes along the East Riding coast are relatively insubstantial and are barely ‘bullet-proof’, let alone 'blast or shell-proof', differing from the substantial 'shell-proof' pillboxes built along the Lincolnshire coast, which had thick reinforced concrete walls that were intended to resist naval artillery bombardment. The East Riding pillboxes were all built using timber plank shuttering, with in-situ poured concrete, reinforced with expanded metal lathing sheets (Expamet), which is exposed in the jambs of the rifle embrasures that have been cut into the walls. The thin wall and roof thickness of these pillboxes, suggest that they were intended to be covered with sandbags or earth, both to give protection and camouflage. On the outbreak of the Second World War, most of the First World War pillboxes were re-occupied and later integrated into the more heavily constructed 'Coastal Crust' anti-invasion defences of that conflict.
The position and design of this pillbox suggests that it was part of a trench system extending E-W on the S side of the exit off the beach, and may have acted as a section post. Rifle embrasures face both N (covering the beach exit) and S (to guard against any flanking attack) as well as to the E and W.
First World War pillbox, probably built 1917.
MATERIALS: in-situ poured reinforced concrete.
PLAN: rectangular plan.
EXTERIOR: semi-sunken pillbox flanking the exit off Auburn Beach from the S. The structure is entered by opposed doorways in the W and E walls, suggesting that it was probably situated within a trench system and could be accessed from either end. The jambs of the doorways are notched to receive timber door frames. The N and S walls both have three externally splayed rifle embrasures, while the W and E end walls have two each. The flat concrete roof slab is pierced by cut sections of ceramic pipe, forming three circular vents.
INTERIOR: the doors to the interior are partially blocked and the floor is buried in accumulated debris. The walls have smooth concrete surfaces, with horizontal plank shuttering witness marks, and no internal features or fittings.