Victory had been won, peace had descended on the Island – but still some of the Coast Defence Batteries remained fully manned and operational. Uppermost in the minds of the Government and the War Office, although never publicly admitted, was the fear that the French would take over and reinstate the German coastal batteries and thus cause problems as tensions between the former Allies grew. Military inspectors who visited the Pas de Calais following the defeat of German forces there were briefed to report on any signs that the big guns were being repaired and put back into service – these fears, as we now know, proved unfounded, although some of the guns themselves were refurbished and put into storage for possible future use in the French army.
540 Coast Defence Regiment was officially disbanded on 1st June 1945 and replaced by 4th Coast Training Regiment R.A., which had been reorganised from the 4th Coast Regiment R.A. (previously based at Aberdeen in Scotland). Four major Dover Batteries came under the command of the 4th – Wanstone 15” Battery (6th Coast Training Battery), South Foreland 9.2” Battery (290th Coast Training Battery), Fan Bay 6” Battery (10th Coast Training Battery) and Capel 8” Battery (23rd Coast Training Battery). These didn’t remain static as various mergers took place at one time or another, for example in March 1946, 290th C.T.B. and 6th C.T.B. amalgamated and were based at Wanstone. The personnel for 10th C.T.B were housed at East Arrow Barracks, and the men of 23rd C.T.B. were living at Northfall Meadow.
Capel Battery assumed an interesting function in November of 1945 when the Coast Artillery Battle School was established there. Intended to train the personnel who manned these Gun Batteries in ‘Landward Defence’, regular infantry instructors helped to instil the latest theories in the troops. (It may seem that this was an odd thing to be training for considering the war was over, but it should be remembered that there were many Coast Defence Batteries scattered throughout the British Empire at that time and they all had to be protected from attack). Capel also took over responsibility for the electronic Bofors Dome Trainer based at Dover Castle – this was a simulator where images of aircraft could be projected onto the ‘sky’ inside the dome, and was used to train men in the use of 40mm Anti-Aircraft weaponry without involving the expense and wastage of precious ammunition.
The quality of the recruits undergoing training on the Coast Batteries was a major cause for concern – many of these young men (in 1947) had left school in 1943 – 1944 and as a result had been exposed to a poor wartime diet and patchy teaching. Diet was important – it was stressed in official reports that the men required for Coastal Defence really needed to be well-built and fit, as well as being of a high enough standard of education to be suitable for promotion through the ranks. One extract from a 4th Coast Training Regiment R.A. report states; “During the period 342 Coast Gunners have completed training. The intakes have varied considerably in their educational and mental standards. About 25% of each squad are very low grade educationally and need education in elementary English and Arithmetic. It has been difficult to find the material from which Junior NCO’s can be made. The Regiment is fortunate in having a number of excellent Regular senior ITCOs but it has been found impossible to fill the Bombardier ranks which remain about 50% below strength.”
A later report was slightly more encouraging regarding the physique of the recruits undergoing training at Dover. This extract is dated 30th June 1947 and reads…“At the end of the quarter some improvement was noticed in the height and build of intakes, but the educational standard generally remained low and material for junior N.C.O.’s was scarce… The Regiment is fortunate in having a number of excellent Regular W.O.’s and Senior N.C.O.’s but some of them have recently been lost to the T.A. and stations overseas. In a Regiment of this kind equipped with the most modern Coast Artillery equipment there must be, in my opinion, a large nucleus of young regulars from which future instructors must be selected and trained. There are not enough regulars and in my opinion this deficiency must be remedied now if a breakdown in instructional and administrative efficiency is to be avoided in two or three years time.”
During the Second World War, the Coast Defence Batteries had received less than enthusiastic support from nearby residents due to the damage caused by vibration and concussion, and the feeling that the Gunners were often indulging in unnecessary ‘duelling’ with the Germans, with the result that civilian properties and lives suffered. Now, with the war over, the locals at South Foreland were up in arms over the continuing use of the Battery. The local M.P., Mr. Thomas, had a meeting with the Army at that site in July 1946 (after holding a public meeting with the residents of the local area to gather their opinions), to raise a few questions about some particular firing trials that were due to be carried out. Part of the report on the meeting by Major Rowe read as follows;“Q1: Can not No.4 Gun be moved and fired from another place for the purpose of this trial? A1: No, one of the objects of the trial is to test the efficiency of certain instruments in the recording of groups of rounds fired from a number of such guns; to fire No.4 gun individually from some other place would serve no useful purpose. It may be possible to carry out the trial successfully without firing No.4 gun, and it is hoped that this will be possible, though no guarantee can be given.
Q2: Will the Right of Way running along the cliffs from St. Margaret’s Bay to Dover be closed to the public if these guns and the others installed during the war in this area, remain as permanent defences and are required to fire from time to time? A2: Not permanently; the Right of Way need only be closed to the public whilst firing is taking place, though it may be necessary to adjust the path in the vicinity of Fan Bay, where frequent firing takes place from the recruit training battery... There were a number of other irrelevant questions asked by local householders, but a pertinent and persistent one was; Why couldn’t the whole battery be moved further down the coast towards Dover, where there is about four miles of open ground? My general answer was; The battery was installed in its present position for a particular reason… there is no reason to believe that a Siting Board would now select any other position for it, and, apart from expense and labour questions, the battery is in the best position to carry out its operational role.”
To avoid upsetting the local residents and having to pay out compensation in the event of damage to property, in this instance it was agreed that the trials would involve Guns No.1, 2 and 3 only unless absolutely necessary – another report from the War Office states;“I am convinced that under certain weather conditions considerable claims for damages will arise.”
At the end of the war, many possibly lethal hazards remained scattered around the countryside for anyone foolhardy enough to wander off the beaten track – unfortunately children have inquisitive natures and so suffer the worst of these things. On 12th May 1947, five young boys (living in Married Quarters) were exploring part of the moat at Dover Castle, when they were injured by a training grenade that exploded while they were handling it. An official enquiry stated that, as the bakelite grenade wasn’t currently in use among the units stationed in the area, it must have been laying in the moat for quite some time. The soldiers and their families were reminded again about the unsuitability of these former training areas as playgrounds…
Despite the war being over, as in any other walk of life there were still tragic accidents and deaths involving the men based in the Dover area. Interred at St. James’ Cemetery in Dover is the body of a 23 year old Londoner, 11407947 Ernest Gates, (from 290th Coast Training Battery at South Foreland), who died at the County Hospital in Dover in February 1946. Illness was one cause of premature death – folly was another! Also buried in St. James’ Cemetery at Dover is the body of a teenager from Walworth in London, 14175618 Gunner Edward Gordon Beard
- on the 13th May 1947, this 19 year old recruit slipped and fell whilst collecting seagulls’ eggs from the cliffs at South Foreland. Whether he was collecting the eggs as a hobby, to supplement his own meagre rations, or he was instructed to do so to send them to the cookhouse isn’t recorded in the Regimental History, but it can only be assumed that it was a lark that went tragically wrong.
Life was tough for the soldiers of the Dover area batteries, with strict discipline, limited messing facilities and, very often, bad weather combining to make life miserable. The winter of early 1947 was particularly harsh, and the men who were living in draughty Nissen huts at South Foreland found that the fuel cuts that were imposed (due to shortages) didn’t help their comfort at all. The lack of coal meant that at one stage the cookhouse at Northfall Meadow was shut, imposing a further strain on the supply of hot meals. The subsequent fall in the morale of the men can be imagined…
On April Fool’s Day 1947, 4th Coast Training Regiment R.A. was redesignated as 47th Coast Training Regiment R.A. and the batteries under its command also received new titles. 290th Coast Training Battery became 4th Coast Training Battery, 6th C.T.B. became 19th C.T.B., 10th C.T.B. became 31st C.T.B. and 23rd C.T.B. became 223rd C.T.B. Almost immediately the Regiment closed down over the Easter period with everyone being sent on leave apart from essential staff and enough men to mount guard at the batteries. On their return from the comforts of home, the Regiment was visited by the G.O.C. Home Counties District (Major General Stockwell) who was primarily interested in discussing improvements to the living conditions for the troops. Authority was granted to move huts from Wanstone Battery, and also from the D2 Anti-Aircraft site, to South Foreland to replace the Nissen huts – at an estimated cost of £6000, this was given a target date for completion of 30th September 1947. Unfortunately, long delays were encountered due to civilian labour shortages, and the work wasn’t completed until winter had already set in again.
As the 1940’s drew to a close there was a strong feeling at the War Office that Coast Artillery was a ‘white elephant’ that was costing vast sums of money and tying up useful manpower for no real reason. The nuclear capabilities of the only likely future enemy meant that there was no military justification for the retention of Coast Artillery. All true of course, but it wasn’t until the mid-1950’s that the death knell was sounded. Before it was officially announced in a Defence White Paper, the following note was circulated by the Chiefs of Staff to try to fully explain just why the axe was going to fall. “Coast Artillery was originally part of the Seaward Defence of Ports and its role was to prevent the bombardment of the shore by ships or submarines. In the light of the likely pattern of a future global war this concept is now out of date. In future submarines would be likely to use guided weapons with which to bombard a port and would do this from a position well outside the range of coast artillery. In addition the task of preventing a ship from bombarding a port can be dealt with most effectively by naval vessels and aircraft... Only in the event of global war involving the use of nuclear weapons would the United Kingdom be likely to be attacked. Major ports are not likely subjects for water-borne attack because they are centres of population and are thus probable targets for nuclear action. The seaward threat to the United Kingdom is not therefore considered significant.”
Although the total cost savings would prove to be a mere drop in the ocean in relation to the overall defence budget, it did release a large number of ready-trained troops for other, more relevant, duties. In the U.K. alone, in 1956, between the Territorial Army and the Regulars there were approximately 465 officers and 6260 other ranks making up these Coast Defence Batteries. A ‘personal message’ to all serving members of Coast Artillery was sent to the men, and it read as follows;“The Secretary of State has asked me to pass you a personal message. He would like to thank all members of this long established branch of the Royal Regiment for their service in Coast Artillery. While this must be a sad moment he knows that you will all understand the need for the Army to meet changing conditions. He hopes very much that all those now serving in Coast Artillery will continue to serve in other ways.”