All Along The Control Tower – Review by Mark Barnes

I have to admit I was a bit dubious when I received this, the third volume of World War II era control tower photos from the brothers Barten. How could they possibly stretch the subject into three books? But they have managed it with aplomb.

This edition completes the record of many years driving around the United Kingdom visiting long lost airfields, overgrown aerodromes and busy airports where wartime watch offices remain. The choice of subject matter is clearly idiosyncratic and not a little eccentric. But I freely admit to having looked out a few of these buildings myself and I thoroughly approve of their obsession.

The photography is first rate and often quite evocative.  Abandoned airfields have something about them that brings to mind ghosts and echoes of the past. It can sweep you up into standing on a particular spot trying to imagine the noise, the colours and the hustle and bustle of wartime activity. There is something sad about them, especially when historic buildings and runways have been ripped up, replaced by everything from prisons to warehouses and turkey farms. Some have memorials to the men and women based there and others, especially race circuits, retain some of the spirit of times past. I was interested to see the watch office at Castle Combe in this book, I spent time in it earlier this year and didn’t even realise what it was. The Barten photographs explain why!

Living in an old control tower sounds like a cool idea. They are not unlike the Martello towers dotted along the south coast of England, some of which have become homes by the sea. There is a connection in terms of their previous roles and how unlike a home they must seem. But homes in control towers continue the tradition of beating swords into ploughshares and although I know I will never live in one, I very much approve. Finding these buildings a new use has to be so much better than simply demolishing them.

The Barten brothers “journey’ has not been without its challenges. Tight security, concerns over trespass and grumpy people all add to the mix. There must be an element of being a kid again, bringing back memories of sneaking through a fence into somewhere you shouldn’t be. Although I am sure Frans and Theo don’t do anything like that in sensible middle age.

Where too next then lads? We’ve had three volumes of control towers and all the marvellous books of cars and ex-military vehicles you snapped in the Netherlands and beyond. I am really interested to know what comes after this book.

If you’re reading this and have passions for military history and are good with a camera or possess unseen family archive, books like this should inspire you to consider the world of self-publishing. You might just find it was a worthwhile experience. The Barten brothers have turned theirs into a series of entertaining and thoroughly individual books to admire and inspire. That they are a bit on the niche side of things adds to the charm. Enjoy.

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online

A Photobook – Volume Three
By Barten & Barten
ISBN: 978 90 817110 9 8

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.