Explore the haunting relics of WWII

Haunting remnants of WWII defense structures expressed in images

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) WWII defense structures in Wissant I, Nord-Pas-De-Calais in France; photographed in 2012 (2) Hayling Island, Hampshire in England, 2013 (3) A pillbox in Studland Bay I, Dorset, England; photographed in 2011 (4) Wissant II, Nord-Pas-De-Calais in France, 2012 (5) Newburgh I, Aberdeenshire in Scotland; photographed in 2012

Field fortifications were rapidly constructed in the United Kingdom in response to the threats of invasion by Nazi German forces in 1940 & 1941. England, especially southern England was transformed into a prepared battlefield. Nazi Germany also built an extensive coastal fortification system along the European western coast and Scandinavia as part of defense against impending Allied invasion from Great Britain to free mainland Europe from Hitler & Nazi atrocities.

Concrete, steel, wood and other materials were used to construct the Allied & Axis WWII defense structures. Current condition of these structures are- partially demolished over time but mostly intact. Reinforced concrete pillboxes, underwater obstacles, walls, anti tank blocks, batteries, bunkers and tunnels were part of the fortified defense structures. Underwater obstacles and minefields were also a major part of the defense system.

Hitler’s Atlantic wall defense system was extended from the Spanish- French border to Norway during the 1942 to 1944. Today, many bunkers still exist in Normandy in France, Den Haag, Scheveningen and Katwijt in the Netherlands. A well preserved part of the WWII defense structures can be visited by public in Oostende, Belgium. Channel Islands, especially the Island of Alderney which is the closest to Britain, were extensively fortified. The Allied forced bypassed the Islands and invaded Normandy on 6th June 1944. The Germans forces on mainland surrendered on 8th May 1945 but the German garrison on Island of Alderney did not surrender until 16th May 1945.

Gizmodo, the design and technology blog of Gawker Media, one of the most successful American online media & blog Network Company, reported that haunting remnants of WWII defense structures captured by British Photographer Marc Wilson are being exhibited at Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds. The exhibition of Wilson’s documentary landscape photos started from 8th November 2013 and will continue until March 1st 2014.

To capture the remnants of once-mighty WWII defense structures, since 2010, Marc Wilson spent his past four years traveling Northern Europe for the photo series called ‘The Last Stand’. So far, he has traveled to 94 locations, over 13,000 miles across the coastlines of the United Kingdom, Northern France, the Channel Islands and Belgium. Currently, the series is made up of 51 such images documented on the British Isles & northern European coastlines. The remains of the military defense structures and their place in the changing landscapes surrounding them are the main focus of the photo series.

Wilson has recently secured funding to continue the work and photographed in the Northern Isles. He will be capturing much more delightful photographs of the WWII defense structures in western coast of France, Denmark and Norway over the next 6 months.

Wilson said that he wanted to create a visual trigger for reflection, where the image can represent thousands of locations along the coastlines of Northern Europe. These haunting pictures also represent the soldiers who risked and lost their lives and the photos become memorials. He also said that he had been always interested in the idea of the objects & landscapes related to the past. ‘As the time grows further after an event, these memories, documents or accounts are all that we are left with’, he added.

Wilson carries out extensive research and even recon trips before setting out with his photographing equipment. He also checks tidal charts, weather forecasts and light factors before visiting a site. The sheer scale of WWII tragedy has become clearer to him with every shot he takes. He said, ‘each individual act of bravery or sacrifice is as important as the next’. However, Wilson has become particularly fascinated with the Norwegian resistance from 1940-1945 and Shetland Bus operations in Scotland from 1941-1945.

Video story: British photographer Marc Wilson’s Photo exhibition of WWII defense structures in North Europe titled ‘The Last Stand’ started from 8th November 2013 at Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds. The exhibition will continue until March 1st 2014.

Video story: Documentary on WWII defense structures; how the allied forces breached Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE