The village of Acle was designated as a Category ‘A’ Nodal Point along a stopline during WWII. On 26th July 2019, during the second of three day-schools held at Acle War Memorial Recreation Centre, Professor Rob Liddiard (University of East Anglia) explained why Acle was so heavily defended.
After the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940, Britain’s coast became the front line. An imminent German attack was expected. The village of Acle was in a strategically important position. If troops invaded the port at Great Yarmouth – eight miles east – natural obstacles of marshland and rivers would have funnelled forces toward Acle.
Having reached Acle, the junction of roads in the centre of the village would have provided the invading force with the ideal situation to continue their attack and to set up communication and supply lines. It was infrastructure, rather than the intrinsic value of the village itself, that singled Acle out as a site that required special protection.
As a Category ‘A’ Nodal Point, those defending the village would have been instructed to maintain a store of food and water – to last seven and four days respectively – in case they were cut-off from supply lines during fighting. Access to the centre of the village would also have been controlled by a perimeter of defences and a system of roadblocks and checkpoints on each of the approach roads.
Unfortunately, no contemporary map of the defences at Acle is known to exist. An attempt to record their location was made during The Council for British Archaeology’s ‘Defence of Britain Project’ (2002) and subsequent ‘Defence Areas Project’ (2006). These identified the sites of over a dozen pillboxes, eight spigot mortar pedestals, eleven roadblocks and two anti-tank guns as well as weapon pits, infantry posts and anti-tank blocks.
The most obvious home defence structures that remain around Acle were some of the earliest to be constructed. Four pillboxes survive, three of which are of the Type 22 design.
Seven standard designs for pill boxes, named Type 22 to Type 28, were prepared by the War Office during June and July 1940. The Type 22 was envisaged for use primarily by riflemen and designed to be bullet proof to a depth of 30 cm (12 inches). The concrete structures, usually with brick facing, contained an internal ‘Y’-shaped wall to prevent bullets from ricocheting. Five of the walls of the hexagon-shaped building had embrasures, or gun loops, built into them. The remaining wall contained the entrance.
The one exception in Acle was a variant, a disguised pillbox. A smaller building attached to the east gable end of The Manor House in the centre of the village still possess the two embrasures that were built into it. These would have allowed guns to be trained along The Street and Old Road. The Manor House is now a Grade II listed building and the variant pillbox is cited in the listing.
The River Bure acted as a natural anti-tank barrier. Acle Bridge, crossing the river north of the village, became a forward defended locality. Demolition chambers on the underside of the bridge could be primed with explosives so that it could be destroyed if required.
Three concrete pedestals remain in situ on the south side of the River Bure at Acle Bridge. These would have been constructed later than the pillboxes, in 1941, when there was a marked change in home defence tactics. The pedestals were designed to support 29 mm spigot mortars, or Blacker bombards as they were also known. These were mobile anti-tank weapons.
Two pedestals in the village centre still exist, although both are now inaccessible to the public. One was retained as an ornament in the garden of a new-build, whilst the other was moved from its original position to another property when it was threatened by a separate housing development.
On the eastern edge of the village, Acle Dyke was used a sub-base for the Broads Flotilla. This unit of 3 motorboats armed with Lewis machine guns patrolled the waterways and laid mines in the Broads to prevent the landing of enemy seaplanes.
Most home defence infrastructure was removed at the end of the war. The structures around Acle that survive appear to have done so because their location would not have impeded development. One notable exception is the pillbox that has been preserved on the new Springfields housing estate, although this has lost its anti-ricochet wall.
Those fragments that do survive provide a tantalising glimpse into a period when the population was ready to “fight in the fields and in the streets”.
This event was held as part of the Broads Hidden Heritage programme led by Norfolk County Council.