Thursday, 15 January 2015

Terschelling's Bunkers

It is a strange business to wander around derelict remains of a war. It is, however, a common occurrence for someone like me who relishes all things about history, particularly WWII. It's just so interesting. Towards the end of the holiday, just after new year, the weather was surprisingly mild so we took a little jaunt to enjoy the day. Having had a most interesting discussion the previous week with a man who is working on a project to restore Terschelling's war bunkers, we went to have a look at the work they've been doing.

A small bunker in the dune
 I've mentioned the bunkers briefly in a previous post, but I'd like to take a deeper look. I have spent long summer days exploring these bunkers - there are roughly 90 still remaining on the island. They have, over the years, been filled in or boarded up for safety, and the ever changing landscape of sand has reclaimed many. Underneath the sand, however, is an entire warren of bunkers. Many of the bits that do stick out up above the sand have been grafittied to an inch, and open bits of the old gun or light turrets have been filled with careless garbage, which is a real shame.

One of my favourite summer (or any season, if I'm entirely honest) activities is "bunker hunting". As I mentioned, the sand is always moving and after each big storm, sometimes a bit more can be seen. I wish I was twenty years younger at those moments: can you imagine!? Playing at Famous Five in real bunkers and possible secret passageways!

Tiger Complex

After the war was over and the occupying forces had left, people wanted to forget and rid themselves of the reminders. And quite naturally too. Five years of occupation, on a small island less than 20 miles long, was no picnic. Things were dismantled, mines removed, and so on. The bunkers and anti aircraft batteries were built by Terschellinger hands, so though we may call them the "German bunkers", they are in many ways a part of the island. I believe there is one man still living on the island who was a part of the building team.

Obviously, they are built high on top of the dunes to have the best vantage points. The largest of these bunkers is now in the midst of a wood that has grown up around it, but in the '40s, it had a clear view out to sea. This set of bunkers, called the Tiger complex, is the focal point of the project that is currently going on to restore and reopen the bunkers.

The work that has been done to push back the sand and make the bunkers safe is quite astounding. It was all under sand, and now look at it! Inside there are two floors; it was where they kept track of aircraft movements (vliegtuigbeweging). Nearby was a canteen and a commando bunker. Huge amounts of radar equipment were also housed here. It is truly quite remarkable when you see some of the old photos and blueprints.

The complex is massive - all through the woods you stumble (at times, literally) over another bit of evidence. I am very much looking forward to when the project is complete and we can go inside. It is important that this history is not forgotten. Here is a link that has some old photos to give you an idea of what it was like.

On my quest to find out more about the island's war history, I've talked to people and asked at the local museum, but there is very little information to be had. My family's own stories are fascinating - full of enough intrigue to fill many pages no doubt.

But I think my generation is desperate to remember a time that older generations wish to forget...

Top part of a commando bunker