I recently discovered the existence of a well preserved, former Anti-Aircraft Battery position near Kenilworth. Intrigued to explore the site as well as finding out more about its role during the Second World War, I contacted the group that oversees its preservation.
Two members of the Friends of the Anti-Aircraft Battery at Goodrest Farm group, kindly agreed to give me a guided tour of the site. So, on one free weekend, I made the journey to visit the former encampment.
Located to the north of Warwick, near the peaceful village of Leek Wootton, Banner Hill Camp was one of four heavy gun positions defending Coventry and Birmingham from the threat of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War.
Nestled in the field besides Goodrest Farm, Banner Hill Camp and the concrete AA battery emplacements were originally intended to be built in the field behind its current position, next to Banner Hill Farm, hence the site’s name.
Positioned in the shape of a crescent moon, four large concrete gun emplacements were built to house the QF 3.7-inch AA guns with a command bunker in the centre of the camp to direct the battery’s fire. There were also two Bofors 40mm gun pits located at the rear of the site to provide added fire-power.
On the day of my visit, I awoke to a blanket of thick fog that had descended overnight. Initially panicking about not being able to take any photographs, I was gratefully relieved when I arrived at the battery to see that the sun had burnt away the fog and left us with a beautifully sunny winter morning to explore the site.
Over 100 men and women were stationed at Banner Hill camp during 1941-44. The photograph above, taken from the rear of the sunken command post, shows the bungalow and cottages of Goodrest Farm in the background where the Nissen huts that housed the camp’s inhabitants were originally located complete with a cookhouse, parade square, NAAFI and latrines.
Despite wearing a pair of gloves and having 3 thick layers on, it was bitterly cold on the day I visited, so much so that my hands actually went numb whilst holding the camera. I cannot imagine how cold it must have been having to live there in that weather in those Nissen huts, with only a small cooking stove to keep them warm and no hot water for showering.
In direct response to the Luftwaffe’s raid on Coventry on 14-15th November 1940 which claimed the lives of over 500 people. Work began in earnest to build a heavy AA Battery site at Goodrest Farm to act as a deterrent against further raids on Coventry and Birmingham by German bombers.
Known as ‘H25,’ it housed a battery of four QF 3.7-inch AA guns which were Britain’s primary heavy AA gun during WW2. But before work was eventually completed on the gun pits in early 1941, these monstrous weapons were mounted on mobile carriages and manned by the men of 477 & 488 batteries. Crewed by 8 men plus an NCO, the 3.7 was capable of firing up to 20 high explosive rounds per minute upwards of 30,000 ft.
It took roughly around 15 seconds from the time the shell left the QF 3.7 inch AA gun to reach its target height of around 30,000 ft. To try and hit a plane such as the Junker 88 which could be moving at around 200+ mph was therefore very difficult. So, it was vitally important that as much information about the target, such as its course, height and speed be gathered and plotted in an attempt to try and effectively bring the guns to bear.
This vital task fell on the young women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), who were trained as spotters and manned spotter telescopes, height finders and predictors to try and plot the course of enemy aircraft in the command post and help to effectively direct the guns’ fire.
At the time, the ‘Mixed Batteries’ were very controversial and in an attempt to try and limit the deemed worrying issue of fraternization between both sexes, the men that were selected to man the batteries, were either married or generally older.
Despite such initial reservations though, the young women of the ATS very quickly proved their worth. Taking it in shifts, one group would have to be on a constant state of alert, straining to spot any enemy aircraft, whilst the others would be resting or doing some of the more mundane and monotonous tasks that inevitably came with camp life, such as cooking and cleaning.
Initially firing orders were issued to the guns by someone from the command post shouting directives out through a loud speaker. But as the war progressed so too did the technology and the sophistication of the camp. Four telephone lines were installed between the C.P. and the gun emplacements as well as the top secret installation of a GL MKII Radar. All three of the girls who were specially trained to operate this new equipment had to first sign the official secrets act.
According to my guides, apparently not one aircraft was shot-down by the battery. Despite this fact though, the guns of ‘H25’ played an important role in the defence of Coventry and Birmingham. It was a psychological deterrent to any raiders.
Faced by a terrifying wall of flak and shrapnel many German pilots would likely want to drop their pay-loads and head for home as soon as they could. Or failing that, they would have to try and climb above the red hot shards of shrapnel, which again would effect bombing accuracy.
In 1944 the gun batteries were moved to the South-East of England to try and help combat the threat posed by the V-1s or Doodle-bugs and the site became a Prisoner of War Camp for up to 80 German and Italian prisoners who were put to work on the local land.
A number of items and artifacts have since been found at the battery, including most notably cap badges and shell cases from the 3.7 inch guns.
The site was still utilised by the British Army for a long period after WW2 owing to the threat posed by Russia during the Cold War.
I would just like to thank the Friends of the Anti-Aircraft Battery at Goodrest Farm for allowing me to explore this excellently preserved site as well as helping me to learn more about its past and the role it played during WW2.
If you are interested in exploring the site for yourself, as part of the 75th Anniversary commemorations of the Coventry Blitz, in November the group will be holding an open day for visitors to come and learn more about Banner Hill Camp during the Second World War. You can find out more about this by visiting their Facebook page where more details will be released in due course.
Interested in exploring Banner Hill Camp?
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