After spending the end of last month around ancient castles we found ourselves exploring some slightly more recent history on Saturday. Our destination was Pembrey country park which is today a haven for recreation with large grassy fields, expansive forestry and even a dry ski slope. Back in 1886 however you’d have been wise to steer well clear of the area as a dynamite factory occupied some 155 acres of the present day park. With the arrival of WW1 a shortage of shells for the war effort was becoming a serious concern so in 1914 a TNT and propellant factory was also constructed, the first such purpose built facility in the UK. In all 15,000 tonnes of TNT and 20,000 tonnes of propellant were produced before the site was decommissioned. In 1938 however construction started on a new munitions factory which again provided an important supply of TNT throughout WW2 and beyond until its eventual closure in 1964.
The buildings where over three thousand people once toiled are long gone, swept away as part of the regeneration of this once heavily fortified coastline, but there are still many signs that hint towards those darker times. Principle amongst these are the huge earth covered concrete bunkers that sit surrounded by blast embankments near the forestry. These were used to safely store munitions prior to being loaded onto the sites internal railway system, the rails of which can still be seen set into concrete on the bunker floors.
Each bunker follows a similar design with a main tunnel for the railway off which several storage rooms reside. A couple of these are small enough to suggest that they may have been offices, but most are cavernous spaces well protected from any aerial bombardment. Whenever I explore old military installations its always the details I like to focus on as they are what really bring to life the fact that these rotting concrete structures are part of the reason we have our freedom today. Fuse boxes, phone interchanges, light switches, wiring conduits and door frames all help to tell the human story of those that worked there.
Graffiti, both old and modern, adorn many of the walls but unfortunately much of it is just mindless vandalism. Every now and again though you do stumble across a piece that shows real intelligence and skill from the artist such as the example below. For those in doubt the message is political in nature and expresses displeasure at the way in which a lot of our famous British names are now under German ownership.
As you walk deeper into the park further signs of prior use continue to peak through the forest floor, usually in the form of rail lines that must have proved difficult to reclaim. Pillboxes are also dotted around, their once open views now obscured by maturing trees. Of particular interest to me was the brick built example below with concrete peep holes, a pillbox construction method that I have not seen used all that often.
Despite these man made intrusions nature has done an exceptionally good job of reclaiming the land but the bunkers still prove to be a magnet for those of us curious about their history. It’s probably not a surprise that there are several ghost sightings associated with them, and after having taken shelter in one during a particularly heavy rainstorm I can confirm that you are never quite at ease in their presence.