Twentieth-Century Military Sites

The military remains of the twentieth century are the subject of increasing public interest and professional research. Surviving military remains from this period are now significant historic features in the landscape in their own right. Communities care about military sites and many people have direct links to these sites through the wartime experiences of their parents and grandparents. Cadw has published a leaflet, Introducing Twentieth-Century Military Sites, explaining why these types of sites are important and why some of them may need to be protected legally. Cadw is working in partnership with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, the Welsh Archaeological Trusts and others to help understand this subject and to inform the future management of what can be often vulnerable sites.

Some of the best-preserved examples of military sites have been protected by Cadw either as scheduled ancient monuments or as listed buildings. By scheduling a site as an ancient monument of national importance, it is possible to agree a management arrangement with the owner or tenant so that the site is taken out of everyday use and protected for the benefit of future generations. Although this is the preferred mechanism, listing a site as a historic building – usually when it continues in use - can also enhance the protection of a site. The military sites protected in this way have been selected following assessment surveys. Surprisingly, for such recent and robust structures, very few sites remain in good or complete condition. However, designation is not the only mechanism for managing these sites. Cadw has published a guidance booklet for owners and occupiers on the management of historic military sites Caring for Military Sites of the Twentieth-Century. The booklet emphasises that the condition of these sites can be improved through simple conservation management actions.

Underpinning Cadw’s work is the need to understand and conserve monuments, sites and buildings so that they can continue to be enjoyed by future generations. In order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of our recent military heritage, Cadw has commissioned historical and archaeological research on the subject. In 1994, Cadw co-funded Roger J.C. Thomas’s research into the nineteenth-and twentieth-century military structures of Pembrokeshire and from 1995 was involved with the Council for British Archaeology’s Defence of Britain project. As part of this initiative, Cadw co-commissioned Neil Redfern to undertake research on selected classes of archive sources held at The National Archives, Kew. Studies have been undertaken on Second World War anti-invasion defences, anti-aircraft artillery sites, radar installations, coast artillery batteries, bombing decoys and the Operation Overlord embarkation associated with D-Day. Cadw has recently commissioned thematic studies of airfields and military aircraft crash sites.  Cadw intends to commission similar studies in the future.

Cadw also convenes the Twentieth-Century Military Sites of Wales Working Group, which provides Cadw with advice and support in its work. As well as these national programmes, working group members continue to investigate military sites in Wales and many new sites have been added to both the Welsh Archaeological Trusts’ historic environment records and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales’s National Monuments Record for Wales.

In addition to this national work, thematic work has been undertaken by other organisations, for example by Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust at the Royal Naval Propellant Factory at Caerwent, Monmouthshire and by Birmingham Archaeology at the Ministry of Supply Valley Site at Rhydymwyn, Flintshire.
 [Introducing Twentieth-Century Military Sites leaflet]
[Caring for Military Sites of the Twentieth Century]

Second World War anti-invasion defences

Anti-invasion defences were defence structures erected during 1940-41 to counter an expected German invasion. The whole of Great Britain was defended to some extent and many of these sites still survive. The Defence of Britain Project, administered by the Council for British Archaeology, was established to identify and record surviving anti-invasion structures.
It can be searched online [], and the project’s final report [] can also be downloaded.

Prisoner of War camps

Information about Second World War prisoner of war camps can be found in English Heritage’s Prisoner of War Camps, 1939-1948 report, which provides a national overview.

Army Camps

A staggering number of army camps were constructed in Wales during the twentieth century. Collectively, they had a significant impact on the landscape and form an important element of Wales’s military history. English Heritage recently commissioned a documentary study of the evidence for the construction and use of army camps in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland between 1858 and 2000 as part of the England's Army Camps project.
Using published and primary source material (largely held at The National Archives), the project produced a historical overview report and gazetteers containing information about the camps, their origins, occupation and current use [].
The gazetteer of sites for the Mid Western District, which includes many examples from Wales, can also be downloaded [].

Crashed military aircraft sites

Cadw considers crashed military aircraft sites to be archaeological sites. Although they receive protection under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 and can also be war graves and sometimes contain live ordnance, they have been recognised as archaeological sites since at least the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act of 1979, which includes ‘crashed aircraft or the remains thereof' within its definition of a monument. These sites are not just collections of surface or buried artefacts awaiting casual recovery or rescue, they contain archaeological evidence about the aircraft and how it was maintained, evidence that will be lost if it is not correctly excavated, recorded and published. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales is currently undertaking work to compile a database of all known military aircraft crash sites of all nationalities within Wales, both terrestrial and marine.