The amazing piece of wartime history uncovered at Botany Bay

The Moir concrete machine gun pillbox Photo Frank Leppard

Photos Frank Leppard/Thanet Hidden History

An historian from Margate has teamed up with eminent military expert Andy Robertshaw in a bid to preserve and relocate some rare World War One machine gun pillboxes discovered at Botany Bay.

Phil Hodges, who works in the film industry and also writes for military magazines, and Mr Robertshaw, who is a military adviser for the movie industry and has worked on films for Stephen Spielberg, War Horse and blockbuster 1917 from Sam Mendez, are in talks with organisations including Thanet and Kent councils about the irreplaceable war constructions.

Sir Ernest William Moir produced a design for the concrete machine gun pillboxes constructed from a system of interlocking precast concrete blocks, with a steel and concrete roof. The box acted as a camouflaged firing point for the machine gunner inside.

Around 1500 Moir pillboxes were produced with blocks cast manufactured at Richborough and these were sent to the Western Front in 1918.

Phil being filmed by Meridian

Dad-of-three Phil explained: “They were designed to be shipped to France and Belgium for use in the frontline trenches during World War One. That’s why they were in sections, so three or four men could pick those up and move it through the mud and barbed wire.

“They were designed quite late into the war, in 1918, but there are several surviving in Belgium – two in Ypres – and in France that were used in action.

“After the war the country was in recession and the company had a lot of those concrete sections left over. In 1921 they auctioned them off to road companies, local councils etc.

“Thanet’s council bought some, as did Canterbury’s council, and in Thanet is you go along Percy Avenue you can see they were used on roads and for walls along front gardens. In Sandwich they were used for a roundabout.”

It was in World War Two that the pillboxes were installed between Botany and Kingsgate Bays – and also Dumpton Gap – for experimental use by the Army to create a flame fougasse.

Phil said: “They took the concrete pill box segments that were laying around and built two sections going out to sea. On top they had a pipe and sandbags on top of that. Oil and petrol would be used to go through this and out to sea to set it on fire when the Germans came. It was very barbaric.

“Thankfully it was never used but has stayed there ever since. I remember seeing them as a child, sometimes they would be covered in sand and other times you could see them.”

Until recently the structures were believed to have been part of an old sewer pipe but a week ago Phil was approached by someone who recognised the parts as Moir pill boxes.

A group of volunteers has since started putting the pieces together and has completed one pill box – minus the roof and steel ring used for the machine gun – and Phil believes there are enough pieces to put together two more of the pill boxes.

He said: “Andrew Robertshaw (pictured above) lives in Kent and is a friend of mine. I said to him to come over and we could have a walk down and take a look. We went and saw all the volunteers build this fantastic pill box.

“But it is not protected where it is and is at the mercy of the tide and other things. Luckily it is in an area not accessible by vehicle, on soft sand and uncovered at low tide.

“But it is quite rare and of archaeological interest.”

Phil and Andy are hoping to get permission to reassemble the pill boxes in areas that are safer but where people can go and look at them. One could be destined for the Kent County Showground where Andy is involved in creating a full size World War One trench system replica for educational use. It is the fifth such replica Andy has created for film or educational purposes.

The remaining two pill boxes could be sited in Thanet or elsewhere in Kent. Replicas of the steel roof and metal machine gun ring would need to be made to complete the construction.

Phil said: “We are trying to raise awareness so these can be registered and recognised as surviving pill boxes.”

The pill box that has been substantially rebuilt at Botany Bay has attracted much interest from passers-by and members of the Thanet Hidden History face book page where Phil – who is a group subscriber – shared details to go with images taken by Margate photographer, and hidden history admin, Frank Leppard.

The family behind the reconstruction

The residents who took to reconstructing the pill box were Trevor Cooper, wife Linda, son James and his fiancée Lauren Drayton.

The family, who all live in the same property in Cliftonville, began the build on March 5.

Matalan staff member Trevor, 58, said: “My wife, son and I took a walk between Botany Bay and Kingsgate Bay. It was during this walk that we wondered how easy it would be to fit the large stone blocks together. These are blocks that we had seen and had been walking past for decades. We specifically only used the loose blocks laying around.

“With great vigour, the three of us had put together a ring, two levels high, of the Richborough Moir Blocks.

“The Moir Block is an interlocking block and these blocks were built in Richborough for use in pillbox construction on the Western Front in World War One. I found that out thanks to Andy Temple in the Thanet Coastal Finds group after we built two levels and I then asked about it on the group. Andy educated me on their use, before we continued with the build.

“The next day we built the pillbox three tiers high, then the Sunday my son and his fiancée made it five high and on the Monday we made it six high.

“A concrete fence post was found on the beach and repurposed as a central feature. Rocks were placed inside for strength and a buoy tied to ensure the visibility of the pillbox during high tides.

“Separately, the long line of blocks laying nearby, I understand, were placed during World War Two. They cover old petroleum pipes put in place to set alight the sea should the German invasion land on our shores.

“It’s been a pleasure to build the structure that has been free to make and free to visit. I hope it has brought pleasure to many more.”

Trevor said he would like to see the pillboxes remain in Thanet.

He said: “They were made local, laid local and us locals built the pillbox. It belongs in Thanet. Perhaps it could go to the RAF Manston Museum.

“There are another 50 plus loose blocks. Also the original structures, used to hold up the petroleum pipe, should remain in place where possible as that is history in itself.”


  1. Not exactly ‘uncovered’, people have known they are there for years !!

    Essential travel to see concrete on a beach ?

    • Maybe of little interest to you, but I have lived here for nearly 70 years and is the first I knew of it so it is of great interest. Despite your cynicism and sarcasm I for one will now make a point of viewing it and I wish the project well., it is all part of the history of the UK and this area.

      • Yes people have known for years that they are parts of Moir Pillboxes and there are more parts in Eastry and Woodnesborough used on garden bank – do they know they are not destroying another site by taking them up as they could be part of the petroleum warfare site that was also close by ?

        • Really? So why did you never mention it before?
          Leave it to the experts and don’t be so bitter.

        • They are part of the petroleum warfare site, the chap says that in the article. I thought it was interesting.

    • Correct! I have passed the loose blocks many times and on Friday the 6th My wife son and I began the construction using the loose blocks.
      I believe that as the blocks have laid on our bea he’s for 70 years plus that they should remain in Thanet. The county show team should collect another 48 to use

  2. Fascinating article. Like others here, I’ve seen them around without realising what they are.

  3. “yeah, just come on down and hang out whilst all those other schmucks are at home under lockdown”

    Well done IOTN for providing webarchivable evidence of covid breaches.

    • Concerned.
      Another unwelcome and nasty little comment that is totally unnecessary on here.
      Do you get some form of perverse pleasure in acting in this way?

    • I look forward to strolling or cycling there under Covid “essential exercise” rules, as others can do of course.

    • The was no covid breach. While exercising Friday the 6th my wife, son and I began construction. We all live in the same household. It was good exercise. We also tied a bouy to it to mark its location. And I informed the RLNI and it has been council inspected.

  4. It would be perfect in the front garden of number 70 Percy Avenue. There are already about 45 pieces in the front wall!

  5. Well lets hope they can be preserved further before more disappear into garden walls. It would be better if they could be left in Thanet where they have been all these years.

  6. Great advertising, them thanet lego blocks will be disappear and it wont be by the tide.

  7. As ex army, albeit over 60 years ago, who had to endure some pretty dangerous, and awful conditions, I would not have liked to have been inside one of these Pill Boxes if it went into action, especially at high tide! I don’t think for one minute they had Ear defenders, my army didn’t, so the gunfire noise would have been literally deafening!

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