A few years ago, I took the photograph above on Halnaker Hill near Chichester in West Sussex. In the background is the Halnaker Windmill, one of many relics that overlook the coastal plain to the south and can be clearly seen from miles around. It was a working mill until it was damaged by a lightning strike in 1905. It was most recently restored in 2004, in it’s hollow shell form.
For me, the more interesting structure are the octagonal brick remains in the foreground of the photograph. Like many, I mistook this to be what was left of a World War II gun emplacement or perhaps an observation post. There are remains of at least one more of these buildings nearby.
After doing some research, I discovered that the red-bricked walls are the remaining blast walls that protected a wooden tower that covered a transmitter and aerial. It was one of a number of the Radio Direction Finders (RDF), built in preparation for the war. They were used as a navigational aid for friendly aircraft and to detect enemy aircraft.
The photograph above is what the tower probably looked like when in use. Some sources state that the mill was used as an observation point and that there were searchlights installed on the hill. From the photograph, it was clear that the remains are indeed an RDF tower. RDF technology played a vital defensive role in the war, detecting the direction and range of enemy aircraft, feeding the information to command centres Their role should not be forgotten.
The Usefulness of High Places
The juxtaposed structures in the photographs are empty relics now, once vital machinery for very different purposes. They now stand retired together as if they have always been there, commenting on the view below. They are there only because of the hill – for the vantage point and the access to the elements.
Just beneath the surface of the hill are the remains of a Neolithic settlement. Such ancient sites, safe enclosures, are found on high places all over the Sussex Downs, including Saint Roche’s Hill (The Trundle) and Cissbury Ring. Such high places have always been important to us throughout history. High places are still important to us today: as places of prayer, solitude, away from the noise, places to get a greater perspective.
I’m glad these old relics are still there to remind us of the usefulness of high places in history. If we are not careful, if we don’t pass on their importance in history, future generations may misunderstand what they represented, like the way I believed the old brick walls surrounded an old gun emplacement.