SMHS project: Dragon's teeth

31 Oct 2015

Dragon's teeth

One of the anti-tank obstacles at Cuckmere Haven comprised lines of concrete blocks, known as cubes or dragon's teeth.

Cubes were designed to impede the passage of tanks from the beach inland, either by being an outright deterrent or by causing the tank to belly itself trying to drive over the line.

These cubes are about 1.4m square with a built-up apex. A line of about 20 can still be seen stretching from the path to the river mouth of the eastern side of the valley, to the river bank.

This line is dug into a flood defence bank, and concrete plinths span the gaps between the blocks at ground level; this was to prevent tanks nudging the blocks out of the way from an angle.

We were given permission to excavate a solitary cube that had been displaced and was lying on its side a few metres away from the eastern end of the line.

Dragon's teeth

The reason for wanting to excavate this particular block was because it appeared to have some graffiti etched into the top surface, which was obscured by earth. One corner of the cube appeared to be missing, so we were hoping to resolve why this was the case.

An initial problem can be seen in the photograph at right; high tide in conjunction with heavy rain raised the water level right up to the edge of where we we going to dig! Fortunately, the level dropped the following day, allowing us to get started.

The excavation proved to be quite simple; after a couple of hours the top and one side of the block had been exposed. Being right beside a footpath, several hundred people passed by, many stopping to try and work out what it was that we were doing!

As the top surface was revealed, graffiti began to appear; brushing and washing helped remove the mud and so the landscape began talking to us.

The graffiti

Graffiti is everywhere at Cuckmere Haven; the photo below shows an inscription on a block near our excavation highlighted in red. This refers to 133 Company of the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps (AMPC) who were building a lot of concrete here in 1940; this one was made by No.3 Section.

Graffiti we found in the buried pillbox shows that No.1 Section were working on the other side of the river.

Dragon's teeth Dragon's teeth

Back to our excavation and several pieces of text were evident etched in the concrete, ranging from initials to the unit responsible for construction, which was No. 6 Section in this case.

The photograph at right shows one of three distinct groups of text revealed during our investigation.

In this group, we have the initials "DG", the year 1940 and "AMPC" within a shape not too dissimilar to that of a concrete "buoy" obstacle used in roadblocks.

A lot of this is speculative; there are numerous small marks that were partly obliterated as the concrete mix settled. This makes it hard to be able to read some inscriptions and there may be alternatives interpretations.

"PTE WG" was presumably etched by a Private with the initials "WG", but the most interesting inscription is that of "SGT MALONEY".

Dragon's teeth

As can be seen in the lower photo, Sergeant Maloney signed his name a second time and identifies himself as No. 6 Section's sergeant. This tells us something that we didn't know before, namely that, a section commander was actively participating in inscribing graffiti (or permitting others to etch his name) into the wet concrete. It is interesting that a section commander was, if not turning a blind eye, actually indulging in this behaviour.

"WG" also appears again, but the reference to "SNAKE'S" (note the apostrophe) is not clear; it might be a nickname, or possibly a reference to the presence of adders seen by the pioneers during construction.

A third distinct group of inscriptions has some initials, "AMPC 1940" and what possibly is "3 - 6 Sec", indicating that both Nos. 3 and 6 Sections were working on these cubes. This fits the above reference to 6 Section and also the inscription to 3 Section on the aforementioned block just a few metres from the excavation.

Larger versions of these photographs (with and without the red annotation) are included in the photograph gallery below.

After the block had been photographed and recorded, the trench was backfilled.

Photograph gallery

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