The Sounds of War

As I’ve spent the week on tenterhooks waiting to see if the offer on the French house is accepted it’s been a bit of a struggle to settle back to the editing work  so I shuffled off to one of my favourite places along the coast, Spurn Point. It was cold and cloudy and I forgot my camera so when I happened upon a weird object in the middle of a field I was a tad miffed with myself. Having almost decided that the denizens of the little village of Kilnsea (next door to Spurn) were not indulging in arcane rites and rituals involving whopping great lumps of concrete I needed to know more. A pleasant lunchtime chat with coffee in one hand and sandwich in t’other led to the disclosure of the area’s WWI history and this morning I’ll share some of it with you.


The outbreak of WWI saw the East Yorkshire coast bristling with defences partly aimed at frustrating any attempts to land on the open Holderness beaches and partly to ensure the defence of the busy port of Hull. Military camps sprouted up along the coast and a temporary airfield was developed near Withernsea

The quiet village of Kilnsea was invaded by the military who built Fort Godwin there and what is now the wild nature reserve of Spurn Point was armed with three gun batteries and a signal station. All ships approaching the coast and the Humber estuary used a combination of lights, pennants and sound to show they were friendly. A railway was built to link the installations on Spurn with those at Kilnsea.

Perhaps the most intriguing military installation was that of a sound mirror – a huge concrete dish designed to pick up the sound of incoming enemy aircraft flying over the North Sea. So the mystery of the concrete lump was solved and no, the good folk of Kilnsea do not participate in idolatrous practices (to the best of my knowledge).

The Mirror works by capturing and concentrating sound waves from approaching aircraft (Zeppelins in Kilnsea’s case) via a microphone. Eventually, it was superseded by its big brother radar. The photo shows the mirror with the remains of the pipe for holding the microphone.


The Kilnsea mirror is around 4.5m high and is said to have provided three or four minutes of extra warning before the attack.  That doesn’t sound much to me but what do I know? Perhaps it was sufficient for the searchlights and gun batteries to gear up for action – although all the military defences on the coast were unable to fend off a Zeppelin attack in 1915 when it offloaded its bombs on the ports of Hull and Grimsby further down the coast, with 60 casualties recorded.

Today much of the WWI installations like Fort Godwin (photos below) have tumbled down the cliffs onto the beaches however the Kilnsea Sound mirror is now a monument protected by English Heritage.


Thanks to and Paul Glazzard for the photos.