Race against time to record military past
6:40pm Sunday 14th July 2013 in By Barry Leighton
AVIATION photographer Jeremy Flack is involved in a momentous project that will probably take him the rest of his life – compiling a photographic library of every surviving 20th century military structure in the country.
From World War Two pill-boxes and “dragon’s teeth” concrete tank traps to remnants of early RAF air-bases and underground bunkers from the Cold War, Jeremy wants a photographic image of them all.
The hugely ambitious project involves locating and correctly identifying structures before photographing them to create a record of hundreds of thousands of images – possibly as many as a million.
It is also something of a race against time as buildings such as long-abandoned aircraft hangars from both world wars, derelict Army bases and rotting structures from the Cold War are often bulldozed to make way for new developments.
His ultimate aim is to create a central website where photos and descriptions of the structures can be accessed as a major research tool for decades to come.
Jeremy, 62, of Old Town, Swindon, is eight years into his military heritage venture and has photographs from 21,000 locations in the bag – but he acknowledges that he has a mountain to climb.
He said: “It really is a long-term project. I reckon there could be up to a million military structures from the 20th century still around. There are 25 airfields within 20 miles of Swindon alone.
“My aim is to create a computer programme featuring as many of the surviving structures as possible. Hopefully I can log and photo most of them before they vanish.”
Father-of-two Jeremy, who lives off Marlborough Road, added: “It will be far too big for a book. I want to create a computer programme – a database with links to other websites that people will be able to use and refer to in years to come.
“This is going to take the rest of my lifetime. I would like to think I can finish the project. I could do with a bit of funding though – some sponsorship would be nice.”
Jeremy, who has lived in Swindon all his life, is one of country’s leading aviation photographers and has had 26 glossy and often weighty photo-books published.
Over the past 45 years he has built up an unrivalled library of around 250,000 photographs, largely of aircraft, both civilian and military, although some focus on the Army and Navy.
His wife Julie helps him manage his vast library, Aviation Photographs International (API) comprising around 200,000 slides and 50,000 digital images.
It was as a result of visiting bases in 2005 for a book called The Modern RAF that he embarked upon his 20th Century Military Structures marathon.
He said: “I was trying to get a list of every RAF base, a definite record for a book I was doing. But there didn’t seem to be a central body with all of the information.
“So I started compiling a list from my own knowledge and research – from all of the existing RAF bases going right back to early ones of World War One.”
Jeremy soon found himself expanding the project to include Army and Navy bases, and then every structure that had a military role during the entire century.
The list is extensive. He said: “Airfields only make up a small part of the sites that are spread across the UK. Army camps, POW camps, storage depots, docks are all to be included.
“There were also a substantial number of lines of defence running east to west and north to south across the UK.
“While reasonably documented, these lines of defence known as ‘stop lines’ incorporated ditches, pillboxes, anti-tank guns and anti-tank blocks.
“They often follow a feature such as a canal or river and were designed to hold up any invading force until reinforcements could arrive.
“It is estimated that some 9,000 pillboxes alone were built during World War Two, when it was considered that the Nazi invasion threat was very real.”
Jeremy’s research even includes locating the likes of Home Guard drill halls.
He has travelled countless miles recording sites with military connotations, often spending several days away, but is looking for others with a similar interest to chip in and send him information and images.
“There are so many of these sites around – I want to document and photograph them,” he said.
Jeremy can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
His website can be viewed at http://www.freewebs.com/20thcenturymilitarystructures