Defensive installations

Plymouth had many defences against enemy bombing and the threat of invasion. In Central Park, an anti-aircraft battery was situated where the sports plateau is today on the western side of Discovery Way.  It is the feature showing at the centre of this 1947 aerial photograph. 

1947 aerial photograph (National Library of Scotland)

The battery was similar in its layout to the heavy anti-aircraft gun site near Wembury Point (grid reference SX 50782 49117), which is a scheduled monument (Historic England list entry 1021147).  It consisted of four octagonal and two square emplacements with a command post at the centre.  The emplacements had 1.5m-high concrete block walls which were embanked with earth for extra protection.  The building slightly to the north of the site, where a park shelter stands today, could have housed generators to provide power.    

The banked-earth emplacements can be seen projecting above the park’s natural contours in this 1940 photograph taken by Chris Robinson’s father.

Central Park’s southern slopes in 1940 with anti-aircraft battery above the crest (Chris Robinson)

The gun sites were manned by Royal Artillery gunners of Anti-Aircraft Command at the start of the war.  By 1942, they were joined by women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (A.T.S.) who took over tasks such as range-finding, communications, fuze-setting and loading.  They were not supposed to fire the guns being a non-combatant service although it has been rumoured this was sometimes forgotten.

In an interview published in the Daily Express on 3rd December 2021, Grace Taylor, a “gunner girl” recalled defending Plymouth. “I remember one night we were in the right place but there were just too many enemy aircraft.  The flashing and the noise was dreadful.  We saw the bombs, you know, as they hit the town.”   

Also in the 1947 aerial photograph is the hutted camp built in 1942 next to Alma Road. The purpose of the three huts on the eastern side of Discovery Way is unknown although it seems likely that they were associated with the anti-aircraft battery, perhaps as stores, accommodation and offices.

Barrage balloons

Plymouth’s first barrage balloon was launched in Central Park on 31st March 1939.  They were vehicle-mounted and used to deter enemy aircraft from flying low. 

Photograph, Western Morning News 1st April 1939

Anti-tank island

There have been uncorroborated accounts of an anti-tank island located in the park close to Alma Road at the north western corner of the Golf Course.  Anti-tank islands were designed to delay the advance of enemy forces by causing an obstruction on fast routes.  They consisted of fixed or moveable obstacles or explosives that would be detonated ahead of enemy movements. 

After the war

In 2018, work to improve drainage on the sports plateau uncovered broken concrete foundations where the gun battery had been.  They may have been buried when large areas of the park were levelled for new sports pitches in 1949. The concrete pieces were moved to a new place on the golf course and arranged to form a hazard.