Haunting pictures of the decaying WWII 'pillbox' bunkers that remind Europe of its dark past

Marc WilsonFindhorn, Moray, Scotland, 2011

As conflict in World War II ramped up, both the Nazi and Allied forces raced to fortify their shores from invading troops. They built thousands of structures, from simple rudimentary “pillboxes,” small concrete rooms with peepholes for firing weapons, to more complex fortresses with multiple purposes.

Now, with the end of the second World War almost 70 years behind us, many of these structures still exist, dotting Europe’s coastline. Many have not been preserved, and serve as a painful reminder of an earlier time, slowly crumbling back into the sea.

Marc WilsonWissant II, Nord Pas De Calais, France, 2012
Marc WilsonVigso I, Nordjylland, Denmark, 2014
Marc WilsonLossiemouth II, Moray, Scotland, 2011

Photographer Marc Wilson hasn’t forgotten about these buildings, though. Wilson, an Englishman, has travelled more than 23,000 miles over five different countries to document the abandoned pillboxes, bunkers, gun emplacements, observation posts, and command centres of Europe. He visited 143 sites and captured what remained before the structures were totally gone.

“I have always been interested in the idea of the landscape and the objects we place in it as holding the stories, histories and memories of the past,” says Wilson, who says his European background and family history also drew him to the story.

Marc WilsonBrean Down I, Somerset, England. 2012
Marc WilsonNewburgh I, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 2012. This string of cement bricks was put in place to deter tanks.
Marc WilsonStudland Bay I, Dorset, England. 2011

While some structures have been preserved as historical sites, Wilson focused on those that were hidden or forgotten.

“I was more interested in the locations where the histories and memories were being left to fade into the landscape,” Wilson told Business Insider.

Marc WilsonSt Michaels Mount, Cornwall, England. 2012
Marc WilsonDengie peninsula, Essex, England. 2011. The surrounding area was used as a mine field.
Marc WilsonWissant I, Nord Pas De Calais, France, 2012
Marc WilsonBorth-y-gest, Snowdonia, Wales, 2013. The stones on the outside of this pillbox were local and meant to make the structure blend into its surroundings.

Wilson used both online research, satellite imagery, and history books to find locations in Britain, France, Denmark, Belgium, and Norway, many which were unknown to even the locals. “Some locations were fairly simply to find whilst other took a matter of hours of walking and searching,” he says. Many of the sites had been abandoned, Wilson theorizes, because they were unwelcome reminders of the areas’ dark pasts.

“I learned a huge amount in historical terms but more than that, I saw first hand how the histories and memories of these places, and the period of time, are still affecting people’s lives today,” explains Wilson.

Marc WilsonArromanche les Bains III, Normandy, France, 2012
Marc WilsonStanga Head, Unst, Shetland, Scotland, 2013
Marc WilsonPortland, Dorset, England. 2011

Often, getting his shot proved arduous. Once, he was forced to stand next to a dead seal for a few hours, waiting for the perfect tides and light. Another time, he was forced to wake up and begin his trek to a location at 3:45 a.m. “I had driven 10 hours to get there and was not going to be stopped!” he says.

Marc Wilson2_Abbot’s Cliff II, Kent, England. 2010
Marc WilsonSainte Marguerite sur mer, Upper Normandy, France, 2012

After spending for four years documenting the structures, Wilson whittled his images down to 86 of the finest and compiled them into a book, titled “The Last Stand,” which is available for purchase now. Along with the photos comes text, detailing the history of every site and grounding the images in reality. The book stands as a testament to the power of time and of history, good or bad.

“It is my act of remembrance,” says Wilson.

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