Pertwee’s Pillbox

The pillbox of mystery.

Here’s another of my pictures of Manx buildings. This one definitely isn’t too pretty but it has an interesting history. It’s a Second World War lookout pillbox, on Douglas Head. It was built as a line of defence for HMS Valkyrie, a naval base once situated on the Head, where personnel were trained in secret communication techniques, including the new technology of radar. Many staff trained at HMS Valkyrie were later transferred to Bletchley Park, to work on the Enigma project.

It’s possible that the pillbox itself is also something of an enigma.

One of the Divisional Officers at HMS Valkyrie was the actor Jon Pertwee. In his memoirs, he describes putting the base on full alert, after apparently seeing a German U-boat in Douglas Bay, in the early hours of the morning. It was then pointed out to him that what he had seen was actually the Tower of Refuge sitting on Conister Rock. To be fair to the future Time Lord and scarecrow, in certain light the silhouette is quite similar, as you can see below.

This is not a U-boat.

Could the great Pertwee misidentification have actually taken place inside this pillbox? If you were to turn around from the spot on which I took the photo, you have a clear view of the Tower of Refuge sitting in the bay below. Manx historians and Doctor Who fans both have a reputation for tracking down obscure details of their areas of expertise. Worzel Gummidge admirers could put their Thinking Heads on. With the right team of experts assembled across these fields, we might find an answer buried in old naval records or interviews with the man himself.

A plaque for the pillbox may be pending.

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