In 2012, I wrote a post on the dummy batteries at Blackhead, just south of St. John’s and west of Cape Spear. I found out about the batteries in 2007. While I was looking through some of the many photos that are posted on Google Earth I came across a photo with the intriguing title of ‘Stone Walls’.
- Google Earth image: Stone Walls. http://www.panoramio.com/photo/3086595
The photo showed a circular depression outlined by a ring of dry laid stones. In October of 2007, a colleague and I went out to the area to examine the ring ourselves. After a brief search of the area, we found a second ring of dry laid stones just a short distance away. Both rings measure ~6 m x 8 m and show a considerable amount of effort in their construction.
Initially we were puzzled as to what these features were, although we did speculate that they were related to the military. After some basic research, we believe the features were dummy or decoy World War II batteries. This was confirmed by a Parks Canada employee who provided a photograph of one of the ‘guns’ and suggested they were constructed around 1942.
Two weeks ago, I received a comment on that blog post by one of the men, Mr. Harold Cahill, who helped build the dummy batteries. He was kind enough to invite me to his home and tell me about his World War II service including constructing the batteries. We also talked briefly, about how he helped to camouflage several real gun batteries in and around St. John’s including those at Cape Spear and the Airport.
Mr. Cahill told me that the dummy batteries were meant to look like the large 10″ shore battery guns at Cape Spear. The dummies were constructed of a ring of rocks and the guns were made from telephone poles and 45-gallon drums. He said many of the stones used to make the rings were local but eventually they ran out and more rocks had to be brought into the area. This material was brought close to Blackhead by a Bren Gun Carrier and then to the site by a four wheeled cart. They also constructed fake buildings including a barracks and they had to camouflage everything.
Construction of the dummy batteries started in March 1942 and didn’t finish until late that summer. Mr. Cahill provided me with the following list of men who helped construct the batteries:
Lt. William Luscombe Ontario
SSgt. W Johnson New Brunswick
Sgt. T Adams British Colombia
Sappers, Bill Luscombe, Harvey Dewey, Chas Carter, Eric Parsons, Fred Evans, Bill Smith, Bill Simmons, Fred Baker and Harold Cahill, all from St. John’s.
Mr. Cahill has been interviewed several times over the years about his military service. He provided me with copies of several of those articles.
Finding the original picture of the dummy batteries on Google Earth and our subsequent investigation was interesting but the best part of all this was meeting a World War II veteran, Mr. Cahill.
Monday is Remembrance Day, Never Forget.