Why were the bridges destroyed?

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A couple of months ago, Exmoor Associates acquired a new section of L&B trackbed, taking us up to the former bridge 16 – Blackwell Bridge, on the River Yeo. Bridge 16, as is also the case with Bridge 17 at our next section of land (Collard Bridge), was destroyed during World War Two.

These weren’t the only bridges destroyed in the war – bridges were destroyed in the Yeo Valley on the outskirts of Barnstaple, and also around Bratton Fleming. The most well known such example was the five span Lancey Brook Viaduct. The small bridge destroyed above Bratton at Knightacott threw the cast concrete bridge a substantial distance away, to be found many years later.

So was it an exercise or part of something bigger? There were certainly quite a few bridges destroyed and a substantial amount of explosives used – some may argue far more explosives than were probably necessary.

One theory put forward has been that it was part of an operation to cut off potential unprotected easy routes of invasion to the country – although admittedly that was a pretty obscure route that doesn’t really lead anywhere. Perhaps it was an exercise or practice, but if so what exactly for? – in the event of an invasion they would be well practiced in blowing up abandoned narrow gauge railway bridges, but would that have actually been any use in engaging with the invading forces?

Some have suggested the local home guard may have got hold of some ammunition and got a bit carried away with blowing bridges up, after all we would be had to believe that all boys like playing with guns and fire etc. Certainly from the destruction caused in these remote forgotten spots someone had some real fun doing it.

Nobody has provided any solid evidence as to exactly who did it or why. It would certainly be interesting to know if there exists any more solid evidence so the decades of local rumor may one day get laid to rest. If you have any ideas or evidence on the subject, why not leave a comment…

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