A labyrinth of tunnels built underneath the White Cliffs of Dover during the Second World War have been opened to the public for the first time and offer a fascinating glimpse at wartime life.
The Fan Bay Deep Shelter was built on Winston Churchill’s orders in the 1940s – carved into the rock over just 100 days, 23m (75ft) below the stretch of cliffs overlooking the port.
The tunnels were part of Dover’s connected offensive and defensive gun batteries, designed to stop German shipping movements in the Channel.
The shelter was decommissioned in the 1950s and abandoned in the 1970s. The National Trust was stunned to discover it had inadvertently acquired the historic property three years ago through a £1.2m public appeal.
Personally inspected by Churchill in 1941, the 3,500 sq feet of interconnecting tunnels below the Kent coastline are reinforced with iron girders and metal sheeting and could accommodate four officers and up to 185 men during the war.
Officials at the National Trust said the tunnels were a “time capsule”, giving fascinating insights into wartime life, with graffiti-covered walls, discarded ammunition and even a pools coupon found in the depths.
Following their rediscovery, 100 tonnes of rubble and soil were removed by hand from the tunnels in a project involving more than 50 National Trust volunteers, archaeologists, mine consultants, engineers and a geologist.
Jon Barker, visitor experience manager at the White Cliffs, said:
This rediscovered piece of the country’s Second World War heritage is a truly remarkable find. There has been no public access to the tunnels for over 40 years and so they remain much as they were when they were abandoned. We’ve carried out extensive conservation work to preserve both the natural decay and authentic atmosphere of the space.
Guides will lead hard hat and torch-lit tours through the extensive shelter, telling people the story of the tunnels’ creation, use and abandonment.
The National Trust is also asking for help in identifying the men from the 172nd Tunnelling Company, the 203rd Coast Battery and 540th Coast Regiment, Royal Artillery. They ask anyone with information to contact the White Cliffs.
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