"" Writer's Wanderings: Dover - The Secret Tunnels

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Dover - The Secret Tunnels

The white cliffs of Dover were immortalized in song during World War II. The impressive white cliffs are white because of the high content of chalk in them. They are at a point in England that sits closest to the continent of Europe and therefore the most accessible for invading enemy forces. They also hold a centuries old secret. Of course now the secret is out. There is a maze of tunnels inside the cliffs near the Dover Castle that were begun in the 18th century and refined for use during WWII.

Our tour of the tunnels was very interesting but since we were not allowed to take any pictures inside, I only have these of two entrances. Our tour began in the building which sits at the entrance to what was originally the barracks for troops in the early 19th century. We walked up a long ramped tunnel to the outside which I believe took us out through the entrance where the ranking military and at one point, Winston Churchill, entered to work on plans for battles and defense of the coastline.

Once outside, we turned to our right and reentered the maze through the doors that led to the underground hospital. From here our tour was “interpreted” through sounds and conversations piped into the tunnels that represented what might have taken place during that time period. Much of the hospital was set up as it might have been in those days. Can you imagine a surgeon operating in a small room with an overhead light not giving off much more light than a couple of candles that would go out on occasion when the power failed?

It is amazing that anyone found their way around in an emergency and apparently there were many emergencies as wounded troops arrived. While the earlier tunnels of the 1790s were lined in brick, the newer tunnels expanded to form the hospital grid are steel-lined and more cramped. Another expansion project to make more tunnels however was scrapped due to concerns that the cliffs could be in danger of collapse with extended excavation.

After our tour through the hospital grid, we were taken to another level where the military was housed and worked under the command of Admiral Ramsay. He is famous for his role in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940. His actions saved the core of the British Army from defeat and capture by the Germans. His workroom was only one of two places in the tunnel labyrinth that had a window looking out to sea. The other was a popular small latrine with a tiny window.

The operations tunnels were furnished with some of the old relics of the past—switchboards, planning tables with maps, etc. All in all a wonder that communications were carried out when you contrast all of it with the kind of communication systems we have today.

Dover’s tunnels and what went on in there are just one more reason to be grateful for those who fought to keep freedom alive. We owe so much to so many.

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