Click here to go to the Viva Lewes homepage

Talk - The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton

When he was a young lad during the war, Geoffrey Ellis was fascinated by a tunnel entrance dug into the hillside near his home in South Heighton, just outside Newhaven. The entrance was guarded day and night by sentries. But however much he begged to be allowed to see inside the tunnel, the sentries would not budge, so his curiosity remained unsatisfied. What he found out much later was that the entrance lead to a communications bunker dug into the hill, which was the workplace of over 100 military personnel at the height of its importance, and vital to the war effort. Another entrance of the bunker was through the floor of the Guinness Trust Holiday Home on the top of the hill, which had been requisitioned by the Royal Navy at the beginning of the conflict. The complex was named HMS Forward. Geoffrey, now long-retired, is the secretary of the Friends of HMS Forward, an organisation dedicated to preserving the establishment as a historic monument, and trying to open it up to the public.

Monday morning. Geoffrey kindly picks me up from Newhaven Station, and drives me to the Newhaven Local & Marine Museum at Paradise Park, where he shows me a scale model of the complex, as a prelude to taking me inside its dingy interior. He tells me about the place. HMS Forward was set up in 1941 after the defeat of the British Expeditionary Force to monitor marine movements in the English Channel. In effect the South Coast had become a front line of the conflict, and there was much fear of invasion, leading to the need of a state-of-the-art intelligence complex equipped with telephones, teleprinters, radios and radar to link up with similar bases in Dover and Portsmouth and ten local radar stations, in order to spot enemy shipping movements. (continued overleaf...)

Tunnel vision: Geoffrey Ellis (left) and Pete Mason hope to open HMS
Fortune to the public