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Talk - The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton (continued...)

Built between May and September 1941 by conscripted Welsh miners, its role changed as the war progressed. It played a vital part in the Dieppe Raid in 1942 and the D-Day Landings in 1944. It was abandoned in 1946, and left to rot.

Pete Mason, Chairman of Friends of HMS Forward, knocks on the door, and together we drive to the tunnel entrance, located up some steps on the side of the A26. Geoffrey opens a big padlock, swings open the gate, hands me a hard-hat and we’re in. There is no lighting inside, so a couple of torches are necessary to negotiate our way around. The further we go into the hillside, the cooler it gets. The tunnel is arched, and reinforced by rolled steel joists. The MOD denied the existence of the complex as recently as 1991, but painstaking years of research by Geoffrey has revealed the function of every nook and cranny. He shows me steps up to pillboxes, an air conditioning plant, galley, toilets and machine gun nests as we edge our way further into the hillside, where the tunnel splits into a ladder-shaped warren. There are sleeping quarters, a room for teleprinters and cipher machines, and ‘plot’ rooms (from where many of the D-Day ships were coordinated). Soon we come to a strip of polythene barring our way, and although we can see beyond it, we are not allowed to go through. The Friends of HMS Forward wish to make the whole complex accessible to the public, but have been restricted by the owner of one of the houses directly above the tunnel. When you buy a house, according to English Law, you also own the rights to the earth directly below it. One house-owner complained when The FHMSF opened the tunnels up to the public on Heritage Open Days last year, not wanting anyone to roam under his property. Not even 60 feet under. (continued overleaf...)


The HMS Forward Plotting Room at 7.30am, June 6th, 1944, D-Day
© Photograph FHMSF