Posts Tagged ‘WW2’

This post continues from Part 1.

From 1827 the tunnels had remained derelict although from graffiti carved into chalk walls, it is known that soldiers were based there guarding an ammunition store in the 1850’s and 60’s. This is because they were on high alert for invasion although this threat never came to anything. In the First World War, the same tunnels were also mainly used for ammunition storage and perhaps as emergency stationing for soldiers about to make their short trip across the channel to the trenches of Northern France and Belgium. The tunnels were under the control of the Royal Navy during the First World War.

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey who died in 1945 from a plane crash. Photo from FanPop.com

Without much action for the next two decades, the tunnels were called back into action when the Second World War commenced. They were first converted into an air-raid shelter in 1939 although later became a secret military command centre and underground hospital. In May 1940 Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey directed the biggest operation ever seen at the site, from deep inside the White Cliffs, – Operation Dynamo, also known as the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The tunnels needed to be upgraded and transformed and this was a big mission itself. Over three miles of new and secret tunnels were dug out (by hand) to accommodate these changes. New levels of tunnels were commissioned from 1941 to provide separate, hidden and secure centres of operations for Army, Air Force and Navy. Many of the older tunnels were fired back into use by being lined with plywood or corrugated iron, of which much remains today. In addition space was needed for kitchens and mess rooms, maintenance and communications centres, barrack accommodation and a hospital for the wounded. The existing casemates were converted into offices, workshops, a telephone exchange, generator and planning rooms.

By the end of the war there were completed tunnels on three levels, one below the other.

A – Annex level, which from 1941 contained the hospital, dormitories, kitchens and mess rooms.

The planned B – Bastion level, behind Casemate level, was to be combined military headquarters and dormitories, but was never completed and never used.

C – Casemate level (the original 1797 tunnels and casemates planned by Twiss), held Admiralty Headquarters’ plotting, telecommunications and planning rooms, workshops and offices.

D – Dumpy level, the lowest level, built in 1942, was intended to be the main operations headquarters for the Army and Air Force.

Wartime life at Dover Castle

Photos Copyright English Heritage Photo Library

Post War

The DUMPY sign still at the Castle.

The Admiralty retained an interest in the tunnels until 1958 when they were handed over to the Home Office for a new defence function – a Regional Seat of Government to be used in the event of a nuclear war. The final phase of the working life of the tunnels came in the 1960s during the Cold War when tensions between East and West were at their height. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962, with its serious threat of nuclear war, particularly concentrated the minds of politicians and military planners in Britain. The government response was to identify a number of sizeable and secure fall-out shelters from which some vestige of local organisation could be continued in the event of a nuclear attack by the USSR. Dumpy level of Dover’s still secret, underground tunnels was chosen as the Regional Seat of Government for South East England, known as R.S.G.12. This Government centre was to be controlled by a cabinet minister with a staff of service personnel and civilian administrators after a nuclear war.

The work of converting the tunnels started again although this time converting them into radiation proof T.V. and radio studios, living accommodation and operations centre. Doomsday rehearsals and civil defence training were carried out regularly in the modified tunnels throughout the 1960s although the tunnels became increasingly difficult to maintain (and keep secret) during the 1970s. It was also realised that the porous chalk would have offered barely any protection against contaminated rainwater percolating down from any nuclear winter at ground level. The tunnels were abandoned as a Regional Seat of Government but were kept secret until 1986 when they were passed into the hands of English Heritage for eventual opening to the public.

Present Day

Scent bottlesToday English Heritage take pride in creating a realistic experience for people to a glimpse into what it would have been like during the war. The tunnels are open to the public with tours available for free (entrance fee to the site applies). While some of the tunnels maintain the wartime look and feel, some are making the most of technology with projections and immersive sound effects. Bottles like these are used to create realistic smells of some unusual things such as the boiler room, beef and a general musty smell.

Walking past these bungalows you wouldn’t think anything of them – they’re just someone’s average home, but the buildings are far from average, they were actually built to withstand an atomic explosion.

Hiroshima-after-blast_1945

This photo, taken by the United States Air Force, shows how deadly an atomic bomb can be. This community, Hiroshima, was the victim of an atomic bomb on August 5th 1945.

Following the end of the Second World War, in 1946, plans were submitted to build atomic proof bungalows on Canvey Island.

A plan of the houses - find more at CanveyIsland.org

A plan of the houses – find more at CanveyIsland.org

What was planned?

The plans show that they were to be made of 9” brick or 9” Concrete Hollow Blocks and waterproof cement rendering with bitumen felt flat roofs. The houses were either to have a flat roof or a pitched one. The floor on the first floor states 5” ‘Hyrib’ or 9” Hollow Concrete Blocks.

The single bungalow to the west of Miramar Avenue was originally supposed to be a pair and further west, stretching to Maple Way, there were plans for three sets of four three-bedroomed terraced houses with a balcony over the doorway, built on similar lines to the bungalows.

The Atomic bungalows, at the junction of Long Road/Miramar Avenue were originally going to be the start of a large estate of houses and bungalows spreading all the way to Maple Way to the West and North for A. De Angelis Esq but, for an unknown reason, the estate never materialised.

Today

The bungalows that remain today would not be strong enough to cope with a modern day bomb (and most likely one from the 1940s either) although they are a fascinating historic relic. It is possible that they were merely built in a design similar to that of American ‘ranch’ style houses of the time, hence their association with being ‘atomic proof’. We will never know if they would’ve stood up to a 1940s Russian atom bomb or resulting radiation, but it is unlikely.

 

Situated above the White Cliffs of Dover, this iconic castle has guarded our shores from invasion for 20 centuries and is the largest castle in England. Dover Castle is owned by English Heritage and is a Scheduled Monument meaning that it’s “nationally important” and is protected from any unauthorised change. Known as the ‘Key to England’, we explored the dark, atmospheric Secret Wartime Tunnels that lie in the chalk below as well as the Keep Tower and medieval tunnels.

English Heritage Places

This graph from the English Heritage website shows how many historic sites they own – over 400 – ranging from prehistoric sites to palaces and statues.

Dover Castle is one of the UK’s most famous castle’s and is Grade 1 listed meaning that it is recognised as an internationally important structure. English Heritage has spent millions over the years doing up the site and creating a vibrant experience for tourists and visitors. An estimated 350,000 people visited the site in 2010 however over the winter months, the castle is only open at weekends. Dover Castle has been on our list of places to visit for a while and in December last year, we were fortunate enough to visit the site during the week, getting an exclusive guided tour with the BTP boys being the only visitors in the entire site!

Early History of the Site

Unusual earthworks suggest that the site might have been fortified in the Iron Age, or before the Romans invaded in 43AD however this is not certain although it is unlikely that these earthworks would have been used for a medieval castle. Iron Age evidence has been found at the site however it could be associated with the hillfort. The site still contains one of Dover’s two 80 foot high Roman lighthouses, with the other lighthouse at Western Heights, another place that we are keen to visit. After the Battle of Hastings in October 1066, William the Conqueror and his forces marched to Westminster Abbey for his coronation, traveling via Dover. The English were fearful of his approach and has little confidence in defending the site and hence were preparing to surrender. The Normans set the castle on fire and William paid for the repairs as he had taken control of the site. The castle was first built entirely out of clay however this eventually collapsed (not surprisingly.)

Henry II

Under the reign of Henry II, the site really began to look like a firm fierce castle. An engineer was responsible for building a keep and this still exists today and remains as one of the last rectangular keeps ever built. It is furnished in an authentic manner – surprisingly the vivid almost childish colours used are believed to be accurate to the fashions of the time. Several other defences from the Middle Ages span the site, such as the Avranches crossbow tower we looked inside. (see above gallery) In 1216, a group of rebel barons invited Louis VIII of France to come and take the English crown. He had some success breaching the walls but was unable to take the castle. This act was known as the First Barons’ War. During the English Civil War it was held for the king but then taken by a Parliamentarian trick without a shot being fired (hence it avoided being ravaged and survived far better than most castles) in 1642.

Napoleonic

Massive rebuilding took place at the end of the 18th century during the Napoleonic Wars. The Commanding Engineer of the Southern District, William Twissas, had the task of improving the town’s defences and completed the remodelling of the outer defences of Dover Castle adding the huge Horseshoe, Hudson’s, East Arrow and East Demi-Bastions to provide extra gun positions on the eastern side, and constructing the Constable’s Bastion for additional protection on the west.

The protected passageway and caponier – a gun battery that extends the building, was led to via a system of tunnels and traps used for clever defence against attackers. For instance a hole in the wall projected light from the outside onto the floor inside to monitor enemy movement!

With Dover becoming a garrison town, there was a need for barracks and storerooms for the additional troops and their equipment. The effective solution to this was to create a complex of tunnels about 15 meters below the surface of the famous White Cliffs of Dover. This was put into effect and the first troops moved in, in 1803. At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, more than 2,000 men were based in the tunnels and to date, they are the only underground barracks ever built in Britain.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the tunnels were partly converted and used by the Coast Blockade Service to combat smuggling. This was a short-term endeavour though, and in 1827 the headquarters were moved closer to shore. The tunnels then remained abandoned for more than a century – imagine exploring these today!

This is just the start of exploring Dover Castle, there’s much more to come in the part two of this article where we explore the Secret Wartime Tunnels and the operations that were carried out there in the war. We will also feature a Beyond the Point documentary.

Known today as Rio Bingo, the building was in fact opened as a cinema in 1937. Just two years before the start of Second World War, it was officially opened by the owner at the time, Francis Bertram.

The cinema was open every day of the week except Wednesday’s and even showed films for children on Saturdays. The building survived the Second World War and even the 1953 floods which ravished Canvey and the south-east. Beyond the Point was able to get a tour of the building, which included taking a look at where many people would have sat to watch films and also the old projector room, which is now used for storage. Looking through the original hole in our photo below, you can see the newer and current ceiling at the bottom which is hiding the old cinema drape curtains at the far end and retro ceiling from the eyes of the bingo players. (Click on the images to view them larger.)

Posting her account on the Canvey Community Archive, Joyce Humphrey posted her memories of working at the cinema, aged 13.

As an usherette, one of my duties was to sell ice-cream in the intervals. During the Saturday afternoon children’s shows it was mayhem! This was due to the shortage of Ice Cream and Sweets during the war. Those dear children used to pull on the straps that hung from my ice cream tray; I was almost strangled at times!  So I resorted to carrying a ruler on my tray and to bring in down on those persistent knuckles! (not very ‘PC’ these days!) When I progressed to a projectionist at the cinema I often had to climb onto the flat roof, to put out incendiary bombs then hurry back in time to change the reel of the film so the show could continue (each reel took 20 minutes to run.) When the air raid warning sounded, I had to put a slide up onto the screen, telling the patrons “An air raid is in progress” and to tell them that if they wished to leave, to do so calmly and quietly, but the film would continue as usual. Not many people decided to leave (no doubt not wishing to face the shrapnel and bombs falling outside!)

Terry Buchanan also posted his memories on the archive and remembers being in there when it was announced that the war was over..

Just along from the Haystack was the cinema, and it was here that most of war news was exchanged. It was in this cinema that I first heard that the war had finished. The Chinese whisper became a shout: ‘It’s over, it’s over’. A jubilant audience flooded out onto the high street to join ecstatic promenade, whilst the celluloid Hollywood lovers were still locked in their black and white embrace, completely detached by the flickering light of the projector bulb from momentous point in history.

In 1976 the last film was shown before the building was converted into a social club, known as the ‘Canvey leisure Centre’. The first game of bingo was played at this time and when the building was sold in 1998 the current owners, Magestic Bingo Clubs, bought the site.

 – Sewage Works Remains
– Second World War Pillbox

Two Tree Island was reclaimed from the Thames in the late 1700’s and was used as farmland until 1910 when a sewage works was constructed on part of the site. These sewage works were used for the majority of the 20th century. During the North Sea Floods of 1953 two of the sewage workers had to be rescued by boat from a shed roof on the Island. From 1936 the entire island was used as a landfill site and continued until 1974, when only a smaller section was used for landfill. It is believed the sewage works stood there roughly up until this time. Soon after it was capped and re-seeded with grass. Like Canvey Heights, once also a tip, and Canvey Wick, once an oil-refinery, it is land which saw former use by man which often becomes the most appealing to wildlife.

Little is known about the sewage works and its structure on the island, so please contact us or comment below if you have any useful information or even photographs.

 Geograph contains several photographs of the Island in 1987 when it first became a nature-reserve

For a long time, the site was known as Leigh Marsh, although more recently, the site has been known as Two Tree Island as it was less-commonly known historically. Today the site is a nature haven and country park. At the peak of the Second World War, a pillbox was constructed on the eastern edge of the island, looking out across the Thames. This survived the war and is still there today for fellow explorers to visit, although over the years it’s become a victim to severe weathering. Since our first visit in 2011 its roof has nearly entirely caved in.

The M.V. Bendigo

Posted: November 16, 2014 by BTP Liam in Case Study, Various
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Less well-remembered than the Concrete Barge, another vessel involved in the Second World War marooned on Canvey Island is the M.V. Bendigo. Historian Robin Howie explains:

The M.V. Bendigo was being towed round the island to a new berth on the western side of the bridge,ironically only about a couple of hundred yards away from its existing one.This was necessary due to the new bridge being impassible.
At Hole Haven she started leaking and it was decided to tie her up to the Occidental construction jetty.
There is a photo of her on Dave Bullock’s walk around west Canvey minus superstructure,but I didn’t make the connection until my last trip to Canvey last weekend.
After much poking around and asking questions over some weeks I was at last put in touch with one
of the rare people who live on the marsh still.Following some sketchy directions over the saltings I began to think that I was on some kind of wind up having spent some minutes balancing along rickety planks and jumping ditches.
At last there was his little cabin cruiser hiding between two big wrecks.
I convinced him that I respected his privacy and that I was not from the “social”.
He told me the whole story and it was confirmrd that his word was good by some local characters.
He also told me that Bendigo was her civvy name and she would only have a number in service.
He knew this as he had owned a identical one many years before.
I’m sorry the ending is not a happy one but one plus point is that it gave me an excuse to be a mudlark again for a few minutes.

An image of an MTB firing off its deadly torpedoes. From www.worldnavalships.com

An image of an MTB firing off its deadly torpedoes. From http://www.worldnavalships.com

The M.V. Bendigo saw life as a Royal Navy Motor Torpedo Boat in the Second World War. Motor torpedo boats were fast petrol engine ship-hunting boats used for stealthy low-profile attacks on larger ships with their torpedoes during the Second World War, such as in the ‘Battle for the Atlantic’. It can be seen nearest the bridge to Benfleet on the left side in the 1956 photograph below in an impressive state. Next is it in 2004 moored at the Occidental ‘construction jetty’. The final image shows it rotting in 2011, taken by us. Quite a shame, but at least we can document the ship today.