A series of forgotten tunnels constructed beneath the White Cliffs of Dover and containing rare precursors to radar technology have been opened to the public following an 18 month-long period of excavation.
The Fan Bay Deep Shelter was built in just 100 days under the order of Winston Churchill in the 1940s as part of Dover’s set of offensive and defensive gun batteries that guarded the English Channel.
The 325sq metres of tunnels were reinforced with iron girders and metal sheeting and once housed four officers and up to 185 men during the war. The tunnels were decommissioned in the 1950s and then filled in with rubble and soil during the 1970s, before being rediscovered in 2012.
Following the rediscovery and excavation of the shelter by more than 50 National Trust volunteers, historical experts and engineers, objects from the long-forgotten occupants were discovered. These included a Unity Pools football coupon from 1943, WW2 ammunition and messages and graffiti written on the walls by the soldiers. A pair of First World War sound mirrors – primitive technology used to detect approaching aircraft – were also unearthed in the tunnels.
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."
The tunnels are open to the public from Monday 20 July 2015 and will feature torch-lit tours, with hard hats provided, telling the story of the construction and life in the tunnels during the war.
White Cliffs volunteer Gordon Wise said: "Seeing the tunnels in their raw state when they were first discovered, handling artefacts and giving tours is like standing in the footsteps of history. To be part of the digging team, mirroring the work the Royal Engineers originally took to excavate the shelter, was very special.”