Last Sunday was the first part of our day in Dover spent wandering through the great castle, church, and the grounds but today is something a little unexpected- the Secret Wartime Tunnels.
In the Middle Ages tunnels were constructed under Dover Castle to be used as a protected line of communication for the soldiers stationed in the northern outposts and to allow for the garrison to gather before attacks without being seen. Later during the Napoleonic Wars the tunnels were expanded to prepare the castle for a French invasion. Seven tunnels were dug to serve as barracks for soldiers who had already filled up the castle and the town. These tunnels were capable of holding 2,000 troops and are the only underground barracks ever built in Britain.
In WWII the tunnels were used again as the center from which Admiral Ramsay and his team worked around the clock for nine days on Operation Dynamo– the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and French troops from the beaches of Dunkirk. It was estimated that 45,000 troops could be brought back to Britain but on May 26th there were about 400,000 troops awaiting rescue on the beaches. By June 4th, nearly all were evacuated with 338,000 men brought back. Admiral Ramsay used as many Royal Navy vessels as the could gather, along with a now famous flotilla of ‘little ships’- the civilian and merchant boats. Churchill called it a ‘miracle of deliverance‘.
* All of the photos in this post were taken by L…well except for the last one as he tends not to take pictures of his food, unlike me. :-) *
During the Cold War the tunnels were expanded again to form a Regional Centre of Government in the event of nuclear war but with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the need for this facility decreased. In the early 1990s it was decommissioned and areas of the tunnels were open to the public.
When visiting you have to take the guided tour as many parts of the tunnels are not open to the public. It was a really good tour though and we didn’t feel rushed along as we visited communication centers, hospital bays and even dining areas that smelled like roast beef! There were also many places along the tour where they projected video along the walls of the tunnel sometimes making it seem like you were in the room as actual events played out as the shadows of the officers went about their duties.
This video does a much better job of showing you the tour than I can explain.*Please note that some scenes may be upsetting.
After such an interesting tour of the tunnels and around the grounds and look out posts we had worked up an appetite! Well not really after such a good lunch but there was cream tea to be had so off we went back to the café for a spot of tea and that oh so delicious clotted cream with raspberry jam on a scone. Is there a better afternoon snack to have in this world? At this point I’m going to have to go with no and think I will be hard pressed to ever find anything that will make me change my mind.
For more information about Dover Castle and the other castles under the care of English Heritage you can visit their site here. I can’t wait to move over and become a member- there are over 400 sites to visit. I’m going to be a busy bee!
To read about the Keep, Roman Lighthouse, and Church at Dover Castle, click here.