The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton

WRNS Mess Room.  Before &After 2000.

Plan of the WRNS Mess Room.

Several post-1943 WRNS telephone switchboard and teleprinter operators referred to a nearby facility for making hot drinks but none could remember exactly where it was situated. The discovery of this hand-painted hardboard label amongst the detritus on the floor during the big clean-up in this room provided the answer. The label is similar in appearance to several others discovered - the inference being that they were probably all created at the same time - i.e. during the extensive re-ordering of the tunnel in 1943 in preparation for the proposed Normandy landings. The room was certainly not ideally suited to be a refreshment room - there was no provision for water or drainage; nor it seems was there any existing power connection for a water heater/kettle/urn. The WRNS Mess room floor shows where the flagstones were inexpertly chased with a chisel (picture 1 below), and through a breeze block partition (picture 2 below) to provide a power point.


Nothing is known about the pre-1943 assignment of this gallery or the small room that it contains. It has been mentioned the small room might have accommodated a small floor-standing switchboard prior to the 1943-installed 4-position PMBX1A (Private Manual Branch Exchange No. 1A). Given that it had to go somewhere, this would have been a suitable place for it.

Picture 3 (above) shows a 3.5" (90 mm) cast-iron riser to the surface provided for telephone cables from the Newhaven CBS2 manual telephone exchange. The ends of two severed telephone cables were found near this riser; one a 54-pair (quad) cable and the other a similar 28-pair (quad) cable, with lacquered conductors and paper insulation, both commonly used for local and trunk telephone circuits of the highest quality. (Four other telephone cables entered the tunnel from the Guinness Trust Holiday Home; two 20-pair lacquered and waxed double cotton covered switchboard cables, one 15-pair lacquered and paper insulated cable, and one 54-pair (quad) cable with lacquered conductors and paper insulation. These cables provided 'alternative routing' for circuits as a protection against bomb damage).


The most interesting aspect of this gallery is graffiti on the arcuate sheeting left by the Sappers of 172 Tunneling Group during an idle period in excavations between 5th September 1941 and the resumption of work a week or so later. Additional excavation was needed to access five hillside pillboxes from within the tunnel; a few Sappers were to be retained to carry out this work when the plans arrived. In the meantime, with little else to do, they chalked comments and recorded the names of dozens of military units on the gallery walls. After the tunnel was lined, the graffiti became hidden until the 'wood batten liberators' revealed it again. Unfortunately the white chalk graffiti on a light grey shiny surface has been extremely difficult to photograph


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All illustrations and text on this site are 1941-2021 Geoffrey Ellis, or The Friends of HMS Forward, or Nick Catford.