The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton

The West Adit.  Before & After 2000.

These pictures show the West Adit as found in 1994 (looking west), and again in 2005 (looking east).

The left hand picture bears witness to the shortage of materials in 1941. The occupation of France in 1940 gave rise to many underground defence establishments like this being constructed, and demand had outstripped supply. The cadmium-rich galvanised arcuate walls of the adit were replaced with flagstones on-end and standard quality galvanised iron sheeting to finish off the Operational Centre. The standard quality galvanised sheeting has completely disintegrated to piles of rust since the end of the war, revealing a considerable gap between the tunnel infrastructure and the chalk face. The right hand picture shows evidence of reinforcement where properties were constructed above the west adit c.1972. The walls have been built-up with masonry and the 'gap' has been filled with liquid cement under high pressure and is most noticeable where it has emerged through the joints in the arcuate sheeting.

A 2 ft (60 cm) gauge tramway was constructed in this adit whilst the tunnel was being excavated. Calculations indicate that the 'trams' clocked up an incredible 1280 miles (2048 Km) in some 7600 'return journeys' during the construction of this site - the equivalent of a journey to Inverness and back again! The trams carried chalk spoil on the way out, and tunnel construction materials on the way back.

Every item in the tunnel - hundreds of breeze blocks, bricks, flagstones, & copious quantities of concrete, three water tanks, standby engine, air conditioning plant, electrical gear, switchboards, teleprinters, radios, tables and chairs came in through the west adit and every removable item was taken out that way after the war. This was not the principal entrance, but it was certainly the first and last used.

This 109-yd (100 M) long adit from the Western Entrance to the Operational area must rank amongst the longest access tunnels built during WW2. By an incredibly fortuitous chain of events I met up with Lt. Col Dennis Day RE (retired) in November 1997. His daughters wanted to give him a special treat for his 80th birthday. Year after year they had searched in vain for the tunnel that he had built at Newhaven in 1941. In desperation they contacted Newhaven library, who referred them to Peter Bailey, curator of Newhaven Museum, who in turn referred them to me. To cut a long story short, we met at Newhaven Museum on 5 November 1997. I recorded an interview with Dennis Day c.Eng., Hon. F.I.M.M., F.I.Min.E., a Consulting Mining Engineer, who as Lt. Dennis Day RE was in control of some 130 RE Sappers (in reality newly-conscripted Welsh miners with no military training) charged with the responsibility of excavating 'a shelter' by direction of Their Lordships at the Admiralty. After the interview we took the short walk to the entrance of the tunnel, built into a steep bank, half-hidden by dense undergrowth and bushes and practically unapproachable. The sight of the blocked-up portal was enough to erase the 56 years that had passed since he last visited the site. He was ecstatic, like meeting a long-lost child. This had been his first job in the army, and he had retained copies of all his documentation - would I like them?

Dennis was so moved by our research and proposals to open up 'his' tunnel, he presented me with his carefully kept file of documents - plans (marked up with weekly progress), job summary, statistics, materials used, spoil removed, mechanical aids used, fuel oil used, engine oil used, and performance graphs. What an incredibly incredible gift! It surpassed my wildest dreams.

Just this one page reveals detailed information about the west adit and records that excavation started on 3 June 1941, and the progress made by the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th respectively.

 

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All illustrations and text on this site are 1941-2017 Geoffrey Ellis, or The Friends of HMS Forward, or Nick Catford.