The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton

The Western Entrance & Pillbox.  Before & After 2000.

These pictures show the Western Entrance in 1941, 1964, 1993, and 2004.

These pictures illustrate the changing face of the western entrance. It is rare to find pictures of such a secret wartime establishment in the course of construction, but thanks to Lt. William Wild R.E. whose son kindly presented copies of his father's archives, we are able to witness the scene beside the (then) B2109 Newhaven-Beddingham Road. This picture is genuinely worth a thousand words for it reveals so much of the scene that is impossible to describe. It was a hotchpotch of skillful engineering improvisation to satisfy an immediate need to construct a hopper that would collect and store chalk spoil and then transfer it quickly into a constant stream of 'Chaseside' dumper trucks (as seen here) with minimum effort. The miners worked 24 hours a day, but the dumpers could only operate during hours of daylight. IWM photograph H.14501 taken officially by Lt. Tanner on 2nd October 1941 shows a counter-view from the tunnel, with a sentry at the gate and two miners beneath the camouflage discharging a tram-load of spoil into the hopper. The picture cannot be shown for copyright reasons.

During the 1950s the roof of the western entrance guard room collapsed and many tons of chalk dropped into the tunnel filling the guard room, blocking the west adit to the point where it was difficult to squeeze past it as the 1964 picture shows. The pile grew larger as time passed . The chalk was removed from the adit c.1970 to conduct a survey and reinforce a section of the tunnel. The guard room doorway was then partly blocked up, but nothing was done to prevent further subsidence that continued behind the now sealed western entrance. When the tunnel was next visited in 1993, much more subsidence was in evidence - only this time it was sub-soil. On 29 October 2000 a severe rain storm and gales caused serious flooding. It also caused the surface above the guard room to subside into a 10ft (3 M) diameter, 15ft (5 M) deep hole that affected two private properties and a public path. The landowners were responsible for making good the damage caused. In this case the properties affected were protected by a special covenant that does not apply to any other dwelling under which the tunnel passes.

A brick toilet-cum-guardhouse was built on the roadside pillbox roof when the Operational Area of the tunnel was re-ordered to prepare for the planned increase of personnel and security involved with the forthcoming Normandy Invasion. The toilet block was demolished after the war leaving only minimal remaining evidence of four WCs and two small-bathroom-sized spaces for the guards etched on the roof of the pillbox. Unstable ground deterred further investigation into the pillbox.

 

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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.