The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton

The Eastern Entrance.  Before & After 2000.

These pictures show views of Room 16 in 1992.

This is the west-most wing of the Guinness Trust Holiday Room where Room 16 was situated. In August 1941 a contingent of 172 Tunnelling Company RE Sappers lifted part of the parquet flooring and started to excavate into the ground beneath and also to install a load-bearing lintel beneath the west-facing wall (below where the black notice board was later fixed). At 1820hrs 4 September 1941, the RE Sappers who were excavating the tunnel from the B.2109 (now A.26) roadside broke through into Room 16 - an event that was, Dennis Day (Lt. Col. RE, retired, formerly in charge of the excavations as Lt. RE) told me, well-celebrated in the Ward Room! 

Peter Bailey (Curator of Newhaven Local & Maritime Museum) had a neighbour (Ernest) 'Chad' Chadwick who had served as a Royal Naval Plotter at HMS Forward in 1941/2 and he knew where the principal operational entrance to the tunnel emerged. It was he who revealed the room and the reason for the missing parquet flooring that had been concreted over and painted brown. The biggest surprise of all was when we struck the floor with a toffee-hammer and the head disappeared through the floor up to the handle! The concrete was LESS than an inch thick (see pictures for proof!). Boards had been laid on wall bearers, covered with mineral felt, and concreted over. Over the decades the boards had perished leaving nothing to support the covering over an 8 ft (2.4 M) void that some elderly person had trodden daily in pursuit of daily ablutions! I might add that we were considerably more respectful of the reinstated floor thereafter.

The 1 inch (25 mm) thick unsupported concrete floor over an 8 ft (2.4 M) void.

After the war the tunnel was stripped of all capital equipment and abandoned. As part of the process a 13 ins (33 cm) solid wall was built by the Ministry of Works using Sussex Engineering bricks beneath the load-bearing lintel to seal the tunnel from the Guinness Trust Holiday Home. The thoughtful mason engraved "21 November 1945" on the wall in wet cement. For his information we started to violate his construction on 18 January 1993 but it took three days with a Kango Hammer to nibble a hole large enough to squeeze through!

The void was a veritable time-capsule that contained valuable information regarding the telephone cables that passed this way. Four short lengths of lead-covered cables revealed two were 20-pair lacquered and waxed double-cotton-covered switchboard cables; one was a 15-pair lacquered and paper insulated cable; and the fourth was a 54-pair (quad) cable commonly used for trunk circuits with lacquered conductors and paper insulation. The 20-pair cables could have served up to 40 extension telephones within the GTHH; the other cables could have carried up to 69 'external' circuits to more distant destinations. Evidence regarding how these cables reached the GPO roadside cable duct was literally discovered at the eleventh hour in March 1996 - but see the Groundsman's Store for that. 

Room 16 became a victim of the Guinness Trust Estate 1996 redevelopment programme. Today, nothing more tangible than a manhole cover remains to record the site of the principal operational entrance to the subterranean labyrinth so crucial to the War of the Channel that was visited by many dignitaries, and none more so than Lt. General Bernard Law Montgomery on 26 November 1941.

 

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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.