Report by Derek Smith
This year marks the 81st year since the creation of Ramsgate’s life saving air raid precaution system. During World War Two it provided sanctuary for many thousands of the town’s residents from bombing and shelling. The tunnel system utilised both the disused 1863 mainline railway tunnel, and a newly created horseshoe shaped tunnel running from the East Cliff to the West Cliff with entrances dotted throughout the town, so nobody need be more than four minutes ‘brisk walk’ to seek shelter when the sirens sounded.
News of ‘Ramsgate Tunnels’ spread far and wide and soon magazines and national newspapers sent photographers and reporters to report on this remarkable feat of engineering, which had been spearheaded by Ramsgate’s Borough Engineer, R.D. Brimmel, and the Town Mayor A.B.C. Kempe. One newspaper in particular, The Daily Mail, published several excellent photographs, which have been very useful in recreating what it must have been like in the air raid tunnel and ‘Tunnel Town’ during the dark days of the 1940s.
One photograph in particular has struck a chord with visitors to the Tunnels, and that’s a photograph of a mother putting her son to bed in the Tunnels with the bunk beds stretching into the distance. Since the restored Tunnels opened as a visitor attraction there have been many visitors who shared their recollections of sheltering with their parents but the name of the young boy in the photograph remained a mystery.
By one of those lucky coincidences the boy in question happened to see the picture in a newspaper report on the other side of the world. At the time of the photograph Ken Gower was living in Ramsgate so knew the Tunnels well. At some point after the war Ken emigrated to Australia and had no doubt forgotten about his moment of wartime fame. However, the picture nudged his memory enough for him to want to visit Ramsgate and the Tunnels.
This visit has now been fixed for the end of March and it is hoped some of the ‘Tunnel Rats’, the children who spent time during the war in the Tunnels, might be encouraged to come along and share a few more of their memories with Ken and the Tunnel guides.
If you used the tunnels during the war or know any of the former “Tunnel Rats”, Ramsgate Tunnels would love to hear from you. You can contact them by telephone on 01843 588123 during opening hours or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.