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The following information was sent to me by Wendy Lynch, a lifelong resident of Dover, after she saw this picture (see the Images page) of wartime occupants of the Winchelsea tunnels. My thanks to her for taking the time and trouble to gather the story, thanks also to Paul Wells for sourcing the photograph (a high definition print of which now complements the yellowing newspaper cutting in Mrs. Lynch's family archive).

"I spoke to my eldest brother Gerald Sedgwick and asked if he could remember anything about the tunnels and the war years. He is now 72 but had vivid recollections about his then childhood.

The ladies in the photographs were my Grandmother Isabel Young pouring the tea and my mother Vera Sedgwick standing behind her. My brother remembers my gran making various cakes, pastries and Bread Pudding that she used to sell in the canteen. He remembers sleeping in the tunnels on two and three tier bunks and also using them as a short cut to St Bartholomews school at Tower Hamlets. The canteen, he tells me, was the hub where people would meet and share stories and such like with each other during the raids.

Both my brothers and my mum used the tunnels regularly rather than the Anderson shelter in the rear garden. During the war years my father was working away doing salvage work. During the war years my gran lived at No. 6 and my mum at No. 10 Winchelsea Terrace and they were able to get to the caves via their back gardens and down the chalk pit when there was an air raid. The sides of the chalk pit in those days was apparently a gentle slope rather then the steep drop that it is today. Also there was a series of steps made from sandbags leading from the garden of the house halfway up the hill.

He remembers the garages opposite the tunnels were used by a bus company that were used to transport the miners to work. From his recollections he was able to tell me there were flush toilets in the tunnels and outside and a place where they were able to carry out minor operations. There was also hot and cold running water. In the chalk pit itself, on the site of the now factory, there was a decontamination centre and a first aid station. There was also an incinerator where the rubbish was burned.

My brother remembers being sent out to a fish and chip shop in Tower Hamlets with my younger brother Raymond to buy fish and chips for as many as 20 people some nights when there was no bombing. He talked about the large wooden doors on the entrance to the tunnels, the double blast walls and the gas curtains that could be lowered if there was the threat of a gas attack. He remembers coming home from the cimema one Saturday afternoon and seeing a glow in the sky and the house opposite ours had been completly destroyed by a bomb.

In 1944 my brother at the age of 14 had an accident that left him blind and missing his right arm up to the elbow. This was caused when he and some friends found what turned out to be a practice hand grenade on the hills. They took it to school and were washing it in the sink when it exploded. My brother took the force of the blast, a sad day for all of our family. However despite this he has gone on to marry, have a family and hold down a job in a London bank until his retirement. He now lives in Yorkshire but still holds fond memories of his childhood in Dover."

Author: John Vaughan
Submitted on: 14/02/2006
 
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