The Kent underground tunnels hidden beneath our feet and their fascinating stories – 3

Part Three

Dover’s secret tunnels

In May 1940 the bulk of the British Army was trapped on the beaches surrounding the town of Dunkirk.

Enemy tanks had halted just a few miles away and the Second World War was almost certainly tipped in favour of the advancing German army.

From an underground complex of ancient tunnels, the order to evacuate was given and one of the most extraordinary feats of the war was executed.

But the tunnels beneath Dover Castle hold far more secrets than those of the Second World War.

Founded in the 11th century during the reign of Henry II, Dover Castle is often referred to as ‘The Key to England’ and the tunnels constructed underneath this vast fortress have been monumental is some of the country’s most important events.

Between 1216-17 the castle was besieged by French forces. Tunnels were dug beneath the castle’s great towers to undermine them.

Following the Medieval period, the castle saw a number of high-profile figures visit including Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I.

When Napoleon’s France threatened England’s shores in the 18th century, a large number of troops were quartered within the castle and a network of tunnels was constructed to house them.

In the First World War, the castle was used by the Navy to control ship movements in and out of Dover harbour. However, it was not until the Second World War that the castle had its ‘finest hour’.

The Navy once again occupied the site from 1939 and controlled all operations in the Channel.

In May 1940 Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay gave the order for the stranded British Expeditionary Force to be evacuated from France and thus ‘Operation Dynamo’ was born.

Hundreds of ‘Little Ships’ set sail for the trapped troops as they waited patiently for rescue. Vessels from all over the UK, including a seizable number from Kent, answered the call to rescue their stranded army.

These days the tunnels are a popular tourist attraction but due to their long and colourful history, are subject to ghost stories.

Dover Castle is considered Kent’s most haunted castle and there are reports of Second World War soldiers sighted wandering around its endless tunnels.

A number of ghost tours have been held in the tunnels, which even housed an operating theatre for injured soldiers during the Second World War.