As a vital
communications centre, a gas-proof and bomb-proof bunker was secretly
mined by Royal Engineers from the Welsh coalfields.The location was the
old chalk quarry by Crabtree Bottom, the lane behind the Yew Tree Inn
and just below the old Fort. This was along the lines of the labyrinth
of tunnels in the white cliffs beneath Dover Castle. With its corrugated
iron archways and galleries, airlock doors and emphasis on ventilation,
Reigate's Battle HQ design became the inspiration for another bunker in
the South Downs near Newhaven.
This cut-off metal ventilation
shaft in the old chalk quarry on Reigate Hill is visible evidence of Reigate's
underground wartime bunker.
The South Downs'
bunker, which was constructed for the Navy, is well documented and restored
as an important National Heritage site. Bunkers were equipped with teleprinters
and staffed by signals personnel. Motorbike dispatch riders were regular
visitors and the whole area was heavily guarded. Even Reigate's prize-winning
carrier pigeons were commandeered into service.
The Great Doods Pigeon Loft of
18 Doods Road, Reigate was commandeered for the war effort and kept under
Being so accessible
to London, local people became closely involved in the country's war effort.
King George VI's Honorary Surgeon Major General Philip H. Mitchiner was
a former Captain and Governor of Reigate Grammar School, and leading light
in the Royal Army Medical Services, also lecturing on subjects such as
the importance of maintaining calm and order during air raids or gas bombing.
A former patient of his, Myra Collyer (nee Murden) started off in the
Home Guard and then volunteered for the WAAF, where she spent nearly a
year working in the Cabinet War Room whilst still in her teens. She was
then posted to photographic intelligence HQ, RAF Medmenham as Sarah Churchill's
shorthand typist. A contemporary of Myra's at Reigate County School For
Girls was Jean Metcalfe, who became one of the BBC's first female announcers
during the war. Jean Metcalfe's grandfather, by then living in Reigate,
was the Prime Minister's personal barber! Young Eric Hurst, already a
radio expert in Reigate, became closely involved in maintaining the equipment
for signals intelligence at HQ Bletchley Park. He and his family were
country neighbours of Baron J. Arthur Rank, the wealthy miller, film producer
and founder of the Rank Organisation. Nearby on Reigate Heath lived Captain
W E Johns, the author of the Biggles books which inspired many a young
man to sign up for the RAF as a pilot.
The homes around 117 Reigate
Hill were fortified as a defence post in case of an invasion, with gun
holes covered by metal flaps and sandbags up to window height. The narrow
lanes alongside led to 'Monty's Hideout' and the Army's S. E. Command
HQ. A few yards down the hill is the historic byway known as Crabtree
arrived in Reigate from elsewhere. Eric Sykes, a
young RAF signals engineer from Oldham was stationed in a tent in the
beautiful landscaped estate of Gatton Park, home of Sir Jeremiah Colman
of mustard and orchid fame. Now an internationally famous comedian, Eric
had often walked down Reigate Hill to the town, awe-struck by the great
contrasts compared with his northern upbringing. There are stories from
local residents of the great surprise of finding that the lake at Gatton
was being used for secret trialling of the amphibious military DUKW vehicles.
United States military leader General Eisenhower visited Reigate for meetings
to coordinate the roles of the British, Canadian and US Allies. He was
accommodated nearby in the exclusive Gatton Road area.
After the troops
had moved out and the war came to an end, there were still remnants of
wartime evidence in Reigate. Basements of country houses, commandeered
by the War Office, were concreted in. Sadly, the beautiful historic gates
and railings at the entrance to Reigate Priory were severely damaged by
an armoured vehicle. They had previously welcomed royalty and leading
personalities such as Winston Churchill whereas now they were left to
rust in the undergrowth for another half a century. The Great Doods Pigeon
Loft had, unfortunately, suffered great losses during the war and the
remaining birds lived out their days.The subterranean communications HQ
concealed in the hillside became a source of fascination for local caving
enthusiasts and Boy Scouts, until eventually the three or four entrances
were sealed off discreetly for safety reasons. Still a remarkably peaceful
and healthy environment close to London, Reigate town later became home
for a Martin Bormann 'doppelganger'. He was evidently somehow involved
in Churchill's top secret operations which successfully retrieved 95%
of the "Nazi Gold".
Reigate Priory's magnificent
Park Lane Gates and Railings welcomed visiting royalty and esteemed guests
for over 200 years before being damaged by an armoured vehicle in WW2
and left to rust indefinitely.
There is so
much more to discover about Churchill's Secret Reigate, as explained in
an illustrated lecture now available on DVD.
can be bought here.
Filby has collected eye witness accounts and detailed clues about Churchill's
Secret Reigate from various sources. Reigate History wish to thank Grace
for the above article which is based on her two talks "Churchill's
Secret Reigate" given in November 2009 and January 2010. The January
talk is available on the DVD mentioned above.
used for the research above.
Further reading available for purchase below and from the Reigate Shop.
Other 2nd World War Pages
Caves / Tunnels / 2nd World War / Battle of Britain / Churchill's Secret Reigate / Memories / Reigate Priory / Bombs