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Reigate History

Reigate & Redhill DVDs and associated local history

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Throughout history, Reigate and the North Downs have played an important part in the defence of Great Britain. Just 20 miles south of London, this unbeaten stronghold has the strategic advantage of extensive views southwards, stone, chalk and sand quarries, luxurious mansions, ancient underground tunnels and hidden byways disguised by plenty of tree cover.This was all familiar territory to Winston Churchill, who became Prime Minister soon after the start of World War 2. Over several decades he had visited the town as a guest. As well as visiting socially for weekends along with leading figures in society, he had chosen Reigate for meetings with key Navy personnel and Cabinet Ministers. When the Royal princes were at risk during an assassination plot in the 1920s, it was Reigate Priory that was chosen as a secret hideaway; Winston Churchill was spotted by the local policeman on guard duty at the back gate.

Winston Churchill, Bernard Montgomery and Dwight Eisenhower at an army reunion in 1951.
All 3 were in Reigate at various times during World War 2

Reigate Hill was an ideal choice for a WW2 defence post in case of an invasion. It also became the countryside HQ of the Army's South Eastern Command. It was here that General Bernard Montgomery was stationed in November 1941, later to mastermind the British and Canadian Army's role in the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy - the largest amphibious invasion in history that began 6th June 1944.

 


Reigate Hill Fort today, with an interpretation board showing the history dating back to the 1890s .
An original WW2 War Office Battle HQ document states "Sketch to Accompany Minutes of Meeting - Ventilation Shaft and Alternate Access to Fort" Does anyone know whether this additional access idea was put into practice? We would like to hear from you.

 

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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 armed guard.

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 Bottom.

Numerous personnel 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.

DVDs can be bought here.

Grace 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.

(c)Grace Filby 2010

 



Books used for the research above.
Further reading available for purchase below and from the Reigate Shop.


 

Further reading: www.gracefilby.blogspot.com.

 

Other 2nd World War Pages

Caves / Tunnels / 2nd World War / Battle of Britain / Churchill's Secret Reigate / Memories / Reigate Priory / Bombs

If you would like to contribute to these pages please contact Carolyn Burnley at info@b-v-p.co.uk .

 

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