Subterranea Britannica

Road of Remembrance Naval Bunker, Folkestone

Road of Remembrance,
OS Grid Ref: TR230358
Date of visit: July 2011

[Source: Chris Rayner]

The Road of Remembrance, originally Slope Road, was renamed in the early 1920s in memory of the several million First World War servicemen who had passed down it as they marched from basic training at Shorncliffe Camp on their way to the harbour and embarkation for the continent.

Near the bottom of the road though is a strange concrete structure, a survival from two decades later and now one of the country’s oddest remnants of Second World War brutalist architecture. Where other bunkers strive to be unobtrusive, this tries to hide in plain sight by disguising itself as an upended biscuit box. But this roughly-built concrete structure with its blank square face is just the entrance and service end, and the important part, comprising several vaulted rooms, lies further back, buried deep into the cliff face behind.

The structure is believed to have been built to serve as a Naval (although run as Combined Operations) communications relay site which would have passed on information from coastal shipping radio traffic to Bletchley Park for decoding, possibly acting as one of its network of Y-Stations. A local boy, Tom Broderick, employed as a messenger, on several occasions delivered weather reports to the “offices”, as he called them, and once allowed past the sentry on the door found Wrens at work on typewriters in the front part of the bunker. He was not allowed to venture further down into the complex, however a woman who worked in the deeper sections of the bunker later described their work as “advanced communications”.

Entering into the bunker at the side of the concrete monolith one would have passed under an upper room containing ventilation plant and rusting filter drums. Ahead there are toilets, while turning through 90 degrees a passage and steps lead down into the bunker. The main sections consists of several rooms at an angle to the passage, two either side, with internal walls tiled with rectangular panels of unknown composition painted a beautiful ochre colour (possibly gas detection paint?), while old posters remind one that “Security Saves Lives”. An escape tunnel leads back to the road at the end of the two largest rooms, running parallel to the main tunnel, and there is a second bank of toilets.

The structure appears to have been built at a later stage of the war, based on a message from the Vice Admiral at Dover in October 1942 describing arrangements made to build an underground structure containing a telephone exchange and a small control room. The estimated cost of the project was given as £1000 and the construction period three months. Unusually for a secret bunker, it is believed to have been built by Otto Marx builders, a local firm also responsible for two other bunkers on the Leas, one of which was reputedly destroyed by a German bomb before the concrete had completely set. Using non-service contractors rather than say, the Royal Engineers, may have been a necessary relaxation of normal procedures due to manpower shortages.

Today it is sealed and ownership complications have, to date, sadly prevented its reuse as a heritage site.

[Source: Chris Rayner]

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