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Duke of Kent reopens Ramsgate wartime tunnels for first time in 70 years

The Duke of Kent
The Duke of Kent

The Duke of Kent followed in his father’s footsteps today to reopen Ramsgate Tunnels for the first time in almost 70 years

The Queen’s cousin visited the town this morning to officially reopen the tunnels to the public after a three-year campaign by residents.

Crowds braved the pouring rain to watch as he arrived at 11am and, after cutting the ribbon, spoke to organisers of the restoration project and people from the town who sheltered in the tunnels during the war.

Reenactment groups dressed up in Forties gear to celebrate and music was provided by Swing Noir for guests which included Ramsgate’s carnival court, Navy cadets and many dignitaries.

Florence Spice used to play the accordion in the tunnels during the war
Florence Spice used to play the accordion in the tunnels during the war

The reopening marks the 75th anniversary of his father, the previous Duke of Kent, opening the first section of tunnels in 1939.

The tunnels were originally built in the 19th century as part of the railway network but it wasn’t until the 1930s, with the threat of war looming, that they became a major part of the town’s history.

During the First World War Ramsgate had become the most bombed seaside town in England.

Determined to protect the town’s inhabitants, the mayor and town council lobbied the government to be allowed to develop a network of tunnels 2.5 miles long and 60ft below the town, with access within a five-minute walk of most homes.

Visitors enter the reopened Ramsgate Tunnels
Visitors enter the reopened Ramsgate Tunnels

When a raid in August 1940 dropped 500 bombs on the town 29 people died and more than 1,000 were left homeless, many of whom moved permanently into the tunnels until the war ended.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was so intrigued by the project that he paid the tunnels a visit and was even forced to shelter there during an air raid.

After the war the tunnels were abandoned and sealed up until a group of volunteers decided to try and reopen them as a visitor attraction.

After leaving the tunnels the Duke was due to visit St Augustine’s Church in Ramsgate and Thanet Earth’s Birchington site.

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