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Ramsgate Tunnels mark 80th anniversary with 1940s weekend

Hundreds of visitors experienced a taste of the 1940s at Ramsgate Tunnels to mark its 80th anniversary with the air raid siren echoing around the town on Sunday.

Visitors to the seafront attraction took part in the Dad's Army variety show outside the tunnels and were given special anniversary tours of the tunnels.

A vintage market was held with many people browsing through the stalls and a 1940s cooking demonstration showed how people lived on the Home Front.

Enthusiast Mike Nichols lets 12-year-old George Newey sit in his Jeep. Pictures: Paul Amos (11607407)
Enthusiast Mike Nichols lets 12-year-old George Newey sit in his Jeep. Pictures: Paul Amos (11607407)

Derek Smith, marketing officer, said: "The sound of the Moaning Minnie air raid siren and the unveiling of the two plaques commemorating the parts played in the construction of the Tunnels by Richard Brimmel [designer] and Arthur Kempe [former Ramsgate mayor] certainly reminded visitors of just how important a part of the town’s history the Tunnels were.

"The 80th Anniversary event at Ramsgate Tunnels was a great advert for the hard work put in by our volunteers – especially considering this is ‘Volunteer Week 2019’.

"All in all a very good day."

The event carried on unaffected after emergency services were called at 11.15am when part of a stage being used for the performances collapsed.

The first section of the tunnel network was opened by Prince George, the Duke of Kent on June 1, 1939 - less than three months after construction started in March.

A visitor photographs the dress of the war years (11607409)
A visitor photographs the dress of the war years (11607409)

Plans were drawn up as early as 1936 by borough engineer Richard Brimmel to construct a series of entrances to join up underground into the main shelter in the former railway tunnel.

They were first put to the test on August 24, 1940 when German bombers unleashed 500 bombs on town on approach to the RAF base at Manston.

Reports from the time claim the leading Luftwaffe aircraft was shot down in the harbour and the Germans released their payload on the town in response.

But despite 1,200 being damaged, only 29 civilians and two soldiers were killed, 10 seriously injured and 49 more wounded.

The protection provided by the deep shelters were a key factor in reducing the number of casualties in the face of widespread devastation to the town.

The air raid tunnels were abandoned when the war ended with the pre-war scenic railway reopening in 1946 but closed in 1965 following an incident when a train overran the stop at the seafront station.

The tunnel remained empty for around four decades with false dawns in 1988 and 1996 to reopen them to the public as tourist attractions.

The tunnels were reopened ahead of the 75th anniversary of their initial opening by the present day Duke of Kent, Prince Edward, on May 27, 2014.

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