The tunnels underneath Ramsgate provided shelter from air raids during the Second World War, a purpose that they had also served during the First World War. They consisted primarily of a series of large caves, and a disused railway tunnel that combined could provide shelter for up to 15,000 people.
It was decided to improve this tunnel system at the outbreak of World War II, as people would clearly try to head for the tunnels from a radius of anything up to two miles. A new tunnel was constructed to lessen the distance that people had to cover to get to shelter. A further 11,000 people could find shelter in this new tunnel.
There were originally 12 entrances to the tunnel complex, with smaller spur tunnels connecting to the main tunnel. Each entrance was fitted with a heavy steel gas-proof door. The idea was to close a gas door only in the immediate vicinity of a gas bomb detonation. The remaining gas doors were to be kept open unless their immediate surrounding area was also contaminated with gas. It was hoped that by keeping doors open in one area of the town, fresh air could still be drawn in from areas not contaminated. It was considered to be highly unlikely that the whole area would be contaminated at any one time. Ventilation in any other circumstance was provided by ten air vents that ran the length of the main tunnel.
Toilets were constructed by cutting recesses into the chalk walls, with the gents’ on one side and ladies on the other. Each recess had two chemical closets. Corrugated asbestos cement partitions and doors were used to try and make cleaning these toilets an easier task……
There were also first aid posts dotted throughout the tunnel, again lined with asbestos. These posts had hot and cold water supplies, a sink and a couch.
Light in the tunnel was provided by a small generating plant that ran on petrol, with a battery set that could provide power for 10 hours should the generator break down. The battery rooms were situated near ventilation shafts to vent the exhaust fumes out of the tunnel.