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Revealed: Cave network where hundreds lived subterranean life during Second World War to escape Luftwaffe bombing

Mirror logo Mirror 18/05/2017 Mirror

Credits: Kent Live © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Kent Live These astonishing pictures reveal the underground metropolis where hundreds of Brits lived to avoid Nazi bombing during World War Two.

Many lived in the cave network for months on end without seeing the light of day.

Hundreds of people in Kent chose to adopt a completely subterranean life after 500 bombs fell in just five minutes on August 24, 1940.

Some 300 families took to living in the tunnels on a permanent basis, KentLive reports.

Life underground became so normal for the people of Ramsgate that street signs, canteens, shops and other services were set up.

Credits: Kent Live © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Kent Live There were concerts within the tunnels, numerous latrines and even a hospital in this wartime hub of human activity.

In 2011, the Thanet Gazette was shown treasured photos by Muriel Lilley from Dumpton, whose late husband grew up in Ramsgate and visited the tunnels while on leave from the commandos during the war.

Mrs Lilley said: "It was like one big family down there, everyone knew each other. You'd bump into neighbours or people that used to go to the same shops as you.

"After so many people were made homeless by the bombs they just moved into the tunnels permanently. There were barbers down there, greengrocers, everything. Some people would play music, and there were concert parties to keep morale up."

The design of the two and a half miles of tunnels built under Ramsgate meant that no-one was ever more than a quarter of mile from an entrance.

Credits: Kent Live © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Kent Live

The huge maze of tunnels was big enough to be like an underground city. Phil Spain, of the Ramsgate Tunnels heritage group, told Kent Live in 2014: "The reality was that a lot of Ramsgate residents were evacuated, so the tunnels could hold the whole town.

"At one point, there were just under 1,000 people living down there. They're unique in being the only civilian and not for military use tunnel network.

"It's the most extensive underground public shelter system in the country, if not the world."

Credits: Kent Live © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Kent Live One of the deepest points of the tunnels stretches 90ft below the surface and was accessed by three steep flights of stairs, which surfaces outside the Holy Trinity Church in Bellevue Road.

Credits: Kent Live

Credits: Kent Live
© Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc

And despite every tunnel being carved from the cliffs by hand, the air raid section of the maze was constructed in just nine months.

It was this vast burrow, measuring over three miles, that saved hundreds of lives in the town during the war.

Ramsgate and the surrounding area had been badly bombed during the First World War and in 1938, with war on the horizon, Borough Engineer RD Brimmell applied to central government to build a vast network of underground tunnels under the town.

After initial refusals, Ramsgate council's third application in 1939 was approved by the Home Office, and work commenced using local labour.

By June of that year, the first section had already been finished and the Duke of Kent did the honours at the official opening.

"There's a story of a man who got shellshock and spent four years down here," Mr Spain explained: "When he finally climbed the stairs to get out, he collapsed from a heart attack and died!"

Credits: Kent Live © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Kent Live

But despite their wartime connection, the largest of the tunnels actually dates back much further than the Second World War and opened in October 1863 as a railway tunnel serving Ramsgate Harbour Station.

The line closed in 1926 when the current Ramsgate station opened, but the tunnel was brought back into use in 1936 when a narrow gauge railway ran between Hereson Road and the seafront.

You can now take a guided walk through these very historic tunnels, which re-opened as a tourist attraction in 2014.

Tickets are £6.50 (AUD$11.30) for adults and £4 (AUD$7.00) for children and can be purchased here.

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