Tuesday, 3 March 2009

No secret now - 'Monty's hideout'

Here's a magnificent view south from the top of the chalk downs of Reigate Hill, taken in 1927 by famous Reigate photographer Francis Frith. By 1941 there was a massive secret underground bunker right below this very spot - 350 ft. long, and it is still there to this day, not on the Ordnance Survey maps!

Photo of Reigate, view from Reigate Hill 1927, ref. 79690

Reproduced courtesy of Francis Frith.

Here is the view west, from the direction of his home a few yards away. It was a very industrious chalk quarry and lime kiln business up above a few very high class Victorian homes and estates.
.Photo of Reigate, snowy view under Hill 1890, ref. 26738

Reproduced courtesy of Francis Frith.

Since the turn of the century, Winston Churchill was a frequent visitor along the main road south from London towards Reigate Priory on business and for weekend house parties. Was he on the look-out for a perfect secret WW2 Battle HQ location? Yes of course. The chalk quarry abandoned for safety reasons would provide a top-secret Battle HQ/control centre (with expert mining into chalk, of all things!). The very top of that cliff is a magnificent vantage point south - throughout the war and for evermore.

Montgomery was a national celebrity after the North Africa success. He was given the South Eastern Command here in Reigate (plus Battle HQ now installed) to plan something very special indeed to win the war. And yet, with his health-conscious insistence on 5-mile cross country runs every week, he was very soon familiar with the quiet country lanes all around.

The HQ was closely guarded round the clock. 3 small cottages beside the main road on Reigate Hill were secretly fortified with gun holes and interior sandbags to window level for defence against the German invasion plans! The large houses were commandeered for accommodation and offices.