By Clair Hill - March 30th, 2023 | Posted in Article

Students enjoyed a history trip to Reigate Caves, it was a fun and interactive day learning about the defence of Britain during WW2. Students learnt about the purpose and the history of the tunnels, which were excavated for their famous Reigate sand (which was used in the Olympics for the beach ball matches).  

Victorian bottles were unearthed in the tunnels and some contained poison, as many Victorians couldn’t read, the bottles were produced with four stripes on them to indicate the poisonous content – this was an early form of brail. Students were allowed to handle the bottles and their tour guide, Lesley, told them that whilst the tunnels were being cleaned a WW2 German bomb head that must have landed nearby was discovered, students held the deactivated bomb head and examined the pin and timer – they imagined the timer counting down the seconds between leaving the airplane and decimating the earth below. It was a surprisingly heavy piece of brass.

They carried on through the tunnels in the damp and the darkness and discovered an Ancient Roman oven used for baking bricks. They touched the bricks baked by Romans and placed their fingers in ancient doggy paw prints.  They continued to walk through the tunnels where they saw and sat on a Morrison table, used to stop debris falling on people when bombs dropped on a nearby houses, perfectly suitable for an in-town home. However, for countryside dwellings, there were Anderson shelters, students had fun cramming inside together like a family during the war. It was a very immersive experience – the lights switched off and a soundtrack of whistling and exploding bombs was played. Some students donned heavy soldier hats as they planned which one of them would have the top bunk.  

As they progressed further though the tunnels they saw large water tanks that were used by the fire brigade and provided drinking water for people using the air raid shelters. They looked at the bathrooms which were met with lots of excitement, before they worked their way down to the Cold War rooms, created in case of nuclear war. They found Grafham in the map room and planned their escape to a local bunker, should a nuclear war break out.

Finally, they went to a gunning placement in a 17th century fort on the brow of the hill overlooking the airspace above Gatwick and saw how soldiers would have shot down enemy planes and where they would have stored their shells. The students took great pleasure in running up and down the edges of the fort and ‘played prisoner’ in one of the secure buildings.