Well worth a visit-the Battle of Britain bunker in London

By Pete van der Spek


Situated in a leafy suburb of London is a most historic Battle of Britain site. It is where the Battle of Britain was coordinated along with Bentley Prior also in London.

The Battle of Britain (BoB) bunker in Uxbridge is the better known of the two and the best preserved.

It boasts a 2,000 square metre exhibition centre on two floors which includes the two iconic aircraft involved in the BoB period namely the Spitfire and Hurricane.

The actual bunker is next to the exhibition centre and one would not even know it was there but for a staircase heading down into the earth.

The bunker was constructed in 1938 between February and August of that year. The bunker is 60 feet underground with a single staircase down to the floor of the bunker. The walls, floor and ceiling are 1 metre thick. Above the bunker is 30 feet of earth so no bomb could penetrate it. The utilities (water, electricity, telephone lines and sewage) runs down the staircase.

The room fell into disrepair after 11 Group moved to RAF Martlesham Heath (in 1958) but in 1975, the bunker was restored to its original state. In 2015, the government pledged £1 million to further refurbish the bunker. The Hullingdon Council provided £4,5 million for a visitors' centre to be built which opened in 2018.

I joined a tour group and we headed down the 76 stairs to the actual plotting room which was depicted in the famous movie "Battle of Britain". The bunker consists of several separate rooms and of course the plotting operations room where, during the Battle of Britain, the team plotted the course of incoming aircraft from Germany. The information gathered came from several sources namely the Home Guard Observers and radar sites. The information was then plotted onto a large plotting table and the officers standing above the table could then direct the different squadrons in that sector to the correct intercept course and the fighters could attack the incoming German squadrons to good effect.

Standing in the plotting room, one could only imagine the tension of those hours and days during the months from July 1940 to September 1940. One wall has the "tote" boards with "At Standby", "Enemy Sighted", "Ordered to Land" with a light at each on which helped to control the squadron involved. Those squadrons in 11 Group were based at RAF Kenley, North Weald, Debden, Biggin Hill, Tangmere, Hornchurch and Northolt. It was quite a complex system but it worked very well it seems. All communications were over telephone lines. The Battle of Britain movie showed the pilots waiting for that "Scramble" call which is exactly how it happened. Those calls came from Uxbridge.

The bunker was visited by Winston Churchill on 16th August 1940 and as he was leaving the bunker, he said the famous words "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few". He then repeated those words in the House of Commons on 20th August 1940.

The visit to the bunker is brought to life by a volunteer who is very knowledgeable and imparts his knowledge willingly. The day I went, I had the pleasure of listening to Steve Pendlebury who brought the whole bunker to life explaining how it worked and how the people that worked there must have felt at the time. Steve says that the bunker was not bombed as the Germans did not know about the facility. It was kept a secret for the entire war.

The bunker and the exhibition centre are full of interesting artifacts and one needs several hours to do the visit justice. There are two of the fighters involved outside in the gardens as well as inside the exhibition centre - all are fiberglass replicas. However, it brings back the reality of the battle and just who and what won the day.

The bunker was also involved in the air operations of Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings.

Getting to the bunker, one takes the underground to Uxbridge station (Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines) then a one mile walk through Dowding Park - it is fairly well signposted. There is also a taxi rank at the station for those who don't fancy a walk.

Well worth a visit when you are next in London.

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