Going underground 

4 April 2022 tbs.pm/74946

Jim Green returns to one of his old army barracks that is now where ITN stores its tapes for safe-keeping.

 

 

The Lens masthead

From ‘The Lens’, ITN’s house magazine, for Autumn 1988

During the Second World War, Londoners around Tottenham Court Road would occasionally remark on the numbers of American troops around the area and wonder were they all went to. One minute they would be walking along the road, the next they would disappear from sight.

At the time, people had so much else to occupy their minds that they paid little attention. They didn’t know that beneath their feet, dug deep into tunnels beneath Tottenham Court Road were secret bunkers that housed thousands of GIs and Eisenhower’s British headquarters.

Those Americans didn’t suddenly disappear, they used hidden passageways and a special tube platform at Goodge Street station to enter their underground world which was fitted with kitchens, bathrooms and rest rooms. Originally built for the public by teams of miners, in the Forties the tunnels were taken over for military use. They lay fallow for some time after the war but then were used as an army assembly point for troops going overseas. It was during this period that, as a young corporal, News Information’s Jim Green stayed here with the East Surrey Regiment, First Battalion in January 1952. Jim recalls, “Our barracks were in Canterbury and we were flying out to Tripoli from Stansted and so needed to come up to London so we could be in time for the early flight out to Libya.

 

Top: rows of tapes; bottom: bare concrete walls

Upstairs, downstairs: the tapes are in the upper level but the lower is a reminder of its previous use.

 

“We were told we could go home till midnight so I got the tube to Morden where I was living at the time. We came back for the midnight deadline and left at about 5 am.” In Tripoli, the regiment had more salubrious accommodation: the barracks they stayed at in Bab Al-Aziziya are now Colonel Gadaffi’s palace.

Last month Jim paid a nostalgic return visit to the tunnels which are now run as a storage centre by Security Archives and house ITN’s tapes. Patrick O’Connor, Security Archives marketing director, explained: “After the tunnels stopped being used for military purposes, the Government decided to lease them out. There were plans to turn them into all sorts of things like night clubs or golf ranges but we eventually secured the leases for archive purposes. As well as this centre under Goodge Street, there are ones at Stockwell, Clapham and Camden. They were all built under Northern Line tube because this is the deepest line.”

 

 

There are a mile and a half of tunnel under Goodge Street where the ITN tapes are stored along with Channel Four’s and Thames’, as well as countless computer companies’ data, precious manuscripts, Beatles’ original tapes and an assortment of “Russian doll” bunkers – security within security – banking centres equipped with telephones and fax machines.

Known as the Eisenhower centre, it was once the American general’s British base and you can still see where his bunker was and remnants of his stay such as the Lamson Communicator, an underground tube along which messages could be sent to Whitehall so that Eisenhower could keep in close contact with government officials. The centre is only 40 per cent full, so Jim could walk along the lower section and see where he had spent the night more than 30 years ago.

Soldiers’ graffiti still cover the walls of the lower section. (Security Archives has spent £750,000 [£2.25m now, allowing for inflation -Ed] renovating the upper section, installing sensitive smoke detector alarms and heat sensors which keep the material at the optimum preservation temperature.) Jim found messages from people from his regiment also en route to Libya. On his first visit, Jim left no notes on the wall but this time he wrote “Jim Green, East Surrey Regiment – I came back.”

 

You Say

1 response to this article

Gavin green 30 May 2022 at 9:24 pm

Jim is still going strong at the age of 88 and has been retired over 30 years. He currently lives in a leafy part of Sussex. He had forgotten this article and is grateful for its resurrection. Gavin his son.

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