Cold War Sites

Fort Southwick COMMCEN

  Created 26-04-2002   Last update 15-02-2021

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NEW - 05-03-2004

When the COMMCEN moved from the old underground WWII UGHQ to the new one on the Parade Ground the radio equipment was installed here in the Victorian main magazine.

West Caponier

NEW - 05-03-2004

This is the western Caponier which housed the RADAR transmission room during the early 1960s. (See emails below). The original gun embrasures have been bricked-up and new windows cut either side of them. The Sally Port on the right has also been closed off. All equipment has been stripped out long ago with the exception of a GPO telephone frame.



This page has sparked off a good deal of interest from former Royal Navy and other personnel who have contacted me via e-mail. Many of them refer to the WWII UGHQ which was used up until 1974.

Here are some extracts. The italicised comments in [] brackets are mine.

NEW - 15-02-2021

Hi just found your site. I worked down in the tunnels a couple of times in the 1960s, the last being 1967/68.

Having just read an item from a J Mackin who worked in the tunnels at around the same time as me, and he was looking for information about a Wren Pauline Willis. He may like to know that I married her in 1968 and we are still here in 2021.

Many happy memories from those days in the tunnels – went back down last year when English Heritage had an ‘open’ day – sad to see so much stripped out but the stairs brought back memories of the long climb back up after a busy night shift.

Happy for you to forward my email address to said Mr Mackin – he lives in Australia I believe.

Jim Dumbrill - February 2021


NEW - 14-02-2021

I read with interest the article on the Portsdown Tunnels. During the 1980s I was a quantity surveyor working with a team of Cecil Denny Highton Architects carrying out Quadrennial Surveys for the PSA in the Portsmouth Region

During an inspection of Fort Southwick the architects shut down the WW2 tunnels as the insides had been stripped of structural support and were dangerous, unfortunately or fortunately I was unable to inspect this section of the Fort. [This occurred when the COMMCEN was decommissioned in the 1970s. The contractors got carried-away and removed part of the tunnel lining].

I spent several days with an assistant inspecting the condition of the Fort and the tunnels inside prior to producing budgets for the repair and maintenance works.

Jerry Draper - retired surveyor - February 2021


NEW - 14-02-2021

I found your site on Portsdown Hill, but principally Commcen Fort Southwick fascinating and a lovely trip down memory lane.

I was an LRO [Leading Seaman Radio Communications Operator] (SM) submariner, who along with another submariner ("Larry" Lamb) served in the Commcen Fort Southwick from March 1982 through to October 1982, then I was then drafted to the Opportune in Guzz. [Plymouth] As we were both PV'd, [Personal Vetted - top security clearance] we worked both in the special handling cell as well as the main Commcen. This role was of particular importance during the Falklands War. I have fond memories of working there, living in HMS Nelson and getting on "pussers" [Naval] transport back and forth to the Commcen. As I lived in Bognor Regis (and still do for my sins) it was a perfect short draft. I do remember after the Sheffield and Coventry were sunk, a bunting from the Sheffield ("Trev" Trevathan) and a sparker whose name escapes me joined us.
This was an unusual draft for a submarine, I enjoyed it, but had to get used to washing/showering and smelling nice for the WRNS on watch!!!

Robbie Robinson - Ex LRO(SM) - February 2021


NEW - 07-02-2021

My name is Greg and I worked in the Dockyard for some time. Part of that time was spent working in the communications centre underground Fort Southwick.
This would have been early 1970s. I had a little room which was off the main tunnel. I used to park my car outside the south addit and enter that way. There used to be civilians like me: Navy staff and some of the civilians were Post Office engineers. I have good memories of working there.

Greg - February 2021


NEW - 17-08-2015


I served in Fort Southwick during the Cuban Missile Crisis and although we suspected we would be targeted by an incoming missile I am glad that it is only now that I have found out that the Russians had targeted it with two megaton bombs. I remember sitting next to a young lady typist and we waited to see if Mr Kruschev was going to finish us all off at the 1500 hours deadline set by Kennedy.

At that time we were based in HMS Dryad and transported back and forward doing 48 hours on and 48 hours off consisting of an afternoon shift, morning shift and a night watch and then two days off. We didn’t use the entrance depicted by one of your correspondents. We entered within the Fort precincts and climbed up and down the stairs at the beginning and end of each shift change, all 168 of them. Apart from the teleprinter corridors forming a cross with the NATO printers off one leg and the national printers off the other, there was a telephone exchange, a civilian processing area and a radio office.

A watch consisted of a Leading Radio operator, one male RN operator and two WRNS who were also Radio Operators. The teleprinter section was run by a Leading Signalman and two signalmen. There were civilian typists during the day. At night the watch ran from 2000 until 0800. The WRNS were allowed to draw rations for this watch from their quarters in Portsmouth whilst we communications ratings had to wend our weary way through HMS Dryad’s galley and cadge eggs, bacon or any other victuals that we could persuade the duty chef to part with. We pooled resources with the WRNS and cooked a meal about midnight when most of the signal traffic had quietened down.
I don’t recollect clips of message tapes hanging about.

During the night we would explore the old wartime war rooms, which still contained all the old style telephones and desks. Very interesting historically. Also during the night we would ensure all the steps leading down from up above were clear of bodies and roll huge wooden crates containing teleprinter paper down the steps. They bounced off the metal reinforced walls and could be heard coming from up on high. This might sound a bit crazy but they were very heavy and we could barely move them and to negotiate them down each individual step was deemed impossible. We also had races on teleprinter trolleys, lying prone, and darting about up and down the polished linoleum corridors.

During Naval exercises we were moved to the Fort itself and billeted in the wartime Nissan huts. The old galley was still there, deserted, with large ‘witch’ style cauldrons left on the old ranges with ladles and other cooks’ utensils, which appeared to have been abandoned on the day the Second World War ended. As for down below, on watch, it was impossible to move with all the extra bodies. There were interesting civilian characters employed there including our own fag ash Lil, who had a permanent cigarette dangling from her lower lip and a trail of grey cigarette ash down her front.

I have no photos of this time nor have I divulged any details that I haven’t read tonight in associated articles about Fort Southwick that aren't out there.

I hope you find this of interest. I worked there from 1962 to 1964 between ships.


Douglas Anderson - Ex RN - August 2015


NEW - 04-07-2015


I have just discovered your article about Fort Southwick whilst trying to find some of my old navy mates. I was stationed there from 1960 to
1962 when it was a Royal Navy communications centre.

We worked on a two days on, two days off system. At the start of the cycle we were delivered by utility via the entrance in the hill side, and during the two days on if we stayed at the fort, it was up and down the stairs because the galley and mess were in the old fort. It was very much a come and go as you like situation; we often went down the hill to Cosham between shifts, for a drink.

When it was quiet during the night shift we would often explore the other tunnels, the only trouble was there was no lighting in any other areas than the few tunnels that we used. It was very much as it was left after the end of the war.

It was one of several underground facilities that I worked in during my naval service. The last one was underneath an old WWII spitfire airfield at Uxbridge, but that one was a bit more hush hush, being part of the intelligence network, and probably still is.

Tony Beaven - Ex-RN - July 2015


NEW - 06-06-2014

I have seen the D-Day programme [BBC D-Day 70 - The Heroes Remember - Episode 2] today with Sophie Raworth and James Holland, and was very interested to see you in the tunnels of my old stamping ground – Fort Southwick – and I mean stamping!


As a serving member of the WRNS, on the staff of CINCNAVHOME [Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command], as he was called then, I was based at Fort Southwick from October 1982 to February 1986, prior to being discharged after 22 years’ service.


My title was Staff Officer (Admin), as I was a Fleet Chief Wren, later Warrant Officer at the time, but I was effectively the First Lieutenant of Fort Southwick, although I had not thought of that aspect until now. Amongst other duties, mostly clerical, I was responsible for checking the upkeep of the Fort, inside and out, and used to go up and down the 300 steps to the tunnels at least once a month, if only to make sure they were still there! Hence the “stamping”!


I used to take a torch with me, and I let the MOD police know so they could send a search party if I didn’t come back in about half an hour. I found by chance that there was electricity down there, so I called the dockyard electricians department, who didn’t believe me, but on inspection found that they could light one of their bulbs from a socket in one of the tunnels. When I had discovered this I had inadvertently been standing in a shallow pool of water, so they told me I was lucky to be alive! Pusser’s shoes with rubber soles had their uses!


Whilst I was stationed at Fort Southwick we celebrated the 40th anniversary of D-Day in 1984, when we were visited by the BBC and ITV, on separate days. I remember that ITV came first, and punctually on time, with their digital cameras, and did everything they needed to do; however, on the BBC’s day, they arrive two hours late, and had no digital cameras [why am I not surprised] and therefore took twice as long to produce exactly the same pictures as ITV. However, I can’t verify this, as, when I wanted to watch the local news back in HMS NELSON, where I was billeted, everyone was watching the cricket in both TV rooms, so I didn’t stand a chance!


I found your website very interesting and hope to peruse it again from time to time. Best wishes.

Penny Wade - ex RN - June 2014

now living in Cheltenham – nowhere near the sea!


NEW - 19-10-2012


Hello Bob, my name is John Shoulders and I have read with great interest the website you have clearly devoted a great deal of quality time to! Thank you for your efforts.

I too served some time "within" Fort Southwick however the time-lines described in your website appear to conflict with my experience.

I retired from the Service in April of 1981 as an LWEM(R) (leading weapons electrical mechanic (radio), whereupon I in fact went directly into the Metropolitan Police from my discharge at H.M.S. Nelson having left my last ship H.M.S. Leander in November of 1980. Whilst at Nelson I undertook resettlement courses but in order to "pay my way" for a few months I was assigned to Fort Southwick as a telecommunications maintainer. I believe I worked shifts between December 1980 and March 1981.

My duties included the watchkeeping and general maintenance of a large bank of transmitters only located in a very high-ceilinged cave like room. The receivers were located remote from this location for what I assumed were obvious reasons. I was not aware of any other watchkeepers and my shifts were for a straight week 24 hr every day. At the beginning of the shifts I was provisioned with enough food for the week and instructed to use them for a pot-mess which could be continuously left to simmer ad-infinitum! Yummy! Access and egress was via the iron gated bricked entrance very nicely featured on your webpage.

I recollect great surprise whilst coming out through the gate one very snowy Friday morning having entered the Monday morning prior from relatively dry conditions. Having spent the week underground ostensibly working but in fact mostly reading and exploring abandoned caves and cells previously occupied (I was told) by all manner of loyal subject and miscreant captives, I felt somewhat elated to be "released" into this pristine landscape. After a quick change at Nelson I hitched a ride north for a few days at home in London.

I do hope the above is of interest and hope even more that the time I spent underground wasn't simply for somewhere to put me out of the way but contributed to the greater good!

John Shoulders - Alberta, Canada - October 2012



NEW - 09-05-2012


I came across your website totally by accident and was fascinated by the stuff about Fort Southwick and the CommCen Building.

As you can see from my email signature below, I am currently work in the CommCen Building. I actually sit in the old admin office on the right hand side.

I have to confess when I started working in the building, I hated it! I found it cold and creepy. However having found out about its history from your website I have a new found respect for it.

Claire Winterford - CommCen Building, Fort Southwick  - May 2012



NEW - 29-04-2012


I enjoyed reading about the underground at Fort Southwick and the adjacent underground fuel storage site as in the 1960s I had quite a lot to with them. I was then serving as a young Lieutenant on the staff of the Allied Commander in Chief Channel and Commander in Chief Home Station (Designate) otherwise called the Commander in Chief Portsmouth and was appointed for ‘exercise duties’. However it was also the times of Cuban crises etc and I wrote a paper proposing that the ‘war staffs’ should move from their then office block (on the far side of the tennis courts outside Admiralty House) to our war headquarters at Fort Southwick and, this being agreed I was told to find the money and get on and do it.

Thus it was that in 1961 and 1962 the Fort (upstairs) was rebuilt/renovated/converted into modern offices etc and the underground bits also renovated and brought up to date so that when exercise JACKPOT took place in 1961 and exercise FALLEX 62 took place in 1962 we were all down below.

I do not know if you are aware of the fact that the top of the hill road past ASWE and Fort Southwick was, in those days, not a public road (it belonged to and was maintained by the Admiralty) and a very large bulldozer kept at ASWE was overtly there to clear snow from the road so that the scientists to get to work – covertly it was there to bulldoze in the southern underground adits to seal it in the event of nuclear attack.

The underground headquarters had two surplus ex submarine diesels to provide power for when both Portsmouth and the dockyard power stations were removed by nuclear attack. There was also a good supply not only of food but also of rum! I do not know what the ‘upstairs ‘ is like now but in those days if you entered the fort and turned to your left there was (a) and entrance and (b) a flight of steps going down. If one went down them and entered a door which looked as though it was a coal shed door then one was faced with a huge long descending set of stairs which went down to the underground HQs (via an airlock at the bottom).

As for the FFO tanks [the Fuel Bunkers]; in those days if one walked out of the fort, turned right and walked along the road you came to what looked like a field with a ‘green house’ in it. As you approached the greenhouse one could see that it wasn’t but protected a downward flight of stairs at the top of which sat an Admiralty policeman and it was only when one got this far could you smell the FFO which was, of course, the ‘header tank’ for the Oil Fuel depot at Gosport.

Richard Kirkby, Captain RN retired - April 2012


NEW - 14-01-2007

I started my Police career in the Admiralty Constabulary for 19 days then we all received the MoD Police badges, we were the 1st Course to receive the MoD Police numbers.

After having completed a six-week Law Course in the Police school in College Road, HM Naval Base Portsmouth, I returned to Admiralty Surface Weapons Establishment on Portsdown Hill.

There were six positions or duties that we were detailed for, Main Gate, North East Gate, duty Driver, Portsdown West, Main Gate Fort Southwick and UGHQ.

As you were the only PC there at that post you had NO opportunity to leave it and carry out patrols at all. The only time when this was encouraged was when we were on either Late relief (1400-2200hrs) when after 1800hrs or 1835hrs at the North East Gate, and the Bases were closed and buildings et cetera needed to be checked, the weekend and the Night relief (2200-0600hrs) when it was expected that, apart from returning to the Office for refreshments (0015-0100hrs) and the visits from the Sergeants at 2330hrs and 0430hrs you were supposed to be carrying out patrols of your particular site.

As I was only 19, I diligently, or more realistically stupidly, carried out my patrols in all weathers, and with my age came curiosity, I used to enjoy scrambling round on the Upper Parade, and in doing so I found many things that sated my desire for exploration.

On the north side of the Gymnasium in front of the Incinerator is a wide flight of steps, there was a gate at the bottom but this was left insecure, this led to the Old General Post Office, who then were responsible for all the telephones.

There was another fight of steps at the west side of the New Commcen and I believe that this gave access to the Radio/Wireless Room.

In the Moat on the North side there was an old kitchen area and just to the west of this there was a flight of steps leading to a doorway cut into the Fort side of the moat, I remember making my way through this and finding a tunnel which surprisingly had a door at the end of it with light shining round the doorframe, at first I thought ‘Strewth, some pillock's left the light on since 1945! As I made my way up the upwardly sloping passage I found the head and neck of a man that was rising out of the chalk on the left of the passage Some patient soul had carved this and it must have taken him or her some time, I admired their determination, mind you it certainly acted as a deterrent I did not go back there again!


At about 2100hrs the Late relief PC at the New Commcen would come back to the Main Gate, Fort Southwick and prepare to be relieved by the oncoming Night shift, the Night relief would then provide one Pc to be on patrol until refreshments, 0015-0145hrs, then the other Pc would continue on patrol.

I had been carrying out patrols of the Fort Main site and I had finished reading my book during my refreshment period, I then told the other copper that I was going to carry out a patrol of the UGHQ, he wasn’t bothered as he was the one who was supposed to be out walking, he then made himself comfortable until the Sgt; came out again.

I opened the small brown door next to the Citadel and made my way down the multitude of steps, clutching my green angle torch, pockets full of spare batteries and bulbs.

I remember walking past the Police Office and the chute that carried the solid fuel from the parade ground of FOF3, past the toilets and then I had a feeling that I have never had before, as I passed a doorway I had a ‘feeling’ that can only be described as one that might be felt that when, say in the quiet of school assembly the Headmaster is on stage and suddenly points accusingly towards yourself and all of the other 1,000 pupils turn and stare at you, the back of my neck tingled and, needless to say I felt uncomfortable.

Considering that at about 0200hrs this might ‘just’ be me being a tad tired I took a step back and felt exactly the same feeling again, I was stood in the doorway of the Galley. I remembered later that our Senior Police Officer, Inspector Whitehouse was asked by the Navy if he would allow the Police dog ‘Remus’ an old black Labrador, into the UGHQ, as some of the Staff were ‘bothered’ when in or near the Galley, as I believe a Servicewoman lost her life there during the war, whether this was by her own hand or the hand of another I do not know.

Shortly after this the Police complement at ASWE was spread out to other bases leaving a small nucleus of PCs on permanent detached duty at Fort Southwick. (Pete Elson, Mick Malley, Bob Black, Eric Bloomfield, Pete Voller and Martin Stanley) I was sent to Defence Munitions in GOSPORT, (9th March 1991) where I stayed until the complement was cut there as well, I continued at Royal Hospital HASLAR, (30th Oct 1994) as we were on our own for most of the time I had plenty of time to spare while maintaining an armed presence at the gate, I am an avid reader and it was only years later that I happened to be reading the exploits of a Medium and how he had ‘released’ an earthbound Spirit, I was shrouded in a feeling of guilt as I remembered the feeling in the UGHQ and I ‘asked’ for the earthbound Spirit to be allowed to the Kingdom of Heaven.

As we are an armed Police Force, part of our training is to attend and qualify Tactics Courses each year, in 1999 having ‘not met the desired minimal acceptable status’, alright then I failed, I was sent to the Portsmouth Naval base as this was the only MDP [Ministry of Defence Police] site in the area that maintained a position, foot patrols (beats 1, 2 and 3) for unarmed officers.

In the later part of 2000 Fort Southwick became an unarmed site and, in December the same year following a report of an officer being unfit for duty due to sickness for a few days, I was taken off of foot patrol and sent up to the Fort while he was off sick.

As it was just the Guard and myself there we had visits from the Duty Officer, sometimes the Sergeant from the Naval Base, it was the responsibility of the Guard to carry out patrols now but I said that I wanted to take a look round to refresh myself and took the keys for the UGHQ.

I made straight for the Galley area and my request had been considered, there was no feeling in the doorway.

Paul Brooker - January 2007

NEW - 18-06-2005

You might be interested to know that through the summer of 1949 [this date is consistent with the WWII UGHQ closure - see top of page] I was the Leading Stores Assistant who supervised the de-storing of Fort Southwick of all its Naval stores and equipment.

The small Naval party who travelled from Portsmouth Barracks every day to work at the Fort roamed all over the tunnels and the underground rooms, which had been used during the D-Day Landings by Churchill and staff, and during those hot summer days we often lay around sun-bathing on the grassy areas atop the Fort. There was absolutely no-one else there - no other sounds or music, and the place had a very eerie feel to it. 

We also moved some furniture and equipment from the Mountbatten's home near Fort Southwick, which had been used as a Wren's barracks during the war.

At the conclusion of the de-storing I was de-mobilized from my extended service agreement, in September 1949.

I am now almost 77 years of age, and have lived in Canada since 1961. Thanks for the memory.

Sid Kerry, Chilliwack, B.C.,Canada - June 2005

I was a sparker at the Fort in 66-67. I worked on CCN call sign MTN.

When I worked there it was all underground a long way down and seemed further coming up, after an 8 hour watch. All the staff were Commander in chief Portsmouth.. Most communications there were tape really and some teleprinter services between Admiralty and Northwood constant signals traffic.

I personally worked the Costal Common Net on Morse. All ships in the Portsmouth area kept a constant watch on the frequency. There were general periods every 2 hours when we sent out signals to the ships, most were in code and encrypted call signs. Security was high grade. 

I do remember there was a maze of tunnels and some were blocked off. There was a galley and sleeping quarters. There was a back passage that came out on the cliffs overlooking Portsmouth, where we went every morning to burn the "secret waste" .

It was of course a NATO communications HQ but before my time, most of the guys lived in Portsmouth Barracks except those of us who were married then we lived ashore, in married quarters in Rowner.

I had heard that the place was haunted, though I personally never heard or saw anything unusual.

I have many happy memories of the place and in particular one Wren called Pauline Willis. I would like to find her again if possible. I now live in Australia, have been here over 30 years.

Johnny Mackin - ex RN - April 2004

I used to work for BT and in the early days (1965/6 ish) I worked in the GPO tunnels quite a bit. I remember one year when the Navy were on their exercises for 2 weeks in the summer, we had 12 hour shifts down there (midnight to midday or midday to midnight).

My recollection is that the colour photo you have of the tunnel with the lining left on (yellow & green painted) could be the GPO tunnel shown as 96 in the plan with the carrier room in the background. Along the right hand wall (where the lighter-colour band is showing) was seating – dark red leatherette, I think.

Another memory is that instead of going up and down those stairs with the little man drawings, we used to gain access via the South Adit – down the access road showing in another of your photos. Outside the South Adit, there was a car park in which we used to play cricket or football in our lunch hours. Pity the poor bloke who knocked the ball over the side – he had to retrieve it!

I remember that we had to go in the South Adit, which if I remember it is shown as EE2 on the plan, along the tunnel and enter the GPO tunnels via rooms 83 & 84 on the plan. Into room 85, at the top end of of which, just before you go into the power room, I seem to recall we had a table tennis table as well. At the bottom end was the Main Distribution Frame for the incoming cables etc. and then you turned left into 96, the first half of which was the admin part with our switchboard and records etc. The second half, where I think your photo tr16.jpg was taken, was our rest room.

George French (BT engineer retired) - 13 April 2004

During the mid to late 1950s my Father, a senior Naval Officer,  became responsible for the HQ under Fort Southwick. He was assured that it was kept ready for immediate operation. However, unlike his predecessors, he decided to inspect it.

He entered from Fort Southwick and clambered down the stairs. To his horror, he found that the emergency exit on the Paulsgrove cliff had 
been broken open. Everything of any value, including all the bedding, 
had been looted.

Richard - 14 February 2004

I visited Southwick several times during the late 60s and early 70s when I was with the then GPO.

The navy were still using the tunnels and I remember always going into the tunnels via the lower road. There was always a security man on the door, either a naval person or more usually an MOD policeman. 

Brian Wells (BT engineer retired) - 14 February 2004

I was ship's company at the Fort early 1947 following my return from the Mediterranean, after volunteering for submarines whilst on a course at STC (Signal Training Centre) Camarata, Malta. Being a telegraphist, my home base was HMS Mercury, then at Petersfield and they had sent me temporarily to the Fort before I was eventually drafted to HMS Deepwater, a diving tender, which had been handed over by the German navy as part of war reparations. Deepwater was the nearest I ever got to a submarine but at least my volunteering had got me an early Blighty ticket!


Believe it or not but I have no recollection of the steps referred to in
your pages. [This suggests that the WWII UGHQ was not in use at this time] My strongest recollections concern the trolleys we used to
take food stores down on, the tunnels as I remember them, being downward sloping affairs and we had a riot of fun riding these things down there, sometimes at break neck speed. [These must have been the original Victorian Magazine tunnels as they are the only ones which slope downwards. The food stores that Ron refers to were probably  taken to the northern Caponier which was used as a Galley (Kitchen) during WWII and it looks as if were still in use in 1947]


I was told that it had been Eisenhower's HQ for the D-Day landings but more likely to have been the Comms Centre for him, probably the reason why Fort Southwick still had a connection with the then HMS Mercury and my drafting there. I always have to work out when I was there but my main aide memoire is the Grand National which Caughoo won in 1947. I was on the second, Lough Conn which led virtually all the way round until Caughoo came out of the mist. I still swear he only went round once! Some guy at the Fort at the time was putting the name of Lough Conn up all over the place and I had an ante post bet on him.


 I also remember at the time one of the other forts being army owned, as we used to go to weekend dances there, the primary attraction being the ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service] girls.

Ron Cuthbertson - ex RN - December 2003

During the late fifties [so the tunnels were re-used as early as this] I was involved in an exercise at this site. I had recently qualified as a radio operator (RO3 Special) at HMS Mercury just up the road at Leydene.
As a RN radio operator my task was to monitor telephone calls from a small room and check that all telephone calls were "scrambled". During one of my stints on the exchange Montgomery [this is THE Monty - Viscount Montgomery of Alamein] popped his head around the door and asked how we were doing. He was in civvies so I assume he was just a visitor and observing the exercise. By the way, it still surprises me today that so many senior officers had to be prompted to scramble their telephone.


John Tomkins - ex RN - September 2003

In 1966/67 I was based at HMS Dryad, in the very fair village of Southwick.( Very fair because like many other Hampshire villages in the area I frequently enjoyed the hospitality of the Red Lion and The Golden Lion ). Anyway I was then a Radio Electrical Mechanic and one of a number who did watch keeping duties at "The Fort." My job was watch-keeping on the transmitters in the transmitter room. This meant doing running maintenance and transmitter frequency tuning and retuning on a bank of old transmitters dating back to the 40s to give the communications team the channels they needed for sending messages around the MOD(N) / NATO network.


We used to go on watch driven in a small RN bus from Dryad, up the back lanes. 
The transmitter room was in an isolated part of the fort [northwest demi-caponier] entered through a steel door at the end of a tunnel. As memory serves the back of this area actually looked out into what I believe was part of a moat. It was spooky to say the least. The transmitter room duty was a lone job. I recall there was a small kitchenette for cooking scran [food] and brewing up. There was also a sleeping area with a bed and rough blankets. Can't recall where the head [latrine] was though, for some reason. Most of the watch was spent listening to the radio ( I think it was Radio Caroline or London, mainly), reading and answering the telephone to the radio operators who were based in another place. You won't be surprised to know that it was common practice to share stories with oppos about "ghostly experiences" in that place.


Trust me, being alone down there in that transmitter room, fed the active imaginations of many Matelots [RN sailors]. The very fact that the forts were built by Palmerston and then that they were so specifically a part of the WWII effort was enough to get most people going.


In spite of this my time at Dryad and Fort Southwick was great. I went on from there to work at Lascaris COMMCEN in Malta by the way, another fort would you believe?


David Imisson - ex RN - August 2003

I was 18 and served in the underground Commcen in 1962/63... I was an RO3(T) (recently promoted from Junior Signalman!) [Radio Operator 3rd Class - Tactical] having joined C in C staff after coming home on the Belfast from the Far East via the States and Canada... Although CinChan had offices up in the Citadel, it was all RN and a few Post Office staff down in the underground Commcen.


I got caught out in the Boxing day blizzard of 1962 [this was the Great Winter of 1962/63 when the Solent froze over] returning from leave to Dryad. As I was due on watch the next day I was dropped by a taxi at the bottom of the hill as he refused to go any further. I walked up to the top to find 'Road Blocked' snow signs.
It was around midnight and I started to walk back to Southwick village in
the dark. I struggled on through deepening drifts which if my memory serves me rightly were up around my thighs. I became very worried. Eventually I turned in the darkness and saw a light behind me on my left from one of the Police houses. I knew I would never reach Southwick and went and knocked on the door. I have no idea of what time it was but it was well after midnight. The policeman and his wife got up, took me in, thawed me out with toast and a drink and eventually he took me through ASWE to the Fort steps where I went down and was very early for my shift next day! The outgoing shift was stuck there for a couple of days as my watch couldn't get through.

At midnight each night someone (usually the youngest and most junior) had to go up from the underground centre to check the transmitters were all ok and not on fire. It involved climbing the steps to the Fort [there were 168 of them], getting the keys from the Policeman on the gate, walking around what we called the Moat [the Gorge north of the Citadel] and then down a tunnel under the parade ground  [Victorian magazine tunnel] until you came to a spiral staircase [Victorian ammunition lift]. You turned left at the spiral staircase and then down a tunnel hacked out of the rock until you arrived at some double doors. [this is the north west demi-Caponier] There was no getting out of it because you had to go in to the transmitting room, and phone the PO of the watch down in the Commcen to report everything was ok. I remember being back in the mess in Dryad and telling the lads that I didn't really like having to do it. When they asked me if I did it on my own they said "You must be mad, it's as creepy as hell", which it was! 

I remember exploring the tunnels under the Fort (not the Commcen tunnels) just before I left. We went in via the tunnel from the Moat [the Gorge at the rear of the Citadel], down to the spiral staircase and then carried straight on (rather than turning left to the transmitters). I remember we came to an area that had old bedsteads in it. [the north Caponier] This then seemed to go on for a way before being blocked off. [the Musketry Gallery in the northern ditch] It was rumoured that this went all the way to Southwick and was used by wartime staff to get down to the Commcen. [It doesn't I've checked, but the rumour still persists today


Martin Jordan - ex RN - July 2003

During my naval service, I was drafted to the Commcen at Fort Southwick and spent most of 1973 there. Each watch* consisted of about 10 naval personnel, including the switchboard operator (telephone exchange), and 3 or 4 civvies. There was also an engineering rating who looked after the machinery.

   For the most part, we would be bussed up from the dockyard, walk down the 170 or so steps before we got anywhere near to doing any work! Of course, watch completed, we would have to walk back up the stairs! There were 'stick-men' painted on the steps, upright at the bottom and falling over by degrees by the time you got to the top.

   The all-night-on watch was of 13 hours duration; there was a small kitchen at the back of the Commcen where we could knock up bacon sandwiches etc. Not everyone was required throughout the night; there were bunks mounted on the tunnel walls (they folded up when not required).

   The replacement Commcen was built on the parade ground at about this time. I recall moving equipment from the tunnel to the new building in the latter part of '73.


David Field - ex RN - May 2003


* Footnote:

A "duty watch" would be primarily responsible for the security of the area with additional duties covering health and safety of the area (fire patrols, first aid cover etc.). It could also cover minor maintenance (jobs to stop the boys getting bored) and general cleaning.


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