By Keith Gulvin, Vice Chair KDRG
Featured in the Kent Archaeological Society Magazine, Winter 2022 (open as PDF).
The Hollingbourne Zero station was once part of a network of secret underground radio stations that would come into operation in the advent of a German Invasion of Britain. The network was initially developed in Kent and Sussex and then expanded to cover most of the coastal regions of Britain. These radio stations received messages from several outstations. In the case of Hollingbourne, there are 13 known locations. The network was part of the elaborate plans in 1940/41 to counter the impact of a German invasion of Britain. The zero stations known as the “Special Duties Section” (Warwicker 2002) were separate while part of the same overall plans that included the more widely known stay-behind sabotage teams, the “Home Guard Auxiliary’s” (Lampe 1968).
Kent being at the forefront of the likely planned invasion route, was at the centre of the initial plans to prepare for the stay-behind force and intelligence gathering to aid British counter-attacks. The radio network was developed to quickly pass intelligence gathered from locally recruited civilian spies, who would take note of German military formations supply dumps and activities and pass them on via a series of note drop-off points to local radio transmitting stations known as outstations throughout the eastern area of Kent. The Hollingbourne station then passed intelligence gathered from the outstations to operational military headquarters, which was initially located at Canterbury in the case of Hollingbourne. The personnel who operated the radio station at Hollingbourne where female members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, based in nearby West Leas Farm, their accommodation and training base. However, which was sited in a small wood on the North Downs above Hollingbourne village on Ringlestone Road. In the event of an invasion, they would have moved permanently into the underground bunker.
The bunker was constructed by excavating a deep hole, creating a concrete base, then placing corrugated iron sheets like a military Nissen hut or Anderson Shelter to create the rooms, then backfilled and hidden from view. The Layout of the Hollingbourne Zero Statin consists of an entrance chamber accessed via a hidden trapdoor and a vertical ladder now missing. This small room was designed to resemble a hidden arms cache like those used by the sabotage units. A hidden catch behind a shelf unit gave access to the main chamber, which would have contained the radio transmission and receiving equipment, codebooks and other signals equipment, also the domestic arrangements. Behind the second chamber is another room which contains the chemical toilet and access to an escape tunnel some 6 metres in length, which came up nearby in the same wooded area. Unlike the Home Guard Auxiliary’s operational bases, the Zero station was supplied with electricity via a generator to power the radio equipment and lighting (there are surviving electrical fittings). The radio aerial was cleverly hidden within the bark of a nearby oak tree. This important feature makes this site somewhat unique in that part of the aerial wire can still be seen protruding from the nearby tree close to the main entrance.
In February of this year, a small task group from KDRG conducted a clean-up operation within the Zero station removing an accumulation of rubbish and other debris that had been deposited over a period, much of it alas left by visitors to this important site. The clean-up enabled an initial survey of the chambers and record photographs to be taken. It is planned to do a return visit to carry out a more detailed survey so that a complete record plan can be produced. Any items thought to be of possible archaeological value have been retained.
Lampe, D (1968), The Last Ditch, Cassell, London.
Warwicker, R (2002) With Britain in Mortal Danger, Cerberus, Bristol.
British Resistance Archive, accessed 03/10/2022 from: staybehinds.com/station/hollingbourne-instation