Simon Petris has campaigned for the opening of the Tranmere deep tunnel air raid shelters in the Wirral that helped save lives during the Second World War. He is the secretary of The Friends of Tranmere Tunnels which aims to transform the tunnels into a heritage site.
The Tranmere Tunnels accommodated 6,000 people. Local miners drilled 150 feet a week and worked round the clock, removing 25,000 tonnes of sandstone. It took eight months to complete and by January 1942, the Tranmere air shelter was ready for occupation.
The tunnels had 125 miles of passage way. They were eight feet high and eight feet and six inches wide, but they were well equipped to make people as comfortable as possible. There was gas, electricity, running water and toilets. They also had canteens and even a library. Locals used go down the tunnels even when there wasn?t an air raid warning as they felt safe. Raising awareness
The Friends of Tranmere Tunnels (FoTT) group began four years ago. I have an interest in local History
and I just got chatting to some people one day who felt the same about the tunnels. There are about 20 members in the FoTT and we think it?s so important that we do not lose this part of our History
There are other tunnels in the country that are open to visitors: Williamson?s Tunnels in Liverpool; The Grosvenor Caving Club in north Wales; and Stockport air-raid shelters which organise tours. These groups have supported us in our campaign, and I think the Tranmere Tunnels can become a tourist attraction too.
I?m keen to raise awareness about the tunnels as there are so many people who know nothing about them. I do talks whenever I can. I speak to people in History
groups, rotary clubs, women?s guilds etc. Our campaign group also collects audio recordings of people who went through this dangerous time in our History
to capture their memories of the tunnels. Stumbling blocks
A view outside of the tunnelsWirral Council owns the tunnels and have said that they are unsafe and should remain sealed. We told them about the benefits of having the tunnels open for the community. I think the tunnels that are open around the country must have gone through and overcome similar problems of re-opening. So the council should be able to draw upon the experiences of others in order to get the Tranmere Tunnels open to the public.
We are passionate about the Tranmere Tunnels. We have contacted English Heritage to apply for listed status. So hopefully, getting this status would add weight to our campaign. Tunnel vision
The next step for us is to gather support from local councillors. The council say we need to have a business plan and to do a feasibility study before they consider our proposal. This all takes money but through the support of local groups and people, we hope to win through in the end.
The war was a unique time we endured and I think it is important the role the tunnels played isn?t forgotten.