Secrets of constructing underground tunnel network beneath Birmingham revealed

Patrick Coyne

Patrick Coyne

An Irishman who helped to build a network of secret underground tunnels traversing Birmingham – created to provide a safe sanctuary in the event of a nuclear strike – has spoken about his involvement in creating them.

Patrick Coyne, one of the men who built the Cold War bunkers deep below the streets of the Second City has told how it took more than 60 men working 12 hour shifts four years to complete the network of tunnels.

“We started work in around 1953 and ended four years later,” said Patrick. “We worked 12 hours for five days a week in the four tunnels with about 15 men in each tunnel.

“In the beginning we didn’t know what the tunnels were going to be used for and couldn’t tell anyone what we did or where we worked.

“But then they started moving a lot of equipment in and we realised it was a nuclear shelter.

“People were nervous and weapons were being stockpiled.

“The Russians said they would give us a three minute warning and that would give the councillors and MPs enough time to run to safety from the council house to one of the shafts we were building.”

Building the secret tunnels under Birmingham

Building the secret tunnels under Birmingham

Originally from Galway, Patrick, who is now 80, moved to Birmingham to find work,

To work on the tunnels, six workers would be lowered down hidden shafts in a bucket attached to a crane.

Patrick revealed the descent itself was terrifying and the conditions underground took some getting used to.

“Five minutes to get down or 150 foot at 50 miles an hour – you’d leave the bucket shaking,” he said.

“I was a driving a diesel loco and as there were lots of fumes we would come to the surface with black noses.

“While at work I broke my wrist and at the time I had the option of another job or I had to back to Ireland.

“So they made me a banksman in which I controlled the crane driver.

“After three months I went back into the tunnels to drive a battery loco. There were no fumes so it was better working conditions.”

“But if there had been a cave in, we’d have all been killed.

“Ultimately only one guy was killed. It happened in the big chamber. It’s like a church with two floors. A big lump came out the ceiling and struck him.

“They were nearly all Irish workers but the supervisors were from London and had lots of experience.”

The tunnels extend from the Jewellery Quarter to Southside and far beyond and are built 150 feet below the surface.

After spending four years working in the tunnels Patrick went on to work as a welding engineer for IMI, where he enjoyed a 38-year career.