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20th Century Dover

Dover's twentieth century history was dominated by the First and Second World War and was also affected in the 1950s-80s by the subsequent Cold War.

The First World War

The First World War lasted from 1914-1918. During this period, Dover was one of the most important military centres in Britain. Vast amounts of men crossed from Dover on their way to the battlefields of Northern France.

Dover Harbour was also significant due to it housing the Dover Patrol, a varied collection of warships and fishing vessels which protected Britain's vital control of the channel.

The first bomb to be dropped on England fell near Dover Castle on Christmas Eve 1914. As a consequence of this regular shelling from warships and bombing from aeroplanes, Dover residents were forced to shelter in caves and dug-outs.

The town became known as 'Fortress Dover' and was put under martial law.

The Second World War

In the Second World War, the town of Dover played a vital role.

 The Dunkirk Evacuations of May 1940 were masterminded by Vice Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay from his headquarters in Dover's Secret Wartime Tunnels beneath the castle. Over 200,000 of the 338,000 men evacuated from Dunkirk passed through Dover, filling the town and railway station with soldiers, sailors and airmen.


Dover was extensively damaged and severely effected by the shells and bombs which fell almost consistently on Dover. There were 3,059 alerts and 216 Dover civilians were killed. 10,056 buildings were damaged and many were consequently demolished. Dover became a symbol for Britain's wartime bravery and was at the centre of East Kent's 'Hellfire Corner.'

 The Cold War

After the Second World War, as the rival Eastern and Western powers hurtled towards Cold War, Dover’s Secret Tunnels were made an emergency Regional Centre of Government in the event of a nuclear attack.

It was later concluded that the chalk-based tunnels would not have provided adequate protection from nuclear radiation, but Dover’s tunnels remained commissioned until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent end of the Cold War deemed them no longer neccesary.

 In the early 1990s, the tunnels were decommissioned and large parts of them are now open to visitors to Dover Castle.




Contact Us

Dover Museum
Market Square
Kent CT16 1PH

Tel: 01304 201066

Enquiries: museumenquiries@dover.gov.uk

Opening Hours

April - September: 9.30-5.00 Monday to Saturday,
10.00 - 3.00 Sunday 
October - March: Monday -Saturday 9.30 - 17.00
Closed Sunday.
Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day.

Free Admission