Search for WRNS and WAAFs to reopen former secret Liverpool WWII bunker

North West-based social enterprise Big Heritage launches national appeal to find heroic women who worked at Liverpool’s iconic secret WWII bunker, Western Approaches, set to reopen this month.

Social enterprise Big Heritage has launched a national appeal to track down the brave ‘Wrens’ (members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service) or WAAFs (members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) who worked in Liverpool’s Western Approaches bunker – where the crucial Battle of the Atlantic was won during WWII. The bunker, hidden in the heart of Liverpool city centre, was home to WRNS and WAAFs during the war.

And ahead of restoring the forgotten city centre visitor experience to its former glory and re-opening it as a tourist attraction at the end of October, Big Heritage wants to roll out the red carpet for any former WRNS or WAAFs.

Big Heritage founder, Dean Paton, and his team of archaeologists and project managers have been painstakingly renovating control and operations rooms and discovering previously hidden areas of the 30,000 square feet bunker, which has a seven-foot roof, three-feet deep walls and numerous rooms.

But the team is keen to talk to the amazing women who served in the bunker during the war years, not only to cross check the accuracy of the renovation, but also to capture their wartime stories.

“We’re desperate to speak to the amazing women who served in Western Approaches during those critical war years”, said Dean Paton.

“They were so incredibly important in the war effort – unsung heroes whose roles have been massively underestimated – and we want to recognise their critical roles in WWII.

“It goes without saying that their visits to the bunker will be open and free; but we would love the chance to speak to them; to understand what they know, what they saw, what they remember; and to capture their stories before, sadly, they are lost forever. If you, or someone you know, served in Western Approaches, then please do get in touch.”

For the opening, which will happen during October half term this year, Dean and his team have been working around the clock on the finishing touches to the first phase of the bunker’s renovation. More work will be done over the course of 2018.

As part of the team’s incredible research efforts, they have already made contact with one former Wren, Stella Passey, 92, from Huyton, who worked as an office runner, delivering signals to different posts throughout the building. Stella and her family are hoping to attend the opening in October.

Dean comments “We’re delighted to have made contact with Stella. She’s an incredibly special lady. Throughout the war years, significant military figures, including Admiral Sir Max Horton, who oversaw the Battle of the Atlantic campaign, Captain Johnny Walker, who sank more U-Boats that any other Allied commander and war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the bunker. But it’s the women, like Stella, who worked in this building and whose tremendous efforts contributed so effectively to the Allied campaign, that we’re also really interested. These women, like the building, are unfortunately often forgotten in the history books and yet, without them, the war may not have been won.

“We would be honoured to invite them back to rediscover the bunker and hopefully, share some stories with us. It seems extremely fitting that 2017 marks the 100-year anniversary of the formation of the WRNS, as hopefully our opening will be a real celebration of all that was achieved by women during the war.

Western Approaches HQ is on the way to being recognised as one of the most important buildings, globally, associated with WWII. For years, it has stood relatively unknown under the streets of Exchange Flags.

The historical attraction will showcase an entire underground 1940s street, complete with stocked sweet shop, community classroom facility, and a range of interactive exhibits and attractions, and will open to the public as a historical attraction on Friday 27 October 2017.

If you know of someone who worked at the building, or if you worked for the WRNS or WAAFs, please get in touch by calling 0151 227 2008 or email info@westernapproaches.org.uk

Women working in the operations room at Western Approaches

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