> GibraltarHeritage > Volume 1 Issue 1

- appeared in  2002



The Unique Finding of a Forgotten Story



"The remains of a bicycle ... used to drive a ventilation system and to generate electricity to power the radio equipment (and presumably to give the men a means of exercising)… were still visible."


Archaeology is not only about ancient buildings and sites that are hundreds of years old. Sometimes, we have the opportunity to explore our more recent past. Here is the story of a rumour that became a reality.


For years, a rumour persisted in Gibraltar of a Top Secret chamber that had been excavated  in the Rock by the Military during the Second World War. Were the Nazis ever to have captured Gibraltar, it was said that six men would have sealed themselves in these chambers

from where they would have secretly monitored the movements of the Germans and reported these back to London. There was no official backup to this tale and no documentary evidence was ever found to support it, so there was no official name for the project and it began to be referred to locally as ‘Stay-Behind Cave’. So people searched the mass of tunnels that honeycomb the Rock of Gibraltar in the hope of locating this chamber - to no avail. But this was soon to change. On a strong Levanter day in late 1997, the Gibraltar Caving Group came across a strong gust of wind in a tunnel. Further meticulous searching led them to a system of

chambers, which they soon recognised as being the lost ‘Stay-Behind Cave’.


The chambers, which had never been used, had remained sealed for over fifty years. They were in a well preserved state and included dormitory facile-ties, east and west-facing observation posts, and a fresh-water cistern. The east-facing opening led on to a narrow platform on the cliff face, which is totally hidden from view. The west-facing opening, was much smaller affording only enough room for one observer to look through at a time, and was concealed from the outside by means of a concrete wedge that was placed in the opening when not in use. The wedge was still in place when the chambers were discovered! 

Richard Durrell from the Gibraltar Caving Group, who discovered the location of Stay Behind Cave.


In September 1998, Mr Dennis Woods who had been involved in the construction of this facility (known in his day as Braithwaite's Cave on account of the Commanding Officer's name - Major J A Braithwaite) returned to Gibraltar for the first time in over fifty years and was invited by the Gibraltar Museum to see the site.


Having Mr Woods was the perfect opportunity to obtain information on the construction techniques employed and he was obviously able to confirm the authenticity of this unique site. He explained that when they were working there, they were transported to and from barracks through the tunnels, and therefore he could not recall the exact area where the complex was located, but he recognised the interior the minute he saw it! He also explained how the entire team that had been working on the site was shipped back to the United Kingdom on completion of the works, and they were not posted overseas for the duration of the war in order to protect the secrecy of the operation.


Mr Woods walked through the chambers and talked us through the details. At the base of the stairs leading to the bicycle were still visible. These were seen to have been modified, with the chain having been removed, and replaced with a leather thong (to reduce the noise made by the contraption when in use) –according to Mr Woods, this was designed by a Mr Faulkner. This was to have been used to drive a ventilation system and to generate electricity to power the radio  equipment (and presumably to give the men a means of exercising).


There was no radio equipment on the site, but the remains of the copper aerial were still in place. This aerial was designed to be suspended from the platform on the eastern side of the complex - possibly at night –and it was to be further concealed after use by retracting it into a pipe that run down along the stairs leading back down to the living quarters.


The largest room, where the water from the cistern was accessed, and where it is presumed that the men were tiles to absorb the sound that they would have made when moving about the area. Mr Woods had been responsible for the plastering of this room, and he confirmed that the entire room, including the ceiling had been plastered in order to provide further sound insulation.


The entrance corridor still had the stores of bricks that the men would have been used to brick the access up further, once they had been sealed in, and the remainder of the corridor had a loose soil floor where provision had been made for burials, if any of the companions died during their voluntary entombment!


The Gibraltar Caving Group along with the Spanish team GIEX conducted a survey of the site under the supervision of the Gibraltar Museum. A 3 dimensional diagram was prepared using a surveying technique developed by Mr J Aguilera of the GIEX. 

3-D representation of the chambers. Produced by J & J Aguilera of the Spanish team Grupo de Investigaciones Espeleológicas de Jerez


 Volume 1 Issue 1  Volume 1 Issue 2  Volume 2 Issue 1  Volume 2 Issue 2  Volume 3 Issues 1 & 2


The Heritage & Planning Division
Stay Behind Cave
Argonauta argo (the paper nautilus)
Latest Findings - A Phoenician Shrine at Gorham's Cave 
The Planning of Gibraltar
The Azure-winged Magpie - helping to reconstruct prehistoric Gibraltar
Getting to Grips with our Past
Facades, Streetscapes & Urban Pride
Crystal Cave
The Gibraltar Government Archives
A Day Trip to ERA
© The Gibraltar Government Heritage Division, 2005.