It was in March that Pat and I made our first ever train journey through the tunnel underneath the English Channel. This tunnel, which opened only in 1994, is the longest undersea tunnel in the world.
Efforts to create it began in the time of Napoleon. Digging even began in 1882, but was then discontinued for fear of compromising Britain’s national defense.
It takes about 25 minutes to travel through the tunnel and there is nothing to see. It’s like traveling from one subway station to another. It’s as exciting as watching paint dry. However, what is exciting is to consider the consequences of the tunnel having opened 60 years earlier than it did. Hitler’s failure to occupy Britain in 1940, when it stood alone, probably lost him The Second World War. Mighty though the US military was and is, it could hardly have mounted the 1944 D-Day invasion of Europe from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
That invasion succeeded only because the island of Britain could be used as its takeoff point. Had Britain been occupied by Germany in 1940, Germany would then have been free to concentrate on beating Russia on the eastern front, without the having to face the D-Day invasion from the west. Yet the reason that Britain was not occupied in 1940, like the rest of Europe, was that it was an island that could be defended. The Channel and British air power were just about able to keep Hitler at bay, prior to US entry into the war. But what if the Channel Tunnel had existed in 1940? Could Hitler have seized it undamaged and used it to get his armies across the Channel into England? We shall never know the answers to these hypothetical questions. What we do know however is that world history would have been very different if Hitler’s panzer divisions had managed to pour through the tunnel and “blitzkrieg” their way through England. One could not help but reflect on this, as the train rattled its way through the darkness of the tunnel.
As our train pulled into the station at Cologne, Pat saw the outside of Cologne Cathedral for the first time. She did not even need to leave the train, which went right past it. The mighty twin spires made this the tallest building in the world for four years from 1880, when building was completed, until 1884 when its height was surpassed by the newly erected Washington Monument. The building of the Cathedral started in 1248, which means that it was under construction for over 600 years. The builders seem to have done a good job though, because the building took 70 bombing hits during World War Two without the spires collapsing. Hopefully, Pat will have time to leave the train next time and see the inside of this beautiful cathedral, which I visited many years ago.