Communicating the Unthinkable

About

This is a blog where I share documents + artefacts from the Cold War. It focuses on British civil defence and 'domestic propaganda' from 1950-1990, with other bits thrown in from time to time.

It's written and edited by me, Taras Young. I collect this stuff. I try to post something new as often as I can, at least once a month.

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@coldwaruk

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Categories

1950s · 1960s · 1970s · 1980s · 1990s · Administration · Advertisement · Analysis · Booklet · Central Government · Central Office of Information · Civil Defence · Civil Defence Corps · Cultural responses · Document · Emergency planning · Exhibitions · Home Office · Infrastructure · International · Leaflet · Local Government · Media · Medical · Military · Ministry of Defence · Postcards · Protest · Public Information · Royal Observer Corps · Training and Tools

Recent posts

Building a nuclear bunker: Hogs Back ROC Post

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If you have even a passing interest in civil defence and preparations for nuclear attack on the UK, you’ll quickly come across ROC posts. These are small, three-person bunkers, built by the government and manned by members of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC).

Known as ‘observers’, the mission of these civilian volunteers was to go to their monitoring post when nuclear attack was imminent, and detect and report the direction and power of any bomb blasts. Readings from several posts could be taken together to triangulate the precise location where a nuclear weapon had hit.

At one time, these tiny bunkers were dotted in a grid pattern across the landscape of the UK: by 1968, more than 1,500 had been constructed. However, many have now been lost – ploughed back into the land by the farmers on whose land they were built. (Others, like those at Portadown and Skelmorlie, have been restored and you can visit them for yourself on open days.)

I was recently lucky enough to come across a series of photos taken of the construction of a long-lost ROC post, the one at Hogs Back, near Guildford in Surrey.

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Military advice on burying the dead after nuclear attack

In August 1979, the Ministry of Defence published the “Joint Service Manual of Home Defence”. This document, classified as Restricted, provided instructions to the UK armed forces on the defence of the UK in the event of a war, with a strong focus on nuclear attack.

“It may seem pedantic in the aftermath of a nuclear attack to require that deaths and burials are recorded…”

Part of the military aid it was envisaged they would provide to the civil authorities was assisting with the burial of the dead. The manual insists scrupulous records should be kept, and even provides a form to complete for each corpse.

“Though it may seem pedantic in the aftermath of a nuclear attack to require that deaths and burials are recorded, such records eventually will be of great value to the local authorities’ tracing service and to the relatives concerned. Armed Forces headquarters are to maintain burial records of military and civilian dead buried by them.”

Continue reading →

Probable phases leading into war (1970s)

This unusual diagram shows the shape that Wiltshire County Council believed the descent into nuclear war would take. Officials prepared the confidential document in the late 1970s to help train ‘community advisers’ – volunteers ready to help in time of crisis leading to a potential nuclear attack.

Probable phases leading into war

The chart is a reminder how quickly things could have escalated from ‘the ups and downs of everyday life’, through a bad international situation, concern among the public and in parliament, the breakdown of order as the public started to panic, and finally the attack itself.

War books

Wiltshire War Emergency Guide Book

It comes right at the end of Wiltshire County Council’s ‘War Emergency Guide Book’. Mostly compiled between 1966 and 1979, this was a chunky folder which contained action plans for the county before, during and after nuclear attack. Covering everything from feeding the homeless and ‘re-establishment of an orderly society’, to disposal of the dead and summary justice, it would have been distributed to a strictly limited audience of council officials, emergency planners, civil defence volunteers and emergency services.

By the early 1980s, such ‘war books’ were a created by local authorities under obligation from central government. While many left-wing councils saw it as an opportunity to protest what they saw as pointless and harmful civil defence measures, some right-leaning councils took on the task with considerable zeal. Wiltshire County Council fell squarely into the latter category.