Communicating the Unthinkable

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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.

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Displaying posts tagged 'Local Government'

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.

The York Experiment

Cover of the York Experiment report

In 1965, Civil Defence preparations in the UK were at an all-time high. The government had issued advice to householders on constructing a basic domestic fallout shelter. But would it actually be effective? York’s Civil Defence Committee decided to find out for themselves.

You can find out what happened next in The York Experiment, my article for History Today’s ‘Miscellanies’ series.

Wrekin and the Bomb

Wrekin and the Bomb booklet cover

The beginning of the 1980s saw the UK government pursue civil defence with a renewed vigour. Local authorities, who were legally responsible for implementing civil defence preparations, were put under increasing pressure to demonstrate that they were prepared for nuclear attack.

Not all were happy to comply, however, and many left-leaning councils chose to fulfil their public information duties by publishing booklets critical of civil defence.

Wrekin and the Bomb, subtitled A look at Civil Defence, was published in the early 1980s by Wrekin Council, setting out their case against nuclear weapons and civil defence. Pictured on the cover is The Wrekin itself, the hill which gives this area of rural Shropshire its name, with a nuclear blast close behind.

The council’s reference to its “legal and moral obligation” refers to the regulations imposed on them from above, which gave central government the power to force councils to make preparations for attack.

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