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.
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.
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.
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.
I was impressed at how it manages to explore a wide range of themes in such a small exhibition space.
The exterior is styled like the entrance to a bunker, and you’re encouraged to sign in by taking an official-looking name badge. You can even choose your role in the bunker – including Camp Commandant (obviously the best choice, as you get to be in charge) and Scientific Officer. There are a few more activities along this theme once you get inside the exhibition proper, which I imagine are intended for kids. Fortunately, nobody stopped me from participating, and I walked away with my very own officially-stamped travel pass.
As I mentioned, the exhibition space is quite small (and the topic is rather big). I chatted with the curator, Mark Dunton, who suggested the space may be expanded for future exhibitions. However, they’ve managed to make good use of the space they have, and there’s plenty to see, including original documents from the archives, cultural artefacts and some interactive exhibits.
We often consider the physical impacts of nuclear attack – widespread destruction, dangerous fallout, nuclear winter – but what about the psychological impact? In my latest article for the Wellcome Collection, I look into how the bomb would affect people’s minds.
You might predict – correctly – that, for the majority of people, it would be a very negative experience. However, there was one group who 1980s Home Office researchers suggested might actually excel in the post-attack society. To find out who, read the article now over on the Wellcome Collection site.
Pop quiz: What connects beloved children’s shows Woof!, Bernard’s Watch and Tarka the Otter with nuclear war?
Well, it turns out that these classic pieces of kids’ entertainment share a director with The Hole in the Ground, a 1962 film created for the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation (UKWMO).
Commissioned to showcase UKWMO’s quick response to a nuclear strike on Britain – indeed, they were the organisation tasked with issuing the Four-Minute Warning. The film was directed by David Cobham, who went on to create many happier memories through his work on cherished children’s films and TV shows through the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Watch The Hole in the Ground below, and then cheer yourself up by exploring more of the director’s work (including choice selections from Woof!) on this very comprehensive YouTube channel.