If there had been a nuclear attack on the UK, would the NHS have coped or collapsed? That’s the topic of my first guest blog for the Wellcome Collection, tying in with their War of Nerves exhibition, which is currently at the Wende Museum in California.
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.
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.
Leeds Postcards was founded in 1979, with the intention of using postcards “as a political tool and agent for change”.
They quickly became well-known, producing some iconic work with activist groups such as the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW) and CND branches across the country, and artists including Peter Kennard and Steve Bell. They are still publishing postcards today.
Throughout the 1980s, Leeds Postcards published a number of cards satirising the threat of nuclear war, and celebrating the movement against the bomb, which I’m sharing here (with their permission). I’ve quoted the text from the back of the postcards for some context, as well as the artist and date, where known.
Greetings from Nuclear Free Leeds, unknown artist, 1981
On 30 July 1980 Leeds City Council adopted a resolution from Councillor Michael McGowan which expressed grave concern at the build up of nuclear weapons and agreed to contact other cities about action against the nuclear threat.
On 24 June 1981 Leeds became a Nuclear Free Zone. the City Council promotes peace education and peace exhibitions, and published Leeds and the Bomb to inform the public of the effects of a nuclear strike on Leeds.
This ad for nuclear bunkers, which appeared in 1981, pits the popular notion of the Blitz spirit against the grim reality of nuclear attack.
In doing so, it makes the earlier bombing of London seem something of a light-hearted game of hide-and-seek.