Nuclear-Era Civil Defence Measures In The UK

EnolaGaia

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The hotlink is to a YouTube video. It originally appeared as the usual embedded video when I first saw Krepostnoi's post. Now it's getting the error.

I suspect the server error is being generated on our side, not the YouTube side.

Here's the (working) URL to the YouTube page, broken into 2 parts:

https://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=xiepfG7IKRo
 

EnolaGaia

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I checked the admin alerts ... The server error is not occurring here at our site.

Edit to add: Everything seems to be working OK again ...
 
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Yithian

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Do we have anyone here who was in the Royal Observer Corps? There's a tremendously sad recruiting film out there on Youtube somewhere - which I was directed to by @taras - which plays heavily on the fact that there are tremendous social opportunities to be had by joining the ROC - the subtext there is perhaps not one that might have recruits flocking to join. So that's one element of sadness, in the more modern sense, but there is also an odd coda, given that the thing sets out as a recruitment film, which states that the Corps was stood down in 1991, and a truly bizarre cod-heroic allusion to the stalwart members remaining ready to answer the call in the nation's hour of need, as though they were Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table slumbering under a hill somewhere.


Please note, it's the editing decisions taken around that film which I find questionable. I don't mean to mock the actual Corps members, who signed up for an unsung but brave role. In fact, I have so many questions about the job they were meant to do if it did all kick off: how long were they supposed to stay at the monitoring stations? What were they supposed to do afterwards? etc. etc. I have spoken to a former Vulcan rigger, who told me his plan would have been to remain at his post with a cigarette on once the bombers had departed. He wouldn't have made it very far in the four minutes or so it was reckoned they would have had left, so what would have been the point of working up a sweat? I suspect that, in contrast to the many poor sods who didn't have a fast ride out of RAF Finningley, for many Observers, the end would have come with a whimper, not a bang, and still the reality would have been very different from official guidance. I am curious to know what that guidance said. I recall that in the War Game, the narrator reads out, dead-pan over scenes of chaos, the planned menus that field kitchens were supposed to rustle up for the survivors: substantial meals of meat and veg with pudding and custard for dessert. That tension between what the authors must have known and what they wrote down fascinates me unduly.
Enjoyed that, Krepostnoi.

It's so intrinsically British--somewhere between a Children's Film Federation production and a Sunday afternoon documentary on quantity surveying. Everybody involved should be driving a Rover and be called Nigel, Pam or Derek!

As you say, no disrespect intended to the ROC or the film-makers. If I were a generation older I'd probably have been all over this: it looks like scouting, but with a nuclear backdrop and machines that go ping!

I am curious as to what on earth is going on with the editing though. It was, as you say a recruiting tool, but then, just as you were expecting a phone number or the address of the local centre, they faded Mavis's somber discussion of the consequences of a thermonuclear conflagration and tacked on a section about how it was all over now, and didn't they do well? Would the budget not stretch to a full encomium?

I immediately noted the Mister Mister instrumentalisation, but who is the narrator? Sounds awfully familiar from 80s TV adverts.
 

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Do we have anyone here who was in the Royal Observer Corps?
Grandfather was head-hunted from the RAF for a senior position in the ROC. Sadly, like quite a bit of his service life 'we don't know what he got up to', although setting up the bunker network mentioned up-thread was one of his primary roles.
 

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We had a Carrier Control Point in my nick. If I was ever feeling glum l could lift the receiver, hear the comforting “OK” signal and think, “Well, it’s a rotten day, but at least l’m not about to be incinerated.

maximus otter
 

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...who is the narrator? Sounds awfully familiar from 80s TV adverts.
Sorry to quote myself, but is it the same man as sampled by Frankie Goes To Hollywood?


Same subject, "The air-attack warning sounds like..."
 

Ermintruder

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but is it the same man as sampled by Frankie Goes To Hollywood?
No, close, that was the 'official' Patrick Allen. I think the gentleman doing the commentry for the re-hashed ROC obituary was actually someone else.

I have some close connections to this era (and topic)- let me do some checking as to who it was.
 

taras

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how long were they supposed to stay at the monitoring stations? What were they supposed to do afterwards?
They would have had supplies to last for about two weeks. Afterwards... they would be expected to pitch in with rebuilding the country. You can read my recent article on the psychological impact of nuclear attack to find out why this might not have gone as planned.

is it the same man as sampled by Frankie Goes To Hollywood
While this isn't him, Patrick Allen did do the voiceover for the official Protect and Survive films too (as well as several Avon cosmetics flexidiscs among other things)

I am curious as to what on earth is going on with the editing though.
This is an interesting one. The video was originally created as a local recruitment video by 7 Group ROC (Bedford), which is why it's set in Bedford. The quality was good enough that ROC headquarters wanted to turn it into a national recruitment film, which is why it says it was produced by the Army film unit. However, during editing, the ROC was stood down - making the video essentially useless. So they turned it from a recruitment video into a tribute.

I agree the eulogy at the end is just bizarre.
 

Ermintruder

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I agree the eulogy at the end is just bizarre.
This is due to a number of contributory factors.

Firstly, the sudden demise of the ROC in 1991 was not the end on at least two levels: in particular (and this is now more of a technical/legal point, rather than a practical one) the Corps was NOT disbanded- it was put into suspended animation, as a stood-down entity liable for reactivation. In theory it could be called-out tomorrow (the almost-total lack of any UK Home Defence infrastructure would hamper its effectiveness just a bit)

Secondly, for a small select band of individuals, it literally wasn't the end at all. The Corps was stood-down in the majority, nationally, but under an extended defence requirement the NRCs (Nuclear Reporting Cells, latterly Nuclear/Biological& Chemical Reporting Cells) were retained until 1995 to provide an extended analysis capability for strategic military headquarter locations.

As you correctly surmise, the adaptation of the video from being a recruitment effort into an obitury did not exactly work as intended. Back in the heady days of the early 90s ("peace in our time"- allegedly) the world was meant to suddenly change gear, and achieve a new equilibrium- it was officially (as stated by HM Queen at the parade recorded earlier in the video 'the end of the Cold War'). Hindsight makes many of the Governmental reactions at the time seem clumsy- but it was a strange era.


You can read my recent article on the psychological impact of nuclear attack to find out why this might not have gone as planned.
I shall read that with much biased interest. Had it happened for real, it would've certainly been no picnic, but I question whether eg 'Threads' would've been genuinely representative of how the UK might look, post-attack.
 

taras

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Oh, I just meant the 'eulogy' part was bizarrely phrased and over-the-top. ("They shall come from the Highlands, and the Islands..." in particular - very Arthurian as you say, but doesn't really make sense.)

I'm pretty sure the role of the NRC observers being absorbed into the RAF was the end of the ROC. After the stand-down, the original plan was to have small groups of ex-ROC and UKWMO volunteers staffing the regional government headquarters (RGHQs). Those who expressed an interest were then kept in the dark (...no pun intended) for a couple of years. Then, in early 1993, they received a letter from UKWMO headquarters stating their services would not be needed, because the government had decided to dispose of the RGHQs and disband UKWMO and ROC. I'd say that means any chance of the ROC's return ended at that point.

As you point out the complete lack of infrastructure would make a renewed ROC rather pointless either way. It's still fun/surprising to think that there were still volunteer members of the public keeping Britain safe from nuclear attack as late as 1995.

Ermintruder what's your ROC connection, if you don't mind me asking? I reckon I would have volunteered, had I not been 7 years old at stand-down!
 
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Ermintruder

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I'm pretty sure the role of the NRC observers being absorbed into the RAF was the end of the ROC.
No. Legally-speaking the Corps itself was stood-down (for the vast majority) in 1991, then the remaining elements (the NRCCs and the two last full-time HQ Officers) in 1995. It genuinely is still just stood-down, >not< disbanded... that is just terminology, but underpinned with legal substance. The NBCRC function in 1995 did transfer, in part, to the mainstream RAF: but the Corps on paper lived on, as a theoretical entity.

After the stand-down, the original plan was to have small groups of ex-ROC and UKWMO volunteers staffing the regional government headquarters (RGHQs)
I would be keen to see the formal substance behind this statement. This may have been talked about as a hypothetical proposition with vague objectives, but ROC or UKWMO civilians were *never* located at RGHQs previously (or, conceivably on just a few previous exercise liaison instances). Equally, with the absence of both the nuclear monitoring posts network (or a dedicated survivable communications channel, these recycled Corps people would've been hard-pressed to have a *meaningful* role at an RGHQ/RSG, during an attack. They would've had lots of knowledge, but almost zero enablers.


(in early 1993) because the government had decided to dispose of the RGHQs and disband UKWMO and ROC
I would like to see this properly-cited, because it makes no sense. The UKWMO was rapidly-culled during 1992, with civil-servants being redeployed or made redundant very fast indeed, and the same was the case for full-time uniformed staff excepting HQ. All volunteers (apart from the NRCs) were definitely disposed of. But the ROC was most-emphatically not disbanded. The Corps banner was still in the RAF College (as a mark of respect, and reflecting the theoretical capacity for reactivation) up until just a couple of years ago. It was admittedly then taken to RAF St Clement-Danes (the church) but I do not believe the stood-down status (as opposed to disbanded) has ever been changed. But I might be able to check that.


It's still fun/surprising to think that there were still volunteer members of the public keeping Britain safe from nuclear attack as late as 1995.
Well: in the curious apparently proliferated and asymmetric world we all currently live in, there may be an argument to say that they would have a role of sorts nearly quarter of a century later.

what's your ROC connection, if you don't mind me asking?
Many and various. It's very-much in my era, and I've lots of informed insights. I've still got some close friends and acquaintaces that served: and anyway- everyone should always try to be as observant as they can.

Please do try to find that 1993 reference...
 
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Ermintruder

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Odd. In the broader context of this thread, I was certain that FTMB had discussed the topic of the UK's supposed Strategic Steam Rail Reserve (whether as a UL or something more).

Yet I can't find any references to it at all. Shh..shh..shh..shhhh
 

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Odd. In the broader context of this thread, I was certain that FTMB had discussed the topic of the UK's supposed Strategic Steam Rail Reserve (whether as a UL or something more).

Yet I can't find any references to it at all. Shh..shh..shh..shhhh
It's there somewhere.
 

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EnolaGaia

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Here are the external references cited in the Underground (Miscellaneous ... ) thread:

On The Trail Of The Strategic Reserve (By Rory Lushman)
http://www.angelfire.com/mn2/Oubliette/StratReserve.html

The Strategic Steam Reserve, Corsham and Rudloe
http://www.willys-mb.co.uk/railways/strategic-reserve.htm

Wiltshire's Underground City
http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/underground_city/
 

taras

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I would like to see this properly-cited, because it makes no sense.
Oh, this is my misreading of that 1993 document (which I'll PM you in a sec) - it does say UKWMO is being disbanded but only that ROC was being stood-down. Thanks for clarifying this as I hadn't appreciated the significant difference between the two terms!
 

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The inherent logic was that the Russian threat was significantly reduced by the loss of the Warsaw Pact, which had functionally carried the load of the nuclear delivery force, which is prohibitively expensive. At that time, we were under the impression that the strategic arms were under the control of the State, we now know they are not, in the same way ISI is not under the control of the Pakistanis. However, the risk-reward matrix was so heavily against them that the need to carry the same ourselves was functionally pointless. After all, there's only so much you can do in 20 minutes.
 

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I had heard (at a level above rumour but below verifiable fact...for me so far) that the disestablishment of the UK Cold War home defence organisations was a conditional requirement in terms of arms balance / national defensive capabilities, possibly as a footnote to one of the SALTs.

To clarify: despite there only having been a very-finite amount of capability providable by UKWMO/ROC (especially post-attack) it was assessed as being such a viable detection / alerting and monitoring system, it *had* to be disposed of as an act of compliance with the spirit and letter of disarmament actions.

Before dismissing this too rapidly, it should be remembered that the ROC / UKWMO outlived the UK's Civil Defence Corps by nearly 30yrs. It was supported by many in government & defence once they properly appreciated its range of abilities. Despite its occasional detractors, the Corps was a remarkably-efficient and (potentially) effective insurance policy.

An awkward step-child of the RAF, it was a true citizen corps that took massive changes in remit / technology / expectation all in its stride.

There is much that deserves to be said and told about the ROC, in particular- but, one of the main reasons that this retrospective is >not< a straightforward thing to deliver is that we find ourselves in a world that can hardly now be described as being properly at peace, or truly-stable.
 

Ermintruder

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it does say UKWMO is being disbanded but only that ROC was being stood-down.
At stand-down, I understand that some part-time ROC members were told by their full-time Officers they would all be liable for invitation to serve following a future reactivation of the Corps until they reached the standard retirement age for UK civil servants.

There is of course hardly a shred of the original infrastructure left- but the majority of ex-ROC people I've ever met have invariably stated they'd serve again in a heartbeat.

It should be borne in mind that the ROC did some incredibly-brave things during WW2, including volunteering to serve upon Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships used during the D-Day landings (acting as Aircraft Identifiers for the untrained gunners, they saved the lives of thousands of Allied aircrew by giving clearance to fire or hold).

They undoubtedly made a huge difference to the Battle of Britain, and may have helped just enough to win the battle. It is universally forgotten that the Chain Home RADAR system was on the coast, pointing outwards. The instant an enemy aircraft crossed the radars, they were invisible to all, other than the ROC (with their logging and reporting system).

WW3 circa 1980 would've been a horrible hell....but the ROC would've made a real difference, just as their predecessors did.
 

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Broadcast in 1982, A Guide to Armageddon was the eighth episode of the first season of the BBC science documentary series, Q.E.D., and demonstrates the effects of a one megaton nuclear bomb being exploded over London. It was written and directed by Mick Jackson, who went on to direct Threads two years later.

Narrated, sardonically at points, by Ludovic Kennedy.

Grim: Do Not Watch If Having A Bad Day.
 

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At stand-down, I understand that some part-time ROC members were told by their full-time Officers they would all be liable for invitation to serve following a future reactivation of the Corps until they reached the standard retirement age for UK civil servants.

There is of course hardly a shred of the original infrastructure left- but the majority of ex-ROC people I've ever met have invariably stated they'd serve again in a heartbeat.

It should be borne in mind that the ROC did some incredibly-brave things during WW2, including volunteering to serve upon Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships used during the D-Day landings (acting as Aircraft Identifiers for the untrained gunners, they saved the lives of thousands of Allied aircrew by giving clearance to fire or hold).

They undoubtedly made a huge difference to the Battle of Britain, and may have helped just enough to win the battle. It is universally forgotten that the Chain Home RADAR system was on the coast, pointing outwards. The instant an enemy aircraft crossed the radars, they were invisible to all, other than the ROC (with their logging and reporting system).

WW3 circa 1980 would've been a horrible hell....but the ROC would've made a real difference, just as their predecessors did.
Anybody know about this?

Ghosts in ROC uniforms

The ROC provided an additional and highly useful function to the war-time UK Government by providing a plausible cover story for a number of covert war-time operations. Up to twenty highly secret electronic warfare units and Y-stations were established across the UK, with their associated scientists, technicians and engineers being dressed in Royal Observer Corps uniforms so as to avoid arousing any suspicion while entering and leaving Royal Air Force, Army, Royal Navy and other MoD establishments.

Throughout the Second World War, ROC personnel were paid expenses and allowances in cash via their Group HQ and several Deputy Group Commandants discovered that they had up to one hundred additional observers appearing on their staff roll, with each additional observer being seen to receiving higher than normal allowances, despite these individuals having never reported for duty as members of the Royal Observer Corps.

A notable example of one such cover story involving the ROC is that which took place at RAF Little Rissington, where a series of tunnels were excavated during the 1940s. RAF Little Rissington forces personnel and local residents were informed that this activity was associated with an ROC unit, which was indeed seen to be manned by individuals wearing ROC uniforms. The ROC however had no knowledge of the existence of this supposed ROC facility until many years after the war had drawn to a close.

The true nature of the activities of these Ghost ROC personnel remains classified information, with public access to related documents being denied until 2045.

Source:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Observer_Corps#Ghosts_in_ROC_uniforms
 

Ermintruder

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Anybody know about this?
Oh yes. Very much so. Although the lid was kept on that part of 'Corps lore' for a long time after WW2.

The ROC in general truly is a forgotten gem from the bottom-drawer of history. Stories about the 'ghost' WW2 ROC members began getting discussed properly from the mid/late 1980s onwards, both within and outwith the Corps.

Prior to that, people who did have direct insights on the topic kept their mouths firmly-shut (notably, those who were 'ghost' members during WW2, then overt members afterwards).

There was a similar reticence regarding any open discussion about the British WW2 Auxiliary Resistance units until the 80s era ie 30-40yrs after the event.

My own theory (based upon direct conversations with such people, and my own experiences, born as I was in the 60s shadow of WW2) is that the elapsing of The 30yr Rule, coupled with end of the Falklands War (plus the slow 'thaw' of the Cold War) loosened people's tongues, and also resulted in living history efforts such as Bletchley Park.

I am in a state of permanent mild shock about how much of the UK's/NATO's Secret (or at least Confidential) Cold War and home defence planning prep is now free-range fodder all over the internet.

Being old, and blessed/cursed with a whole range of relevant experiences & insights, there are probably at least a couple of books inside me about such things....but they may never be actualised.
 

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Oh yes. Very much so. Although the lid was kept on that part of 'Corps lore' for a long time after WW2.

The ROC in general truly is a forgotten gem from the bottom-drawer of history. Stories about the 'ghost' WW2 ROC members began getting discussed properly from the mid/late 1980s onwards, both within and outwith the Corps.

Prior to that, people who did have direct insights on the topic kept their mouths firmly-shut (notably, those who were 'ghost' members during WW2, then overt members afterwards).

There was a similar reticence regarding any open discussion about the British WW2 Auxiliary Resistance units until the 80s era ie 30-40yrs after the event.

My own theory (based upon direct conversations with such people, and my own experiences, born as I was in the 60s shadow of WW2) is that the elapsing of The 30yr Rule, coupled with end of the Falklands War (plus the slow 'thaw' of the Cold War) loosened people's tongues, and also resulted in living history efforts such as Bletchley Park.

I am in a state of permanent mild shock about how much of the UK's/NATO's Secret (or at least Confidential) Cold War and home defence planning prep is now free-range fodder all over the internet.

Being old, and blessed/cursed with a whole range of relevant experiences & insights, there are probably at least a couple of books inside me about such things....but they may never be actualised.
I've just today finished a (poor) book on Fighter Command that gave several sidelights on the (later 'Royal') Observer Corps during the Battle of Britain. I found the glimpses tantalising but unrewarding (as I say, poor book). That notwithstanding, a distinctively British picture of lonely posts manned by enthusiastic amateurs with flasks of tea commanded by superannuated former RAF men seemed to have been sketched, and somebody recommended me Attack Warning Red: Royal Observer Corps and the Defence of Britain 1925 to 1992 by Derek Wood (this is the second edition, the first being published in the 70s).

Have you read it or anything similar I might look into?

Edit: bugger, it looks expensive.
 

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Have you read it or anything similar I might look into?
Read it, got it, is very good. If I can get hold of a cheap(er) copy, I'll 'lend' it to you.

Buckton's "An Official Tribute and History of the Royal Observer Corps" is useful, but a bit uninspiring. Usually a lot less expensive, though (and physically-smaller to send through the post: "AWR" is massive in lbs/£s)

Whilst helping to win the Battle of Britain, the ROC really does deserve a more-rounded history, properly-including the Cold War era.

The ROC Seabournes role on D-Day etc is disgracefully under-recognised, and the HORNBEAM coastal role is totally-forgotten.
 

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Publications list courtesy of the (still-homeless) ROC Museum
Attack Warning Red – Wood- 1975 & 1991 (covering ROC from 1925 – 1975 (with additional appendixes to 1991)
Forewarned is Forearmed – Winslow -1948- (WWII Official history.)
Forewarned is Forearmed – A Tribute – Buckton – 1993- (Features tributes to the ROC by the main political figures at time of ROC Standdown)
The Plane Spotters – Dartnell – 1995 – (Medallic history of ROC, only includes ROC Medal when accompanied by another award)
The ROC Medal – Sirley – 2015 – (All holders of the ROC Medal)
The Royal Observer Corps Underground Monitoring Posts – Dalton – 2011 – (development of the Monitoring Posts and their operation through to preservation)
An Observer’s Tale, The Story of 17 Group Watford – A publishing Committee under O/Cdr Ramsden Whitty -1950 (Covers WWII in excellent detail)
 

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Publications list courtesy of the (still-homeless) ROC Museum
Much appreciated.

I'm going to search for a digital edition or a scan of the Wood book. It's sadly too heavy to have sent overseas at a sensible cost.
 

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As has been frequently mentioned, there is a Cold War era Secret Bunker in Cheshire. I visit now and then.

It's full of explanatory posters about the exact amounts of deaths, cases of serious radiation sickness and so on to be expected within various distances of the site of a nuclear strike. Not at ALL depressing.

You'd laugh now but I'm old enough to remember this sort of scaremongering being a mainstream preoccupation. It all looks disturbingly familiar.
 

Ermintruder

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It's sadly too heavy to have sent overseas at a sensible cost.
Oh, I was thinking of it just being sent to a dead-drop somewhere within the People's Republic of Essex, or suchlike. Then somebody else could consider strapping it to a cargo pallet and then putting it aboard a 1:5 scale model of Kon Tiki crewed by parrots.

Or someone could just look after it, and a future version of you could collect it and have it as your carry-on luggage with BA...
 
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