Bunker Bear for Brixham

By Lawrence Holmes 10 Group ROCA


In South Devon, near the historic coastal town of Brixham, is a spectacularly prominent, but narrow, 200 metre high limestone cliff called Berry Head. This narrow 250 metre wide promontory has fine views and has been used for defence purposes for hundreds of years. There are the remains of an Iron Age fort, and Bronze Age and Roman remains have been discovered.

As early as 1540 defensive bulwarks were started and in 1780 howitzer batteries were placed there. The Napoleonic War of 1793 led to more defensive works and forts being built and cannon were again placed on the tip of the headland. In 1906 a lighthouse was built and the old magazine room was converted to a coastguard station.

On 14th of December 2004 the Torbay newspaper, Herald Express, carried a most unusual story by reporter Allan Tudor about this spectacular point headed up ‘Bunker pal for nuclear bear’.

“Christmas 2004 was more bearable for one occupant of a dark and damp former Royal Observer Corps nuclear post in South Devon. For in the dark and empty depths of the Brixham underground ROC Post sits a Nuclear Teddy Bear.

Artist Martin Burton and Dr Bear prepare to descend the Berry Head nuclear
 bunker (photo : Steve Pope)

 He was placed there alone early in December by artist Martin Burton, as part of a worldwide art project about ‘time’. Nuclear Teddy is one of 68 identical teddies dispatched from a London Gallery to different locations around the world for this experiment and all the teddies will be monitored once a month until Christmas 2005.

Teddy bear collector Christine Barrett of Newton Abbott, heard about the lonely existence of Nuclear Teddy Bear in the Brixham ROC Post, and her heart was touched. Being an avid bear’s friend she has now sent him a companion for his year long stay in the small post. The companion, named Dr Bear, was first passed on to the Herald Express, who have very kindly sent Dr Bear on to be a pal for Nuclear Teddy Bear. Christine said ‘I thought it was very sad that a bear was being left on his own in those terrible conditions, therefore I am sending this teddy (Dr Bear) to keep him company. After all, who would like to be left alone in that damp, dark place up at lonely Berry Head’. Christine added ‘Teddy bears are very sociable and if Nuclear Teddy Bear is on his own he will be very lonely and sad. I am sure that Dr Teddy will keep him company and also keep an eye on him to make sure he is OK’.

Martin Burton added ‘It is very interesting that someone has seen so much personality in the bear. I am quite chuffed that Christine has thought about it and taken the time to take part in the project’. Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust which manage the site gave permission for Nuclear Teddy Bear and Dr Bear to spend a year in the dark of their nuclear reporting post”.

In 1940 the Observer Corps built an aircraft reporting post near the ramparts to the Northern Fort and the post was designated G3 Brixham and was part of No 21 Group Exeter. In the rush of war, this post was probably a wooden, almost temporary affair, with just a telephone and post plotting instrument. In 1941 the Observer Corps became the Royal Observer Corps and in 1942 the post was equipped with rocket flares for directing fighters on to the track of enemy aircraft. In 1943 the post site was moved nearer the lighthouse and very near the cliff edge.
The new post was much more substantial than the old post and built in the classic 1943 ROC style, with block walls, a square raised observation platform with a roofed ‘cubby’ extension at the side. The post had sloping glass windows to give the watching observers some protection from the inclement weather which was prone to blow across the narrow cape.

The Brixham ROC posts with WWII post, now used as a bird watching point, in foreground
and the nuclear post behind.

At the end of WWII, with a nation tired of war, Brixham ROC Post, together with the whole of the Corps, was stood down. The stand down was short lived for in 1947 the Corps and the posts were re-opened again still with the aircraft plotting role. June 1953 saw a change of designation to J3 still in No 21 Group. Another change came in November 1953 when the post was called S4. In the late 1950s the role of the Corps changed from aircraft plotting to the nuclear role, and in November 1960 an underground nuclear ‘bunker’ was built for the Brixham post only a few metres from the old aircraft reporting post. Fortunately the aircraft reporting post was not demolished at that time. The nuclear post was of standard design but with no mound and the GZI mount was on a tall pillar for extra height. The surrounding fence was of unusually high metal posts with chain link. In the large re-organisation of October 1968, Brixham Post became K2 in the newly re-designated No 10 Group Exeter. Due to the introduction of electronic data transmission, on the 1st November 1982, the post designation was changed one last time, this time to 57 Post. At this time the post Head Observer was Ch/Obs Peggy Purslow and L/Obs was Harold Simpson. The post closed at general stand down on 30th September 1991.

The Brixham nuclear post. Note the high fence and tall pillar with the GZI mounting on top.
It is down this post the Nuclear Teddy Bear is maintaining his lonely vigil.

In 1969 Torbay Borough Council purchased the headland and named the area the Berry Head Country Park. The Park provides recreation and education for the general public, there is an Information Centre, and walks are laid out in the park to enable visitors to enjoy the spectacular scenery and historic remains. Because of its proximity to the steep cliffs and sea bird life, the Berry Head Country Park has converted the ROC aircraft reporting post into a bird watching point, thus preserving this item of ROC heritage. The Country Park also took over the ROC nuclear post from September 1991, and although they have done nothing with the underground monitoring room, they maintain the surface features in good condition. Whereas the above ground post has a recreational use, the Park Authority do not allow visitors down the underground post. That is - apart from two teddy bears ! However, on occasions the compound is opened, the hatch cover is raised and a mirror is placed at the bottom of the shaft to allow people to see into the lighted monitoring room ! The Brixham ROC Post is one of the relatively few ROC post sites where the wartime post and nuclear post remain side by side in good condition and access is open to all.

Sources and acknowledgements :-
The Herald Express
Allan Tudor
Christine Barrett of Newton Abbott
Attack Warning Red by Derek Wood
Berry Head Country Park information leaflets
Information provided by ROCA member John Gale

[09feb05 02:45]