English Heritage

York Cold War Bunker, Acomb Rd.

 

Picture by Roy 21oct06


The following text was taken from the Daily Telegraph 20mar07:

A blast from the past

Jonny Beardsall visits an underground relic of a threatening age

Ask School children today about the Cold War and they will look at you blankly. Even for adults, the era when the Soviet Union and the West had nuclear weapons trained on each other's major cities seems a long time ago. On the outskirts of York, however, there is a chilling reminder of just how seriously the threat of nuclear annihilation was taken in Britain.

The Cold War Bunker in Acomb, a mile and a half from the city centre, was closed down in 1991, but at the height of hostilities between the Eastern Bloc and NATO it was a mainstay of Britain's nuclear defences. It was manned by the men and women of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC) Today, the only visitors to what is now a scheduled monument are members of the public and schoolchildren.

" No 20 Group Headquarters was designed to collect data," says Claire Lawton, who leads tours for English Heritage, its current custodians. "The children we see are usually aged between 15 and 18, but younger ones do come with families and they still grasp what this is all about."

And what do children think when they visit this submerged lump of concrete and steel from a different era? "They are quite shocked and don't appreciate that in the 1960s and 1970s people were genuinely scared," she says. "What they see here brings this home."

After the Second World War, members of the ROC, whose main task had been to spot low-flying enemy aircraft, were given a new role. In 25 identical bunkers across the country, their job was to co-ordinate as much data as possible about the position and intensity of nuclear bombs, should Britain ever come under attack.

The information was fed to the 'headquarters from 870 small monitoring posts, spread at 15-mile intervals across the country. Each one was manned, in emergencies, by three blue-uniformed volunteers who would radio reports to their local headquarters. From here, information would be disseminated to the military and to regional and central government, which would combine the data with reports from the meteorological office to produce forecasts of radioactive fallout.


Under a mushroom cloud:
the Cold War Bunker (at the top),
near York, would have been used to
collect data in the event of a nuclear attack.
 

For three decades, the bunker was manned every day by three ROC members, drawn from a regional pool of 550 volunteers. Most would work an eight-hour shift every month and attend training sessions in preparation for exercises. In a real emergency (it was put on red alert during the Cuban missile crisis, a few months after it had been commissioned in 1961, and once, apparently, during the 1980s), three teams of 20 were required. The door of the bunker would have been locked when the first 60 volunteers to arrive had made it inside. The rest would have been turned away.

The interior feels not unlike a submarine. Heavy metal doors fitted with rubber seals allow you into the first of two chambers. "The second is airtight to keep out any external contamination after a strike," Lawton says. Anyone who had been exposed would drop their clothes in a "hot box" and shower three times in two decontamination rooms.

Venture down the stairwell and the bunker becomes a labyrinth. It has been preserved just as it was when the last person turned out the lights in 1991. From a long central corridor, doors open into various rooms: two IQ-bed dormitories where teams would have had to "hotbed" in emergencies, a boiler and radio room and a canteen, where dehydrated composite food could sustain volunteers for 30 days. Today, visitors sit at the tables to watch a IQ-minute film.

It makes disturbing viewing. With graphic scenes from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the film is a compelling reminder of what happens after a nuclear blast. First there is a heat pulse (anyone near ground zero is vaporised), followed by a blast wave (buildings are flattened) and then the fallout (the deadly radiation spread over a large area).


The main Ops Room in York Control showing Displays A and B, PDPs displays and Command Table. All restoration work has been done to a high standard with explanation boards.  Photo by L Holmes taken from 10Group's dec06 Newsletter

The Ops Room is the hub of the bunker. A central floor has galleries on four sound-proof sides where volunteers in headsets once manned ageing telex machines or perched on swivel chairs plotting data on to whiteboards. "People say it's just like a scene from a war film about the RAF. You have to remember that this was only 15 years after the war," says Lawton.

It seems incredible but, if Yorkshire had been hit by a nuclear strike, the flash would have been recorded by simple pinhole cameras mounted on the roof (and also at each of the county's monitoring posts). Ground zero, the centre of the blast, would have shown up on the camera's photographic paper. Unfortunately, this system required a luckless member of the team to go outside and retrieve the camera's photosensitive paper, so that the results could be assessed.

Jim Millington, 73, was in the ROC for 27 years and was N020 Group Commandant when it was disbanded. "I was a new boy during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which was our only close call. I'm pleased this piece of history hasn't disappeared. The bunker was flooded for a decade until English Heritage took it on. They've done a fine job. I hope more young people keep coming," he says.

* The Cold War Bunker, Acomb, York, North Yorkshire (01904 646940) is open lOam-5pm, Sat-Sun. Weekday bookings for schools by appointment. Admission: adults £5, students and pensioners £4, children f3, English Heritage members free. (www.visityork.org).


 

See also: Visit to 20 Group Control, York by 08Croca

 


[28mar07 22:35]