In the 1950s, with the sudden arival of Nuclear Weapons, the governments of the world collectively clenched so tight that when they farted only dogs could hear them. Leaflets were distributed telling families silly things to do in the event of a nuclear attack, like how to prop a door up against a wall, and surround it with sandbags, get the entire family under there, and stay there until the danger was over. That's right, even if you have three squabbling kids, and one of them really needs to pee.
In hindsight it's fairly obvious that the people in control didn't have a clue what to do, but they were just trying to make it look like they were at least trying to do something.
One of the best outcomes of this era is the presence of abandoned nuclear monitoring bunkers scattered all over the UK, mostly derelict, some demolished, many trashed, but a few still in good shape.
1,563 underground bunkers were built all over the UK, each one manned by the Royal Observer Corps, or ROC for short, designed to monitor for nuclear strikes, and report any activity. They were filled with communication equipment, but they were also equipped to be lived in, in the event that a nuclear strike should happen.
I've actually been to quite a few now, and they come in such varied quality, from the burnt out husk that is in Church Stretton, to some which are oddly pristine.
These things are tiny, and even though I love them, I won't usually go out to them unless I happen to be in the area, purely because it's such a gamble over whether or not they're accessible, since so many are padlocked or welded shut.
As it happens, Tamsin, Maya and I were traveling from Shawbury School to the legendary Lost Village. On the way we decided to swing by this bunker, to check it out. We cut across fields to get to it, only to find that it was in someones garden. Both Tamsin and Maya had never been to one of these before, but I had, and the external features are fairly recognisable.
"There it is!" I announced as I saw it.
"Where?" the girls replied.
"Just on the other side of those two angry-looking men," I told them.
And sure enough, there were two men strolling our way, eager to know what we were doing in their backyard. Understand, residential trespass is something I do not usually do. The majority of places I explore are abandoned or owned by corporations. Sneaking into someones residential property is morally wrong, and I'd led Tamsin and Maya into someones garden completely accidentally. The two men were absolutely right to be mad.
Tamsin spoke up, asking if we could see their bunker, and it's probably thanks to her that we got permission. Men tend to be more inclined to do favours for women. If I had gone by myself, I probably would have been angrilly told to bugger off. But luckily, with two women by my side, the men barely acknowledged me, which is great, because I'm hopelessly socially awkward. We got to go down into the bunker, and I was left to do what I wanted.
These bunkers consist of a fifteen foot ladder into the ground, with a tiny room, and a toilet cupboard. There's no other way in or out, so if the ladder breaks or the hatch gets locked while someone is in there, they'd be in a pretty sticky situation. There is, as you'd probably expect, no mobile signal down there. In my previous blog posts on bunkers like this, I often reference a Thora Birch movie called The Hole, which I actually recommend for anyone who wants a thriller about an abandoned nuclear bunker.
Many of these bunkers were closed in 1968, but this particular bunker was decomissioned in 1991, so I was expecting it to be in better shape than most.
I'm not one for showing people in this blog, unless it's a photoshoot, but I somehow managed to not take a single photo looking up the shaft that didn't have Maya in it. So here, guys, have a photo of Maya.
See, I told you I had real friends!
At the bottom of the shaft is this pump, which was used to prevent flooding. Apparently it's very rare to find these in good condition, but I've only been inside ten of these bunkers, which out of 1,563, means I really don't have a good enough perspective on what can be considered average. But this one appears to be in good shape.
The toilet has been taken out, and shelves have since been fitted in the "room" which seems kinda appropriate since the toilet room was really just a cupboard with a bucket in it. I'm sure my other blog posts on similar bunkers have pointed that out.
Our friendly land owners pointed out that they had originally used this bunker as a wine cellar, but had to stop, because urban explorers kept stealing their wine. But generally they didn't know a lot about the history of this thing. They knew it was a bunker, obviously. They didn't know what era it came from, mistakenly refering to it as a world war 2 air raid shelter, but that's fair enough. I didn't know much on the subject either prior to finding my first one.
Typically these bunkers will have the beds at the far end, and a desk going along one side. This one is actually unique among the ones I've found so far in that it had this big diagonal board going across it, which I assumed was some kind of noticeboard, but was actually gigantic to the point of making the bunker seem a lot smaller than it was. Which, in an already tiny bunker, seems like a silly thing to have.
Over on the bed, the mattress is still there, so someone could easily camp down here. There's also a crate on the bed, identical to others that I've found in other bunkers, which is called a Siren Box. It contained a hand-operated siren, which has now been taken away.
As you can see, there's still paperwork on the desk, and a bit of graffiti on the wall.
Some of this paperwork is original, but some of it has clearly been brought down here after the bunker was decomissioned, like this little newspaper clipping. It's almost as if someone once wanted to preserve this as some kind of museum, but for some reason it didn't happen.
Other bits of paper are more likely to be left over from when the post was active.
There are still a few bits of communication equipment on the walls, although the majority of it has been cleared out. The big circular chunk of metal would fit over a central cylindrical tube in the ceiling. I thought that this was a ventilation shaft, but it was actually called an FSM tube. FSM stands for "Fixed Survey Meter" and was a piece of equipment which would be inserted up the ceiling tube to count radioactive particles in the air following a nuclear strike.This metal disk could be used to seal the tube.
Here's a box that the FSM would have been stored in. The box is empty, with the device being removed when the bunker was decommissioned.
It sure is odd that they took all the machinery but not the boxes it came in.
Here's the air vent at the back of the bunker.
And to take a closer look at the graffiti, it's dated 1998, and was allegedly written here by the people who stole all of the wine back when the bunker was a wine cellar. However further research reveals that these people are the guys who worked at this bunker, and had come back in 1998 for a nostalgic visit. The guys who showed us around made the connection from these guys to the thieves because they hadn't noticed the graffiti prior to the wine going missing, but given that it's a pitch black room in the ground, it's probably quite easy to miss a few scribbles. I'm more inclined to think that it wasn't these guys who stole our hosts wine, since our hosts looked like they would have been prepubescent in 1998.
There's this adorable creature living in the access shaft too! Isn't it beautiful?
Following this brief excursion, Tamsin, Maya and I said goodbye to our hosts and continued on our way to the Lost Village. Would we find it? You'll have to wait and see, but I wouldn't be blogging about it if we didn't find something. It also falls on my 150th blog post, so it better be good!
That's pretty much all I have. These bunkers are scattered around the British countryside, and are pretty tiny. They were manned with the intent of reporting nuclear strikes, but were also equipped for the people stationed there to potentially live in should there be a nuclear strike.
Nowadays, since nuclear weapons have become a lot more refined, these bunkers would probably offer insufficient protection. But take a look at the size of it, and think of your most annoying work colleague. Now imagine you were both stationed down here when a nuclear blast went off, and having to live with that colleague for an extended period of time, in this tiny room.
It's not a pretty scenario!
If anything, these bunkers reflect on an era of panic, that we don't appreciate today. We've grown up in a world where nuclear weapons just exist, and we don't always realise that there was a time when they were new and the entire world didn't quite know what to do about it.
Anyway, as mentioned I've been in ten of these things now, but if you've been paying attention, you know that this is only the seventh bunker blog post. The remaining three still need a write up, so that's something you can look forward to, assuming the world doesn't go kablooey first.
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