Lecture Details and Reviews

Local Cold War Bunkers

8th January, 2013 David Oliver

David Oliver, Chairman of SOAG contributed the following personal notes

From an early age I always had an interest in archaeology. My dissertation for a BA in archaeology covered the strategic location and characteristics of Cold War bunkers, which are fast disappearing and in many cases have moved into the field of archaeology. Encouraged by English Heritage, as they have little data in this aspect of the Cold War, the dissertation concentrated on bunkers related to civilian administration. These were intended to coordinate recovery after a nuclear attack. A result of this input to English Heritage was that one Berkshire bunker became listed at Grade II and so has some degree of protection against threatened demolition. When these bunkers were active their existence was kept secret both from potential enemies and the local population. However, in the early 1960’s some aspects of these preparations became public knowledge when exposed by the “Spies for Peace” and a splinter group from the Easter march from Aldermaston to London invaded RSG6 (Regional Seat of Government 6) at Warren Row just off the A4 at Knowl Hill.

The talk will briefly cover the history of defence against air attack starting in WWI, but will concentrate on describing a number of bunkers mainly within Berkshire including the infamous RSG6 and a similar construction near Park Place across the river from Henley.

Reviews

Reviewed by Valerie on 13th February, 2013

Dave Oliver, Chairman of South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group, gave a talk at our January meeting, which was attended by Subterranea Britannica members in addition to members of the Society. The talk was fascinating and so well received that the questions at the end added to the interest, especially as many people had either been involved or could remember these times.

Air defence at the start of the Cold War was based on experience gained in both the first and, more copiously, the Second World War. Between the wars a Regional Commissioner's system was established in 1926 in case of government control breakdown during the General Strike and what became the Royal Observer Corps set up. By the mid 1930s the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) was formed to cover civil defence which aimed at the saving of life during and after air raids. During World War II, protected controls were used both by the military, to provide an active defence against attacking aircraft, and the ARP to enable centralized and local control of rescue and fire fighting resources. Much of the funds for the building of air raid shelters etc were controlled by the Regional Commissioners, much to the annoyance of local councils.

Stood-down with a week's notice at the end of the war, Civil Defence was reformed in 1948 (and stood-down in 1968) to counter the effect of possible attacks on the UK from a potential new enemy, and from 1949 this included the threat of atomic warfare. In the early and late1950s there was a programme of bunker building mainly for the military part of which included 1565 underground Royal Observer Corps (ROC) posts designed to monitor where nuclear blasts had happened and monitor any radioactive fall-out. The introduction of much more powerful hydrogen bombs required a revision of plans and it was decided underground bunkers to house Regional Seats of Government were required to run the country from protected locations.

Examples of bunkers are:-

Near BathCentral government with room for many thousand
Kelvedon Hatch in EssexInitially a sector operations centre for the RAF this eventually became a Regional Government control
Oxfordwhat is now part Oxford Brookes University basement was a ROC Group control
Streatley Hill A four man underground ROC post
AscotAnother ROC underground post in the middle of race course
Easthampstead Park school basementBerkshire County Control
Reading Shire Hall basementa later Berkshire County Control
Whiteknights ParkRegional war room for the Regional Commissioner before the H-bomb
Warren RowA facility for making aircraft parts during WW2 in a converted chalk mine; it then became the Science Museum store until 1958 when arrangements were made for Regional Seat of Government 6 to be set up in times of emergency: a list of key people would be expected to leave their families behind and assemble underground to deal with the aftermath of an attack.(Now used for document storage).

The Park Place underground factory on Wargrave Road was to manufacture aircraft part until decades after the war. It was eventually used as the Armed Forces HQ for London and now a stores documents.

Shiplake had an underground ROC post at what was Hatt's Farm; now only recognizable by the lone short telegraph pole still standing above Henley Road.

We were left with a last sobering thought that it is believed significant nuclear arsenals still exist in eight countries, including places like India, Israel and Pakistan and others may possess a few: e.g. compared with US & Russia each with around 10,000 nuclear warheads the UK has around 185, but we have nothing like the preparedness against attack that existed during the Cold War.

Valerie Alasia, Chairman

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