Cold War Nuke Shelter Discovered in Britain


(Photo: Eastnews Press Agency)

It was built in the late ’50’s, when tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were escalating, and there was real reason to fear the world was on the brink of a nuclear war: An underground bunker, deep in the East Anglian (east of London) countryside that was voluntarily staffed by watchers who were dedicated to performing probably useless services if a nuclear attack came, The Mirror reported earlier this week. (The world was, believe or not, a far more innocent, but also more frightening, place in the ’50’s!)

Was it or the many similar sites around the country a good idea? Probably not, given that they were, judging from this one, tiny, with next to no food or water supplies, and seemed to have minders totally ill-equipped to deal with ‘the morning after’ … or beyond.

Britain today in very few ways resembles that country as recently as the early-mid 1970’s, when I lived there. Early on, in that period, it was required that one leave ‘sidelights’ on on a vehicle parked on a roadside. Heaven forbid an errant horse-pulled wagon should collide with one’s automobile! Or whatever.

Until the late 1960’s, when the Post Office Tower was erected, no building in London could be higher than the 365-foot-high dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was built (in the late 17th century) atop the city’s highest hill. Now, there are 18 buildings in London topping out at 150 meters (492) or more, with one, the Shard, stretching 309.6 m (1,016 ft) skyward.

Since 1979, when the Jubilee line was opened, the underground system has consisted of eleven lines. Twenty years later, in 1999, the Jubilee line was extended to the then-booming Docklands area in London’s East End. When I lived in the city, Docklands was a virtual no-man’s land still looking, across much of the area, exactly as it did after German bombers turned factories and residences there into rubble.

(One afternoon in late 1973 or early ’74, when Britain was enduring scheduled periods of blackouts because electricity was in short supply (thanks to a combination of a miners’ strike and trimmed oil supplies from the MidEast as Arab countries fought Israel), I walked through the Docklands after having walked under the River Thames in a tunnel stretching north from Greenwich to The Isle of Dogs, on the eastern edge of Docklands. My walk eventually took me to my home at the time – a flat (apartment) in a 100-year old ‘mansion’ next door to The Royal Albert (concert) Hall in Kensington. I was familiar with most of the route, being a frequent explorer of London on foot.

But Docklands was new to me, and it frankly was a not-very-comfortable place to be as the natural light faded and no artificial light replaced it. Almost like walking the city would have been had there actually been a nuclear attack!

Photos from the time of the blackouts, in the above-cited article, reminded me just how long ago that was – and how, with wartime ‘we’ll muddle through’ spirit, the British people bore up amazing well through what truly was a period of serious hardships for many in the country.

But in the end, it was nothing like hardships that would have been faced had ‘the bomb’ been dropped there. In hindsight, it’s easy to see the inadequacies of those small shelters like the one just unearthed in East Anglia.