Thursday, 6 September 2012

Storm across the Vale of Evesham, with sheep.

Storm across the Vale of Evesham, with sheep.
Image taken from above the nuclear bunker at Broadway in Worcestershire. Photograph taken on August 30th 2012, purposely drained of colour.

The following is the list I made in Leeds of the various aspects of the nuclear bunker that I could include in assignment five:

Recessed land,
Spotting point,
Steps up/down,
Bunk beds,
Spotter’s charts,
Darts board,
ROC coordinates,
Board games,
Written records,

Some thoughts on each:

Outside: Immediately outside the entrance to the bunker itself is a self contained area, probably still under the regulations of the Official Secrets Act and this area contains other bits and pieces: the cover for the ladder, the recessed land where the spotters used to have their equipment that looked for enemy aircraft – the “Spotting Point”. A prefabricated hut that was also used by the ROC as they upgraded from laying on the sod. A camera, an aerial mast assembly, a hand cranked siren, similar to an air raid warning siren. A fence; a track that leads from the public land through a lockable gate and a beautiful view across the Cotswold and Vale of Evesham.
Inside: the vertical ladder with minimal room, the toilet at the bottom of the ladder, the entrance to the main room. The ephemera of solitude and boredom – board (bored) games, darts board (already I am thinking of the randomness of the potential of a nuclear strike, much as my darts expertise), a chart will all the localities of the other nuclear bunkers and their associated clusters. The bunkers were arranged into clusters of about 4 or 5 with a “Main” bunker to operationally supervise – all the “main” bunkers linked up to a central control point – I think this was Royal Air Force control – and then to Whitehall. The operational linkage was provided by the then GPO, though they say BT now – I am wondering now about how that linkage on a national scale could be undertaken as we have “hived-off” vast sections of the infrastructure to any investor capable of filling the national coffers with the right amount of money. Bunk beds, three men normally, though as this is kitted out as a “Main” it would be intended for up to 4 men, so I suspect they slept in shifts. A Doseometer(?) which measures the amount of personal radiation.

I do not want to subvert the efforts of these men. It might be said that they were prepared to sacrifice themselves for their country, and I believe that to be true. However I can’t drag myself away from the thought that it was part of the conspiracy of hypocrisy that stemmed from the War Office (or in their Orwellian styled newspeak name – The Ministry of Defence) that we were “doing all we could to protect our country from the Soviet threat”. The Americans needed an Eastern front and were quite happy for their national threat to be in Europe; Minute-men could fly over Europe if needed and post their special message to the Kremlin. The Soviets probably felt no real threat from the British, nor from any individual European nation west of the Urals, but it made bombastic imperialist posturing sense for the UK Government to make political play of being a Super Power – especially after the humiliations of both world wars, when the UK and it’s Empire was seen for what it was, a spent force. The MoD must surely have known that if the balloon went up, especially with the nuclear technology of the time i.e. very dirty and very big; that vast swathes of the UK would be uninhabitable for hundreds if not thousands of years. The Vale of Evesham would be, in all likelihood, a softly glowing green ember. I remember how radioactive the hill sheep of North Wales were after Chernobyl went into melt down, and how the UK Government at the time jumped onto the moral high ground to distance themselves from any fall-out that might have been engendered with their constituents.

So, back to the Assignment and a brief that makes sense to the notes in the course literature and, above all, that makes sense to me. I want see if the sense of futility comes across again, especially as I will have plenty of time to talk with the volunteers. I want to express the utilitarian nature of the objects that are situated in the bunker, the sense of space that exists in the 800 cubic feet or so of encumbered air. But I suspect that there wouldn’t be much call for that as a narrative. There is, as one might expect, a lot of stuff on the web regarding nuclear bunkers, from the anoraks who list them to the serious historian trying to place them in the latter half of the twentieth century, a lot of trivia as well as more rounded research. My brief will not be to subvert the efforts of the volunteers, but to record – as neutrally as I can, the space these people worked in, the trivial banality of the functional demands, but also to try and imbue a sense of the dread circumstance they were there to detect, record and alarm us about.
I will write a brief in the coming two days. I will be in the hole on Saturday morning.

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