Britains bonkers nuclear survival manual from Cold War unearthed

Britains bonkers nuclear survival manual from Cold War unearthed

Nuclear war: UK government advise to stay INDOORS in 70’s

During the Cold War, the threat of a nuclear attack petrified many, a fear that has been reignited since Vladimir Putin launched his “special military operation” in Ukraine last year. The term “nuclear anxiety” or “nucleomituphobia” was coined in the Sixties in response to the likes of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the horrors seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, demonstrating the catastrophic impact nuclear bombs could have. This fear inspired intrigue in historian Julie McDowall who has penned a new book, shedding light on the British Government’s bizarre — and “pointless” — plans if an attack were to happen during the Cold War.

In her new book, Attack Warning Red! How Britain Prepared for Nuclear War, Ms McDowall has delved into the Home Office and Local Authorities archives, discovering the “futile” plans the Government had in place if a nuclear attack were to happen, spanning a period of around 40 years from 1945, which would have seen the leadership of people from Winston Churchill to Edward Heath, Harold Wilson to James Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher.

Bizarrely, the NHS planned to resort to foraging for natural herbal remedies once all the drugs ran out after a nuclear bomb was dropped, Ms McDowall found.

According to papers seen in the Old East Anglia health authority archives, they planned to scour hedgerows and gardens in Norfolk to find plants and herbs that could be used for medicinal purposes.

The author and host of the Atomic Hobo podcast told the Today programme: “It’s just horrifying that after the most horrific medical emergency when people would be facing burns, missing limbs, abdominal injuries and the liquifying of the eyeball that the NHS would be trying to meet that horror with plants.”

After the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima — the world’s first nuclear attack — there were reports that victims’ eyes melted and skin peeled off like a glove in the wake of the blaze.

She said the plans demonstrated the “absolute desperation” the UK would have been in if a nuclear attack had happened.

If nuclear war had erupted, the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 would have come off the air and been replaced with the “spartan wartime channel”.

Although the same had happened during World War 2 with the BBC Home Service, far fewer people owned a television than during the Cold War, meaning the blank screen would be a “constant reminder” that normal life had come to an end.

The only available broadcasts, her research found, would have been announcements and instructions on how to survive, with the channel devoid of light relief and archive entertainment.

The initial warning would state: “Here is an emergency announcement. An air attack is approaching this country. Go to a shelter or take cover immediately.”

The message would be sent to some 250 police stations across the country would be alerted with bank phones that resembled children’s toys, issuing “a four-minute warning, brought to you by Fisher-Price”.

In the Derbyshire village of Monyash, the plan was far more low-tech. A publican told the BBC in 1980 that he planned to cycle through the street yelling “the Russians are coming” had he received the deadly signal.

Ms McDowall said that her fascination with nuclear war began as a child — but from a place of fear.

At just three years old, she remembers her father watching the 1984 film Threads, the British nuclear war drama based in Sheffield, Yorkshire, which terrified audiences. The date of its release, some 40 years ago, was dubbed “the night the country couldn’t sleep”.

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She continued: “I was entranced by what I was seeing on the screen, so by the age of three, I had been possessed and haunted by the dread of a nuclear attack, this feeling that a bomb could drop at any moment and there’s nothing that anyone could do to protect you.”

Her research has revealed that although plans were put in place, they were completely “futile”.

She explained: “There is no defence against it. The only defence of course is not to have a nuclear war… We see the Government and the authorities doing their best to deal with the impossible.

“But they must have known when they were making these plans that it was futile, that it’s pointless, that it’s absurd but they were obliged to do it anyway and hope that we would go along with it all.”

Ms McDowall’s book Attack Warning Red! is published by Bodley Head.

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