Tuesday, 19 June 2018

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DAVE OLIVER, chairman of the South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group, gave a talk about local cold war bunkers at the January

DAVE OLIVER, chairman of the South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group, gave a talk about local cold war bunkers at the January meeting of the Henley Archaeological and Historical Society.

Air defence at the start of the Cold War was based on experience gained from the two world wars. A regional commissioner’s system was established between the wars and in 1926 what became the Royal Observer Corps was set up in case of government control breaking down during the General Strike.

By the mid-Thirties the Air Raid Precautions was formed to cover Civil Defence. During the Second World War, protected controls were used by the military to provide an active defence against attacking aircraft and the ARP to enable centralised and local control of rescue and firefighting resources. Much of the funding for the building of air raid shelters was controlled by the regional commissioners, much to the annoyance of local councils.

Civil Defence was stood down at the end of the war but reformed in 1948 (and stood down again in 1968) to counter the effect of possible attacks on the UK from a potential new enemy. In 1949 this included the threat of atomic warfare.

In the Fifties there was a programme of bunker building, mainly for the military, including 1,565 underground ROC posts designed to monitor where nuclear blasts had happened and monitor any radioactive fallout. The introduction of more powerful hydrogen bombs required a revision of plans and it was decided underground bunkers were needed to house regional seats of government.

Examples of bunkers included what is now part of Oxford Brookes University basement, a four-man underground ROC post at Streatley Hill and Shire Hall basement in Reading.

At Warren Row, there was a facility for making aircraft parts during the Second World War in a converted chalk mine. It later became the Science Museum store and is now used for document storage.

The Park Place underground factory in Wargrave Road was used to manufacture aircraft parts until many years after the war. It is now a document store.

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

Mr Oliver ended his talk with the sobering thought that significant nuclear arsenals still exist in at least eight countries, including India, Pakistan and Israel.

Chairwoman Valerie Alasia said: “The talk was fascinating, especially as many people had either been involved or could remember those times.”

The meeting was attended by Subterranea Britannica members as well as members of the society.

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