Long-time reader, second-time commenter Ian Evans was in the Royal Observer Corps in York at the end of the 1950s. Here he describes how the ROC, in addition to retaining something like its planespotting functions during the Second World War, took on the job of measuring the Third:
When I joined the ROC (1958) it was still pretty much an RAF auxiliary, officers with handlebar moustaches and all. We spotted, reported and plotted aircraft in a very similar manner to our WW2 predecessors, though things had been simplified and speeded up, with special procedures for fast low flying aircraft (Rats). The nuclear reporting role was just being introduced, the observer posts were given “bunkers”, a small underground room with bunks and stores, airlock and reinforced tunnel to the surface, a nuclear burst recorder (a souped-up pinhole camera), a pressure recorder to measure the blast strength, a Geiger counter to measure the fallout, and individual dosimeters (we were rather cynical about these).
The operating theory was that there would be sufficient political warning for the observers to man their posts, they would wait for the noise to stop, surface, extract the recording paper from their recorders, read off the bearing and altitude of the burst and the peak overpressure. This would then be phoned in to Group HQ where we would plot the (hopefully several) bearings, and get the position of the detonation. Then, using the reported overpressures, plus sets of tables and nomograms we woud evaluate the bomb power and report back to…..anyone still alive. After that the posts would report radiation levels at regular intervals until…
Which is quite a terrifying job description (luckily they didn't have to do risk assessments in those days!)
But, of course, there was plenty of terror to go around. Long-time reader and commenter CK pointed out a 1982 BBC documentary called "Nuclear War: A Guide to Armageddon" (written and produced by Mick Jackson, director of Threads) about the effects of a nuclear war and how civilians should prepare for it.
(Parts two and three: `Are you prepared to use force to keep others out' of your shelter?) One of the sources cited at the start is Samuel Glasstone and Philip J. Dolan's classic The Effects of Nuclear Weapons (Department of Defense and Energy Research and Development Administration, 1977), which is now available online.
Aside from the general Cold War theme, the link with the rest of this post is the voice at the start of the video which says, '... the air attack warning sounds like. This is the sound', followed by a siren. The voice belongs to actor Patrick Allen, who had previously said similar things as the narrator of the British government's series of civil defence films, Protect and Survive, successors of the ARP pamphlets of the 1930s. Inevitably, the films are also all available on YouTube.
Thank you to CK and especially Ian for their comments.
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- I didn't realise that the title comes from the opening narration in Australia's own great contribution to the end of the world, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior: 'For reasons long forgotten, two mighty warrior tribes went to war and touched off a blaze which engulfed them all.'