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York Cold War Bunker: Meet the volunteers

Posted:
19 May 2016
Posted By:
Jenni Black
Categories:
Behind the Scenes, History Uncovered

The York Cold War Bunker is one of over 1,500 bunkers and monitoring posts across the UK that were manned by the voluntary Royal Observer Corps. In the event of a nuclear attack the bunker could house 60 volunteers for 30 days, who would have to leave their families and head underground to monitor the size, location and fallout from nuclear bombs.

Jim Millington in the operations room.

Jim Millington in the operations room.

Most of the UK’s bunkers were sold off or demolished after the end of the Cold War, and York Cold War Bunker is the only example which has survived without alterations. The bunker opened to the public in 2006, still containing original machinery, furniture and paperwork, much of which was donated by the volunteers who worked there.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the bunker being open to the public, we have invited back the volunteers who manned the bunker from the 1960s-90s, to share their memories, photographs and stories from inside a nuclear bunker.

450 people on parade

Jim Millington said: “One of the most defining moments I have was the final day we had here. We had a stand down parade at the Royal Air Force station at Linton-On-Ouse, and we had 450 people on parade that day. It was quite a day.”

Jim Millington with his old uniforms.

Jim Millington with his old uniforms in the bunker.

Going into labour in the bunker

Eileen Whitelock, who went in to labour while volunteering at the bunker, said
“We used to have a coach which brought us across from Leeds to York every Monday night. I suspected that I could have been in labour, but I didn’t really know until we were sitting having a lecture from one of the higher up officers. I said to my friend “can you time these pains?” and she said “every 4 minutes”. I said “uh-oh, I think this baby is on its way”, and we had to get on the coach back to Leeds and then to the hospital!”

Eileen Whitelock

Eileen Whitelock

Conditions inside the bunker

The bunker is equipped with ventilation systems, dormitories, a canteen, radio and telecommunications equipment plus the operations room where nuclear fallout could be plotted using maps and monitoring equipment.

Conditions would have been cramped – the two dormitories only have 20 beds so the 60 volunteers would have to take turns: ‘hot-bedding’! This also meant that if there had been a nuclear attack the volunteers would have had to leave their families outside to come to the bunker and do their duty.

The bunker was no ‘safe haven’. It was designed to have enough food, water and power to support its staff for 30 days. This reflects the fact that the Royal Observer Corps were expected to monitor the worst of the radioactive fallout and then leave. It would have still been dangerous outside, but the volunteers were only being protected in order to do their jobs.

Today York Cold War Bunker is open to the public, with guided tours and real uniforms, objects and papers from when the bunker was in operation.

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  • About the Author

    Jenni Black
    Jenni is a Digital Content Editor for English Heritage

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