How Scotland prepared for a nuclear attack

There were around 200 Cold War monitoring posts in Scotland between the mid-1960s and mid-1990s. PIC: Andy Fairgrieve.
There were around 200 Cold War monitoring posts in Scotland between the mid-1960s and mid-1990s. PIC: Andy Fairgrieve.
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George Anthony sold furniture in Moray by day, but by night he was at the forefront of Cold War monitoring in Scotland and charged with sounding the siren if a nuclear bomb was dropped on the world.

Mr Anthony, 59, was a group officer with the UK Warning and Monitoring Organisation which was set up to track radioactive bursts in the atmosphere and raise the alarm in the event of a nuclear attack.

The entrance to the monitoring post at Cabrach in Moray. PIC: Andy Fairgrieve.

The entrance to the monitoring post at Cabrach in Moray. PIC: Andy Fairgrieve.

Around 200 underground monitoring posts were set up across Scotland - around a quarter of the UK total - from the mid 1950s as part of the response to the Cold War threat.

They were part of the “four-minute warning” system that sent the alert of an imminent strike.

READ MORE: Remembering the lost Cold War spy base of Edzell

Mr Anthony was latterly in charge of a cluster of four posts across Moray, including Cabrach - Post 32- which was set up in 1960 and so prone to freezing over that volunteers used cigarette lighters to melt ice from the entrance hatch.

Duffel coats were worn in the underground chambers which were not heated in order to save oxygen. PIC: Andy Fairgrieve.

Duffel coats were worn in the underground chambers which were not heated in order to save oxygen. PIC: Andy Fairgrieve.

For 17 years, Mr Anthony took readings of the atmosphere and underwent 24 hour exercises to rehearse the response should a nuclear bomb be launched.

Mr Anthony said: “To be honest, since the Cold War began we were assuming Britain was going to be attacked. People forget that.

“We thought attack was imminent. We took it for granted that it was going to happen and you had to be prepared for it. That is why we were there.”

READ MORE: Bright future ahead for Cold War base in Hebrides

Volunteers were primed to stay at the stations for two to three weeks in the event of a nuclear attack. PIC: Andy Fairgrieve.

Volunteers were primed to stay at the stations for two to three weeks in the event of a nuclear attack. PIC: Andy Fairgrieve.

The monitoring posts, which were funded by the Home Office, were sunk below ground and accessed by a shaft that went around 10ft to 15ft deep.

The rooms, which measured around 9ft by 15ft, fitted three personnel - all who were volunteers.

Routine tests took place at the monitoring posts every 10 minutes over two hours stints, with information sent to The Royal Observer Corps 29 Group HQ at Aberdeen to establish locations of nuclear bomb drops.

Mr Anthony said: “The posts were about as safe as you could get. There was no heating, though, as basically it would use up more oxygen. We used to wear duffel coats when down there and we’d bring our own flasks.”

Notes found in one of Scotland's monitoring stations. PIC: Andy Fairgrieve.

Notes found in one of Scotland's monitoring stations. PIC: Andy Fairgrieve.

Food was military rations with dishes such as oatmeal block, luncheon meat, stewed steak and tinned fruit with the posts also fitted with bunk beds and toilets.

“They weren’t a total secret, but the posts were a very well kept secret,” Mr Anthony said.

A series of broadcasts were produced by the UKWMO that would be televised across all networks if attack was anticipated to familiarise the public with the sound of the sirens.

If the attack was happening now, three loud bangs would be heard with small rockets let off, Mr Anthony added.

The broadcasts also gave advice on reinforcing houses with bricks and slabs or turf to protect properties from heat, light and radioactive fallout.

People were urged to move into rooms away from exterior walls and roofs. Those living in blocks of flats were advised to move in with their neighbours on the middle floors.

The only time the UKWMO was on high alert - or “transition to war” period - was during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

The monitoring posts were closed down in between 1991 and 1992 following the fall of the Soviet Union

Andy Fairgrieve, also from Moray, a Cold War enthusiast who has visited dozens of monitoring stations across Scotland, said the subterranean structures were in various states of decay and popular draws for those documenting abandoned buildings.

He said: “I think the monitoring posts were a bit of a propaganda tool. It was the government saying ‘we have got a system of protection in place’ but I don’t think it was about protecting the people, it was more about protecting the system of government.

“We weren’t like other countries who were building shelters for the population. We were just told to paint our windows white.

“I think during the 1950s, the World War Two bombing raids were fresh in people’s minds. Then, if a bomb dropped, your house could possibly escape unscathed.

“People didn’t really realise the consequences of the atomic bomb. They didn’t understand them. People still thought the government would protect them.”

He said broadcasts such as 1980s docudrama Threads, which charted the impact of nuclear war on Britain, was a wakeup call.

“I think it was then that people realised how terrifying the threat was,” Mr Fairgrieve added.

The Cabrach monitoring post will be opened to the public for the first time by the Cabrach Heritage Trust on Saturday August 18, with hopes to make it a permanent attraction.

It can be found at Inverharroch Farm, Lower Cabrach, Moray.