October 4, 2023


I decided to pay a visit to the Secret (well, not any more) Nuclear Bunker at Kelvedon Hatch, tucked neatly away in the Borough of Brentwood (unavoidably situated in Essex). Now a Cold War museum, Kelvedon Hatch was originally built in 1952–53 to provide command and control of the London Sector of Fighter Command air defense station in the event of a nuclear conflict. It was built to sustain 600 occupants for up to three months.

The Home Office maintained the bunker until its decommissioning in 1992 when nuclear threat appeared to have subsided – the current Russian president is too busy diving for lost treasure and wrestling bears. Though it is no longer in use, the bunker would be re-commissioned if Britain should ever offend a button-happy Communist regime, or poke its crude nose into the wrong Middle Eastern oil business.

The entrance to the bunker would have been impossible to find if not for a sign with ‘SECRET BUNKER’ painted in large friendly letters below a directional arrow. A windy path led to a quaint little bungalow huddled in the corner of a steep hill. The perimeter was surrounded by uniform rows of tall trees and a reassuring sign was attached to the wall at the bottom of some steps to inform visitors that they were where they intended to be – unless they intended to be lost.

I entered the bungalow and collected one of the audio commentary devices and headed down a few steps that led to a 100 yard tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was a guard room – strategically placed to shoot unwanted visitors and life insurance salesmen. Two blast doors, each weighing one tonne each, marked the entrance to the bunker.

I didn’t realise until the commentary piped in that I was now 120 feet underground, encased in a fortress of solid steel that rested at the bottom of a huge crater surrounded by three foot thick walls of concrete; surrounded by more concrete and smothered by a mound of earth for good measure. I wondered if they ever find spiders in the bath.

As I worked my way through the bunker the stiff-upper-lip commentary matter-of-factually relayed cold facts and sobering glimpses of future military rule, where, in the event of nuclear fall-out, the elderly and disabled would be rounded up and exterminated to save valuable resources – and, startlingly, we would have to rely on Local Authorities to know what they are doing. The laws we all know, break, or abide by would be null and void; the only decisive punishment, no matter how petty or severe, will be a bullet through the head. I wondered where diabetics would fit in all of this.

In selected rooms, chilling documentaries showed footage of bomb explosions; intimidating images of automobile steel getting scorched in the blink of an eye and then blown away like a cigarette paper in the path of a jet engine. Palm trees disintegrated and shorelines dissolved as a nuclear blast stormed the beach of a tropical test site. Every now and again William Shatner offered insights into what was being shown (no, he didn’t leap out of a cupboard). If that documentary didn’t tempt anybody to sign up to the CND, I don’t know what would. I started wondering if Trident wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

There was no modern technology in any of the operations rooms. If it wasn’t for the audio commentary I wouldn’t have known what the equipment was for. I think its un-impressiveness reflects on how far technology has come in the last decade. Most disturbing of all were manikins wearing Margaret Thatcher masks.

I found one documentary about preparing for a nuclear attack to be quite… ambitious. It reminded me of The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy when Ford Prefect tells the barman of the Red Lion pub that the world is about to end (lucky escape for Arsenal if it did). The barman says, ”I always thought we were supposed to do something, like lie down and put a paper bag over our heads”.

This documentary projected pretty much the same misguided optimism. It sounded good in theory, but a 100 megaton bomb isn’t going to care if you’ve correctly angled your doors at 45 degrees against the wall of a secure room, furthest away from any windows, and barricaded yourself in with furniture, celebrity autobiographies, and a few dusty old suitcases (imagine this is your house). And, yes, the documentary did suggest that if you are outdoors, lie down! I wondered if living in a house with an open-plan living room was such a good idea after all.

Not to matter. The startling likelihood is that most of us are going to die anyway. If we survive getting blinded by the flash, chargrilled by the intense heat and our flesh getting torn off by a 200 mph gust of radioactive wind, there are always the subzero fall-out temperatures and radiation sickness induced death to contend with. The cruel twist is that the longer you evade the Grim Reaper, the better chance there is of your death being a prolonged and agonizing one – but at least you’ll get to finish reading Luna Park before you go.

If you are jammy enough to survive the first fourteen days, you are going to need to rely on the signal from your trusted battery operated transistor radio to tell you when it’s safe to crawl out from under the desk and into the new age. I wondered if the digital switch-over was such a good idea after all.

This documentary also assumed that Britain will already have engaged in a few weeks of ground combat, before stopping to take tea and challenging the opponent to a three minute round of beat the buzzer. In an era where suicidal religious extremists get kicks out of exploding in public, I hold little hope for us should the shit hit the fan. A few drops of the right feuding chemicals and Trident would find its self on Job Seekers Allowance.

It’s terrifying to imagine there are weapons capable of reducing the entire city of London (and Essex, with luck, anyway) to rubble and dust. Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, “If the next war is fought with nuclear weapons, the next will be fought with bows and arrows.” I fear it is inevitable. Rest assured, friends of the earth; rest assured with the thought that a select herd of Etonian millionaires with pantomime tendencies and a Bullingdon brawler’s mentality will be the chosen ones left behind to string the bows.

They can’t do any more damage than they have already, can they?