Inside Gravesend’s Cold War bunker
17:12 12 July 2012
In a corner of Woodlands Park there is a set of inconspicuous steps leading down into a locked metal door.
Behind it lies one of the last remaining Cold War bunkers in the country – a 3000 sq ft underground concrete box that is a stark reminder of the years of fear and uncertainty about a nuclear war during the 1950s.
It was of course never used for its purpose but even if it had been its design shows how little people knew about the terrifying power of nuclear warfare. As a way to keep costs down the bunker was built without an air lock, which meant that every time someone would walk into the bunker they would have brought radioactive dust in with them.
The bunker was built in 1954 and was intended as a centre to organise civil defence across north Kent prior to and during a nuclear attack.
Police, army, firefighters, doctors, teachers and council workers would operate inside, receiving information from wardens outside about the damage and radiation levels.
A message room would be staffed by telephonists and a radio operator would write down messages which were then handed through to command staff in the control room that would send messages back to co-ordinate rescue missions.
In the event of telephone lines being cut, someone would be sent out into the radiation on a bicycle to collect information, committing them to an early grave.
The radioactive fallout from a nuclear attack could have lasted days, weeks, months or even centuries. Yet the bunker could have coped for no more than a few days. Toilets would start smelling like sewers, food and water supplies would run out and air from the outside world would bring the effects of radiation sickness – diarrhoea, vomiting and bleeding from the orifices – leading to an agonising death. For survivors, a nuclear blast would have blown society apart, with no one in charge and everyone fighting for their own lives.
James Elford, a guide at the bunker, was responsible for recreating a fifties feel true to the times.
He said: “The bunker is a piece of history of civil defence in the 20th century. What is amazing is that those systems of co-ordinating help are the same systems that are in place for civil emergency planning today.”
In 1968, as fear subsided and government funding ceased, the bunker was stripped and left empty for decades, becoming a buried time capsule. It was not until 30 years later that the twilight world of the Cold War was unearthed when Thames Defence Heritage came and re-equipped the rooms as they were in the 1950s.