5:50pm Wednesday 24th October 2012
IAN GRIFFITHS writes to me...
THE Cold War was a sustained state of political and military tension between the United States, its allies and Soviet Russia which lasted from 1947 to 1991.
It was called the Cold War because it never featured direct military action, since both sides possessed nuclear weapons, and their use would probably guarantee their mutual assured destruction. Cycles of relative calm would be followed by high tension which could have led to war. One of the most well known was Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when an American U-2 spy plane discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.
What followed was 13 day stand off between the world’s two largest super powers. President John F Kennedy and his counterpart Khrushchev confronted each other and after a week of secret deliberations Kennedy announced the find to the world and imposed a naval blockade on Cuba. The crisis was resolved at the last minute on October 28 when Khrushchev accepted the U.S. offer.
During this time a British civilian organisation called the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation (UKWMO) utilising Royal Observer Corps (ROC) premises and its uniformed volunteers was on high alert. In Britain the public would have had a mere four minute warning of the approach of nuclear missiles and it was the job of the Royal Observer Corps to warn the UK Military and civilian authorities of the impending attack, report the explosions and plot the path of the deadly nuclear fallout.
Two ROC sites were established in St Helens, at Eccleston Hill in 1965 and Billinge Hill in 1960. Both sites were mainly underground sites and formed a network of 1563 sites, each about 7-8 miles apart across the UK.
The posts where grouped in clusters of 3-4 with a main master post in each cluster. The master post had a VHF radio as well as the land-line based loud speaker telephone which ensured that communication was possible from all posts to the group HQ’s. To give protection from the fall-out of a nuclear attack these monitoring rooms were constructed 15ft underground, usually at the location of a pre-existing World War 2 post. The underground room measured 15ft by 7ft and was manned by 2-3 staff. The vast majority of the staff was unpaid volunteers with only senior staff and scientific officers at group HQ’s being salaried staff.
In 1968 the Corps was re-organised and about half the posts were closed. In Sept 1991 the remaining 872 posts were stood down and were abandoned. All items were removed and the posts securely locked and alarmed.
The site at Eccleston Hill was on land which is now the Carmel College playing fields near to the ‘red rocks’ and closed in 1991. The Billinge site is located close to the Beacon and closed in 1968 however some of the the surface structures are still visible today.
If anyone has any photographs or memories of working at these sites please can you contact Ian Griffiths via the St Helens Star Coffey Time column?
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