I spent a day last week trawling through the County Archives for research into a project I’m slowly working on called ‘Man Made Sun’. In it I look into why, in the 1980’s, Gloucestershire was the top-ranking rural county likely to be targeted by nuclear weapons in a Soviet attack. I qualify that observation in the parent work, but for now I wanted to share with you some of the terrible and terribly banal plans our County Council had in line for us during any such attack.

Aside from unearthing the 1984 War Book (that’s the Local Authority plan for dealing with a nuclear attack), which in itself is an eerie experience – handling two folders used by staff to cope with the detailed bureaucracy of Armageddon – I found what I presume is the Chief Executive’s response to the Grass Seeds exercise conducted in 1966 (with the response dating from around the start of the following year). While that original Civil Defence document details a predicted nuclear attack on Britain and its impact on our County – horrific enough both in detail and bewilderingly naïve optimism – it is the council response to the problems uncovered by that exercise which makes for the most chilling reading.

Bearing in mind the context being discussed is the post-nuclear attack stage and breaking the law could mean searching for loved ones after curfew, trying to get home or get  away through a restricted road, searching for food or demanding medical or food assistance – here I quote verbatim.

…it will be essential to have Army and Police patrols…it will be essential to have a curfew in operation and one of the Assistant Town Clerks would be appointed personally responsible for reading the Riot Act…this officer would also take prosecutions for offences in the local Magistrates’ Court, which it is imagined would be boosted by the addition of legally qualified members to the Bench and with much wider powers. Justice would be very rough and ready.

The use of the Prison (Gloucester) would be impracticable and involve the use of scarce manpower for supervision and what is wanted is a barbed wire compound into which offenders will be placed. This could be by the side of the river, which would provide sanitation. The Police and Army guarding the compound would have to be armed. There would be no time or manpower available to look after the prisoners who would be left to fight it out between themselves in the compound…

It will be necessary to take drastic action and after curfew, presumably, the Army will be shooting on sight. One would expect the Information Officer to try and boost morale and one could consider putting up notices warning the public of what will happen if they do commit offences, although this tactically might be a bad move.

Of course, none of this is anything new to anyone who’s watched either ‘The War Game’ or ‘Threads’, but to see these things written down in local government documents for our own county is quite literally an astounding reminder of the fragility of life under the Bomb.