In the time honoured tradition of the British Worker during a warm summer, one half of TheTimeChamber took the opportunity to bunk off work early and catch the train to London. Apart from a typical delay at East Croydon caused by the wrong type of sunshine on the tracks, the journey was standard Notwork Fail affair. Our destination? The Mount Pleasant Sorting Office. Not because we had a parcel to collect, but because we were coming to walk the rails of the Mail Rail as part of an organised Subbrit tour. For years, the exploring and underground communities have known of the existence of the Mail Rail, but up until a few years ago, it was under tight lock and key and only a handful of people outside of The Royal Mail managed a visit. In 2013, the British Postal Museum & Archive announced that it intended opening part of the network to the public as a Museum, eventually opening in 2017. Known for being proactive, we immediately decided to take a tour and finally got our act together some two years later and found ourselves descending underground.
The Rail mail, also known as the Post Office Railway, is a narrow gauge, driverless, subterranean postal delivery system that opened in 1927 to enable speedy delivery of mail across London between sorting offices, as congestion on the roads was making delivery times unacceptably slow. The Mail Rail operated from 1927 to 2003, and ran for six and a half miles from Paddington sorting office in the West of London, to Whitechapel sorting office in the East. A total of eight stations were constructed that connected to sorting offices above ground, with Mount Pleasant being the largest as it included the engineering and maintenance departments required for the line. Who would not want to see this? We would highly recommend it.
Pyestock. A name that still echoes with many explorers. It was over ten years ago that we first visited and during our penultimate visit where we sat atop the Bramshott cooling towers at night looking towards the then still-in-use Noise Test facility, did we wonder whether we would ever be able to see inside it. This was probably our fourth or our fifth visit to the site and our next one turned out to be our final one after we were caught, detained, and photographed before being threatened with aggravated trespass if we returned. Thereafter we gave the site a wide berth and moved onto other things.
A few years later when the site was in the middle of demolition did we decide to have one last look; we were partly successful before we were spotted by a digger driver and then chased off by someone in a Land Rover (no, it wasn’t the tenacious ex-Gurka security guard in the blue Land Rover that had us laying in a ditch for 2 hours before he gave up). We thought this was the end of Pyestock as demolition finished and a planning application for a new housing estate was submitted to the local authority. Since then, the site barely crossed our minds, other than occasionally popping up when we donned rose tinted glasses after a few beers have been consumed.
However, that was until we received a nudge from a fellow explorer that the Anechoic Chamber was now finally decommissioned and was scheduled for demolition. We couldn’t resist and final look and we wandered over one evening in order to sit on the roof at sunset like we did on the cooling towers all those years ago.
It felt like the old days. That long, impenetrable MoD spec fence. Dog Walkers. Time spent looking for a way in. The sight of ‘that blue pipework’ through the woods. Beeping PIRs. Security racing past whilst we buried ourselves into a nook. Senses heightened. Unlocked doors. Silence. – and then that feeling that only explorers really understand. It cannot be experienced from looking at any amount of pictures on Instagram, Facebook or Flickr.
Taking a punt. Getting in. Result.
We interrupt this tale for a short site history: Pyestock was built as a world class gas turbine test facility by the British Government that opened after World War 2 (the site was planned in 1941) and eventually closed in 2002 after privatisation. It subsequently became an urban exploring mecca a few years later once the world wide web had exposed exploring to the wider world. The Anechoic chamber was built in 1974, and finally closed in 2016, some 14 years after the rest of the site. At the time of building it was the largest Anechoic Chamber in the world and is the best part of 100ft wide, 85ft high and 85ft long. That’s 10,000 cubic metres of engine noise test space. All of the internal walls are covered with noise absorbing triangular wedges, 7000 on total that are constructed from glass fibre and covered in canvas type material. The walls are 14inch thick reinforced concrete and all surfaces under the wedges are covered in either 4 or 8 inches of rock wool sound deadening material. This made for a very quiet place. There is a great deal of extra info here if you’re interested.
During our visit, we managed to see the main chamber, the basement of the control room and the views from the roof top before we ran out of both time and nerves to see anymore (god damn security parked outside on a quad bike). Unlike the old Pyestock site, everything has been sanitised and cleared out completely, so there was little rummaging and reading to be had.
An excellent, final piece to the Pyestock enigma, undoubtedly one of our favourite explore sites ever and the one site we didn’t think I would see again.
The still in use Anechoic Chamber, photographed from the now-demolished Bramshott Cooling towers, summer 2007, way back when it seemed out of reach all those years ago.
Recently, on the Cuckfield ROC Post page we posted photos of our Wartime Post Telephone after it had received a light restoration.During this restoration, and the restoration of a friends Post Telephone (Al at Portadown Post) it was noticed that various marks and stamps were present on the wood and that 2 of the phones were numbered slightly differently. This peaked our curiosity, as we had just ‘assumed’ that a post phone was a post phone. There are clearly variations so we set about trying to work out what was going on….Now it is worth mentioning that We aren’t looking at these in strict chronological order, but rather with the most commonly recognised ones that are confirmed as Observer Corps issue first then, a couple of anomalies that we can’t quite work out….
First we will talk about the post telephone that we are going to refer to as the ‘early phone’ – model number AD163. We have seen several of these telephones now over the years and noticed that there are AD163, AD163B and AD163C variants – however the wiring diagrams were all the same so we didn’t know what the model number variation meant. We also noticed that there were marks stamped on them – we have seen FH38, FH39, FH40 and FB40 but had no idea what this meant.
This model of phone has photographic evidence of use before the war – there is a photo of ‘Welwyn Garden City’ Post in which the Observers can be seen using the Heath Robinson (pre-Pullin) Pantograph Post Instrument and wearing civilian clothes with no insignia or armbands – this dates the photo to pre-war, or very early war, so proves that this model of phone was in use at that time.
What does the B and C mean then? And what about the FH? Well some great research by Al at Portadown ROC Post Museum has cracked it!
It turns out that B and C (and any subsequent letters) refer to production runs. So AD163 was the first production run, AD163B was the second production run, AD163C the third production run etc. And the FH and FB markings refer to the location the Phone was made – in these cases FH is ‘GPO Factory, Holloway’ (GPO factory Holloway was in London) and FB is ‘GPO Factory, Birmingham’. The number that comes after is the year of manufacture.
So FH40 would mean this particular phone was made in the GPO Factory, Holloway in 1940. The Phonetic alphabet inside the phone corroborates this aswell, as it is of a specific type that was in use by the British during 1940 (again great fact finding by Al!)
ADD Welwyn garden city photo
Now, we are going to look at the ‘later’ post telephone – model AD1542 – which we will refer to from now on as the ‘wartime economy phone’.
Wartime economy was a tactic of government during WW2 to simplify factory production to improve speed of output, and to save material by using cheaper /inferior woods and metals etc. in order to save material that was in short supply for the war effort. The wartime economy phone has a slightly simplified circuitry compared to the AD163, but it is essentially the same internally, just powered by different batteries. The construction is vastly different though. For a start it is smaller, and is made of pine that has then been painted light blue. The wood is not nicely finished, and has a rough texture. There are no nice joints, rather it is crudely constructed using butt joints and nails. The metal hardware is also far simplified, there is no nicely finished metal locking cover over the headphone jack point – just a simple metal disc screwed directly into the wood. The hinges and catch on the door are also crude (but effective). The internal mechanism is held in place by a screw rather than a machined sliding bolt and there is no stamped name plate, instead it is simply stencilled with the designations.
We have found one phone with a date on it of ‘FB43/1’ which signifies it was made in 1943, during production run 1 at the GPO factory in Birmingham. The phonetic alphabet label inside was also a clue as it was of the format that was in use after 1942, whereas the AD163 ‘early’ phones have phonetic alphabet labels that were of the format used from 1921-1942.
There is also photographic evidence of the AD1542 ‘wartime economy’ phone being used in the underground protected posts – so it is safe to assume it was used after the war, and probably up to the introduction of the AD3460 ‘teletalk’ that was designed specifically for the underground monitoring posts in the nuclear age.
See the photos for details of the AD1542 ‘wartime economy model’ post telephone.
Now we move onto a couple of anomalies, first is the AD599 ‘DC Signalling’ telephone – photos of which were sent to us by Frank at Skelmorlie ROC Post Museum. This phone is of the era, and indeed this one has a date inside of 1940. It also looks externally the same as the AD163, but, and this is a big but, it is VERY different inside. So different infact that we can’t be certain it was ever ROC issue. For a start ‘DC Signalling’ would only be used over a short distance and direct from one phone to another phone. For example, an artillery forward observer would use a ‘DC signalling’ phone to communicate with the soldiers at the artillery gun a short distance away – basically a ‘2’ phone system. AC signalling, however, was used to communicate over much longer distances between multiple phones in multiple locations via a telephone exchange. The AD163 ‘early’ phone, and the AD1542 ‘wartime economy phone’ are AC signalling and were used via an exchange. Mike of Abernyte Post Museum has done some great research on ‘DC Signalling’ and field telephone systems and has helped us a lot with unpicking this anomaly of a phone.
Unless there was a specific Observer Corps post use for a DC signalling phone, that we are yet to discover, we can’t definitively say that this was an OC phone. That fact, coupled with the fact it has a very different wiring diagram labelled ‘Observer Telephone’, doesn’t mention ‘Observer Posts’ specifically, and has no RAF reference number (10G/125) all point to it being used as by another organisation other than the ROC – possibly the Army Observers (searchlight positions, Anti-Aircraft gun batteries etc.). It is also interesting to note that this phone has a ‘drop flag indicator’ function to enable a visual indication of the phone ringing – the wiring diagram shows that this operated with the bell when the phone is rung. This type of ‘drop flag indicator’ was used when a phone was in a noisy environment where the bell couldn’t easily be heard by the operator, for example during when a gun battery was firing. Due to the ‘DC Signalling’ aspect and the ‘drop flag indicator’ – we can’t actually say that this phone was ROC issue but if anyone has any further information or theories we would love to hear it, whether it proves an ROC connection or not. It is certainly an interesting item either way, and a potential part of the puzzle!
Mike of Abernyte Post Museum has done some great research on ‘DC Signalling’ and field telephone systems and has helped us a lot with unpicking this anomaly of a phone.
So, we thought we had the Post Telephone variants wrapped up, until Al realised that a Post telephone he had in storage at Ulster Aviation Society was different again. This phone was the same size and design as the ‘early’ post telephone, and had the same wiring diagram inside (marked AD163). However, it has a number of features of the ‘wartime economy’ telephone – primarily it was made of painted pine, but nicely finger jointed rather than crudely nailed together, yet it had the economy door catches and hardware. We haven’t yet found any marks on this phone to date it but we have surmised that it is possibly an AD163 to AD1542 transition phone, as part of the ‘economising’ for the war effort.
It is possible it dates from after 1940 but pre-1943. We have decided to call it the ‘hybrid’ phone. Perhaps it was a prototype, or a trial telephone, perhaps it was a sample of how to economise, or perhaps it wasn’t ‘economised’ enough so the powers that be pushed the economising further in the shape of the AD1542? Or perhaps it was simply an unintentional variant! Unfortunately, this phone is lacking its internals and is fairly (ab)used on the outside so most of the marks are unreadable. The only mark we can find is ‘M’ 212 – but we have no idea what that means.
If you own a post telephone and have different markings to the ones we have discussed, please do send us details as it would be great to work out more about the manufacture, design and use of these niche telephones, that undoubtedly saw action in the Battle of Britain and beyond. Whether they were Corps issued or not!
Check out the Cuckfield, Portadown and Abernyte ROC Post pages here:
Fancy coming and seeing a fully restored Royal Observer Corps Monitoring Post? Well come down on one of our open days this year and learn about the vast difference between the WW2 and Cold War role of the ROC. See original equipment, uniforms and other items.
No need to book, but it can get busy waiting to get into the underground post so bring a picnic and browse the surface displays! the meadow field is lovely to sit in!
Saturday 16th June 11am – 4pm
Saturday 7th July 11am – 4pm
Sunday 8th July 10am – 2pm
Sunday 5th Aug 10am – 2pm
Subject to weather conditions, we reserve right to refuse entry. No toilets on site, amenities and parking in village nearby.
Fancy coming and seeing a fully restored Royal Observer Corps Monitoring Post? Well come down on one of our open days this year and learn about the vast difference between the WW2 and Cold War role of the ROC.
No need to book, but it can get busy waiting to get into the underground post so bring a picnic and browse the surface displays!
Bank Holiday Monday 29th May 11am to 5pm
Saturday 15th July 11am to 5pm (Festival of British Archaeology)
Sunday 16th July 10am to 2pm (Festival of British Archaeology)
Sunday 6th August 11am to 5pm
Subject to weather conditions, we reserve right to refuse entry.
Here on TheTimeChamber we consider any kind of exploring fair game and we are not just content with dodging security or poking about in old derelict mills and hospitals. We are also fascinated by social history, and the temporary changes to our landscape that are almost invisible to the naked eye decades later. For example, whilst at university we spent our spare time walking around the local town and its environs searching for traces of WW2 Home Guard fortifications and defence works that had been lost from view. This is a different type of exploring, it takes longer, and often the area has to be re-visited multiple times in different seasons of the year to understand and interpret the site. Something like this is often lingering in our minds and we try to re-visit when given the chance. Think of this as our ‘background projects’ – humming away like white noise, sometimes loudly, sometimes inaudible for months but always there, always pulling us back in.
One such site that drew us in on and off over a few years was a WW1 site, strangely enough in the UK – people often associate WW1 with France, or Belgium. However, it heavily influenced and affected the landscape at home, alongside the massive ordnance factories and training grounds that sprung up all over the place. This particular site had barely anything visible as the land had been heavily farmed since the war, but something about it just captured our imagination. Perhaps it was because we had just been researching our fathers family tree and discovered that a number of our great grand-parents and their generation were soldiers (one of them was even a ‘bomber’) on the Somme and in Ypres. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of a peaceful field in Surrey that had seen the horror of war. We don’t know why, but it grabbed us and didn’t let go. Our imagination was captured when visiting a number of times over a four year period, mainly in winter when the undergrowth had died back. Furthermore, when we weren’t physically there we were searching online catalogues and archives in history centres for information. We invested time plotting GPS trench lines, walking the woods and fields, and spotting relics just sitting on the surface. This is a short account of what we found.
First a bit of background on WW1 grenades, it is a common misconception that the main weapons of WW1 were rifles and bayonets – and indeed they were used in vast numbers – but they were predominantly used as to defend the ‘bombing parties’ who would be lobbing grenades into the enemy trenches. Towards the later years of the war, the bombing parties grew in number and the soldiers who threw the grenades became known as ‘bombers’. A typical ‘bombing party’ consisted of 9 men – an NCO, 2 x ‘bombers’, 2 x ‘carriers’, 2 x riflemen and 2 x ‘spare’ men. Each man would have had a rifle but this would not have been used once the objective was reached. The men would also have carried between 8 to 12 mills bombs each depending on their role, and various members of the party would carry spare rifle rounds and bombs, as well as phosphorus and rifle grenades. These bombing parties would often accompany the brutal trench raiding parties (knives, clubs and knuckle dusters were the weapons of choice for trench raiders) with the sole purpose of clearing dugouts of enemy soldiers.
WW1 Comedy ‘Bomber’ postcard. personal collectionDuring WW1 advances were made in grenade technology and the weapon moved from being primitive and unreliable pre-war, to an important and serious offensive weapon by the end of the war. Many different types were deployed but the most successful was the Mills Bomb series of grenades, of which over 75 million were manufactured between 1915 to 1918. There were a number of variants, with the ‘Grenade, Hand, No5’ being the first and was manufactured in 1915. Other variants at the time were the ‘Grenade, Rifle, No23’ – this was essentially the same but with a different base plug connected to a rod that enabled it to be launched from a Lee-Enfield rifle using a special over-charged blank round and supporting cradle on the end of the barrel. unfortunately, this caused massive wear on the barrel and some issues when live rounds were used by mistake.
The problems with the No23 grenade were solved by introducing the No36. A re-designed version that operated with a plate on the bottom with a gas discharge cup for rifle launching, or by detaching the plate for hand throwing. By 1918 the No5 and No23 were declared obsolete and the No36 was further upgraded to the No36M. This upgrade made the grenade waterproof (it is said the ‘M’ stands for ‘Mesopotamia’ as this was why the grenade was waterproofed – to enable use in the tropics). The No36M grenade continued to be manufactured essentially unchanged until the early 1980’s, and remained in service with countries like India and Pakistan until 2004, which arguably makes it the most successful grenade of all time.
These ‘bombing parties’ necessitated the development of new tactics and needed rigorous training in order to be an effective force on the battlefield. Alongside the numerous army training sites and practise trench networks being constructed throughout the UK, specialist bombing training schools were established to teach soldiers how to use the Mills bomb. To be able to do this effectively, the army ‘replicated’ both German and British trench networks. These were laid out as they were on the Western Front with fire trenches, travel trenches, reserve and communication trenches and all the associate structures such as dugout and fortified positions.
Not a lot is known about the Grenade School at Godstone other than it was established around 1915/16 as the ‘Eastern Command Bombing School with Major JS Egerton of the Coldstream Guards as the Commanding Officer. Through studying the landscape, and with some effort on our part, traces of the trenches and evidence of this former use can be found. We were lucky to be able to find in an archive a diary and notebook and associated paperwork kept by 2nd Lieutenant JMY Trotter of the 2nd Officer Cadet Battalion, who successfully passed the training at Godstone allowing him to become an instructor. His diary includes 129 very detailed pages and is a fascinating insight into life at the Bombing School. It includes sections on tactics, numerous countries grenade types and the teaching syllabus. It also has some fantastic information about the site, including a hand drawn map of the various areas which was absolutely key to helping us appreciate this site. On the last time we visited we placed a poppy on one of the field fence posts as of the men that passed through Godstone, many of them probably did not come back from the Western Front, and during our research we found that 2nd Lieutenant Geoffrey Peake Allen had died at Godstone during bombing training on 18th December 1915.
Captions on the photos details what they show. DO NOT be tempted to dig on military sites or handle unexploded ordnance. It is just not worth it.
Notebook of J. M. Y. Trotter relating to his training at Godstone Grenade School 1917
Britain at War ‘Reflections of War’ November 2008
Surrey History Centre Archival Material
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’ some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
A pair of fellow ROTOR bunker aficionados (big thanks Harry Fleming and Bob Jenner) have worked out how the ROTOR phase 1 underground R1-R4 ROTOR site codes came about, and it is surprisingly simple….
The consulting civil engineers for the ROTOR Phase 1 project were Mott, Hay and Anderson. Which give us our first codename – Barnton Quarry with MHA. Now taking that as the ‘cipher key’ the rest of the sequence becomes obvious after a bit of study, and is known as the AVO-ZUN code and is a rolling cipher as follows, with each code being one ‘step’ round the alphabet:
Seaton Snook R3
Cold Hesledon R1
Barnton Quarry R4
Truleigh Hill R2
Kelvedon hatch R4
NB: this code scheme only works for the original ROTOR 1 new build underground sites (R1 to R4), not reactivated WW2 sites, or the (R5 to R31) surface sites such as Hope Cove, Hack green or unhardened sites such as Chenies, as the AVO-ZUN code simply doesnt have enough cominations to accomodate all the sites built.
A lot of the later sites had 3 letter codes that simply seem to be derived from their name, for example Saxa Vord was codenamed ‘AXA’, Faraid Head was codenamed ‘RAI’, Charmy Down codenamed ‘CHA’, Gailies (Fullerton) was codenamed ‘FUL’, Hack Green was codenamed ‘HAK’ – these appear to be simply 3 letters from within the site names. Some of the sites built during Phase 1 such as Beachy Head, St Margaret’s, Fairlight, and Foreness retained a numerical code number initially (3, 4, 9 and 10 respectively) until they were assigned a 3 letter code as follows – St Margarets (HGC), Fairlight (GWB), Foreness (WJW), Beachy Head (HEB) which as of yet is undeciphered. Also a couple of interesting (lazy?) anomalies occur – for example Rudloe Manor SOC is ‘XOB’ – it was built in BOX mine, and Snaefell is MOI and is on the Isle of Man (I.O.M). Sounds like someone got bored of thinking up obscure codes!
It also appears that some of the reactivated WW2 sites had codenames made up from letters in their names with the first letter in the code coming from near the end of the site name, for example, BallyWooDen is DBW. A few others fit this format of the last letter at the front, such as DaNby Beacon BDN, DunKirK KDK but this is unconfirmed. There are more that don’t fit any format (discovered yet!). The full site codes are below should you wish to have a look and try and decipher it yourself. Many thanks to Bob Jenner of Subbrit for the ROTOR code name lists.
1951 Full ROTOR Site List, including reactivated WW2, Surface, underground, hardened and unhardened sites.
Update ROTOR code names
Re-activated Chain Home ROTOR Sites
If anyone can shed any more light, or tel us anything about the unknown code name CXQ then please get in touch! Contact Us
Another successful year at Cuckfield, we had 305 visitors spread over 3 open weekends during the months June, July and August. Our most busy weekend was the final one at the end of august. We were lucky enough to be visited by a number of former Observers, Brian from Horsham Post, Judy from Lewes Post, Bob from Bedford Group Control, John from Leyton-on-Sea Post Colchester Group and Adrian from South Holmpton Post (who also kindly donated us a secomak siren). We were honoured to have them visit and it was a real pleasure to meet them and hear stories from the men and women who actually served on these posts and group controls. We made sure all of them were aware of the ROCA and the ROCBF by giving them leaflets or telling them about it. We have also made a donation to the ROCBF and the local village Museum out of the voluntary donations that people have given us on the open days.
We had a minor disaster at the post after the spring with a leak in the shaft and a large bit of the GZI mount coming away necessitating some fairly large concrete repairs, which we have duly done, and after battling the water ingress and subsequent mould we are now water tight again and all is well.
We have also been lucky enough to find a few more items of equipment we were missing, an ROC issue Clarke pneumatic mast, a pair of post chairs, some uniform items and some books and paperwork. Thanks go to Al of Portadown ROC Museum in Northern Ireland for helping us source some of these items. We also had some help from Subbrit who produced and printed a small handout leaflet that we can use for publicity and for people to read on open days.
We don’t just do the open days in the summer months, we also have been lucky enough to be able to give advice or help on some other projects outside of the open ‘season’. Here are some other things we have been up to in 2016.
We assisted Kent County Council and the Woodland Trust with their restoration project at Blean ROC Post in Kent – it is now a bat hibernaculum, and the Post features on a ‘fortifications’ walk the Woodland Trust take people on. We took along some post equipment and gave a short talk.
We are currently helping the National Trust up at Headley Common with their quest to locate the demolished Post on their land and excavate it, again we have taken up equipment and given a short talk to the volunteers and NT rangers.
We were involved in the European Heritage Open Day event in Northern Ireland, we took over a lot of the early equipment in order to set up a World War 2 aircraft post display and explain how the Corps came into being
We have continued to help Lepe Country Park and the Stone Point ROC Post team with advice on how to run open days at their Post and have been able to help them with getting replicas of equipment made.
Had a photographer and reporter from The New York Times who were writing a piece about The Cold War in the UK for the NYT
All in all a busy but productive year, but the post is now stripped and empty for the winter and now we are looking forward to 2017!
From time to time we are very lucky on here on TheTimeChamber as occasionally, someone we know drops us a line wanting to know if we would like to come and see something interesting, and normally off-limits. This has happened before when the Station Manager at Charing Cross Station agreed to show us the old Jubilee Line Platforms before they retired; this time it was to take part on a dress rehearsal tour of the deep level shelter beneath Clapham South station on the Northern Line. A big thanks to the Hidden London team for allowing us to join them, especially Paul for inviting us down in the first place.
Clapham South is one of the eight deep level shelters constructed in London during World War II beneath existing underground stations. During the Blitz of 1940, a reappraisal of deep-shelter policy was undertaken and at the end of October the Government decided to construct a system of deep shelters linked to existing tube stations. Tube Stations at the time were already being used as makeshift shelters but this was seen as dangerous due to narrow platforms and live rails. The government decided that each shelter would comprise of two parallel tubes 16 foot 6 inches internal diameter, 1,600 feet long and divided into 2 horizontally that would be placed below existing station tunnels at Clapham South, Clapham Common, Clapham North, Stockwell, Oval, Goodge Street, Camden Town, Belsize Park, Chancery Lane and St. Pauls. London Transport funded the construction of the tunnels from public money and retained the option to turn the tunnels into a new express line running into London when the air raid shelter role was no longer needed.
Clapham South opened on the 21st of October 1942 and provided accommodation for up to 8000 people across two levels, it had taken less than two years to construct the tunnels by hand but the Blitz was over by the time they were completed. However the shelter provided invaluable cover when the V1 & V2 bombs started to drop onto London in the later parts of the War. The shelter was closed at the end of the War but almost immediately in 1946 found use as a hostel for soldiers on leave. The shelter had various uses (including as a ‘hotel’ for the Festival of Britain in 1951) until it formally closed in 1956, and is most famous for housing Caribbean Immigrants who arrived in the UK in 1948 aboard the MV Empire Windrush (a former Nazi troop ship captured by the British at the end of the war) – notably about 1/3rd of its passengers were men from the colonies returning to re-join the RAF and among those were men of the calibre of Corporal Sam King MBE, who would later become the first Black Mayor of Southwark. The shelter was then disused and on ‘care and maintenance’ until 1976 when the government leased them out to private tenants and Clapham South was taken on as a secure document storage facility until 1999 when the shelters were offered for sale after the data company did not renew its lease. TfL purchased the tunnels and in 2016 agreed to start running tours of the shelter through the London Transport Museum.
Our tour started at the surface, where we were led down to met the Hidden London tour team and taken on our way. Two guides showed us around and explained the reasoning behind the shelter, how it was constructed and the various uses that it had after the War. We also discovered just how much Hidden London want you to stay on the beaten track, oops!
All in all a very interesting morning trip out, for more information or to book onto the – now live – tours visit the Transport Museum website here
So, this airbase is a pretty big place and there are some cool relics. Including the control centre which has some very cryptic numbers and letters on various boards around the walls. We were curious as to what they were so set about decoding the designations to try find out what they had been upto.
Turns out one board is the names of the crews that flew the missions in Operation Desert Storm, from UH during its final days as an operation airbase. Read more about the Gulf War here.
Thats all interesting, but what ordnance did they actually have at Upper Heyford? We know they had nukes, but what else? This board gives some tantalising clues.
The latest Asylum to be sold for development is Severalls in Colchester. Plans are moving forward and as the water tower and the front eschelon of the main ward block are listed the character and distinctive design will hopefully remain a landmark on the Colchester landscape for a long time to come.
So, its more or less then end of the summer and the end of another great year of open days at Cuckfield Royal Observer Corps bunker. This has been our best year so far. We had over 250 visitors spread over 3 open weekends. The furthest visitor was from Spain, and the oldest visitor was 89 (she went up and down the ladder unaided and was genuinely a joy to meet). Most visitors were individuals and families but other visitors this year included the Mens group from St Wilfreds Church, who visited us twice, and the Lads from Haywards Heath Fire Station who came down for a morning visit. We also raised a small amount of money, more of that later!
Thanks and shout-outs
Opening the bunker for visits is hard work and takes much behind the scenes effort and we wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of a number of people or organisations, you have our thanks and gratitude. If we have missed anyone off this list, we are sorry, please let us know. (The list is in no particular order)
Dick, the groundsman for the Church who mows our grass and acts as security and has helped with some tools/maintenance over the past few years. Cheers
John of Penshurst ROC Post who has lent us some rare equipment for our open days. It really proved to be the icing on the cake. Thanks a lot.
Richard for his fabrication skills and advising how to repair the hatch, and drawing up plans
The farmer who keeps his sheep in the field!
All our visitors who came and appreciated the post
and last but by no means least, our partners who have to put up with endless amounts of bunker stuff in the garage/shed/loft/bedroom and do so without (much) comment. Thanks, Chloe and Claudine, for your support 🙂
Looking towards next year
Now the thanks are out of the way, what are plans for the bunker for next year apart from open days? Well we raised through donations a small amount of money which has enabled us to do and plan the following:
make a monetary donation to the Cuckfield Village Museum in Queens Hall as thanks for their support during 2013
donate some items from our collection that are too fragile to display in the bunker, again to Cuckfield Village Museum
to re-wire the lighting in the post to run off of 2 x 12v batteries, and to purchase secondhand UPS batteries and new low power LED lighting to save everyone bringing torches/us using 5484889 AA batteries each year! This will also make it easier for people to see.
to repair the hatch and manufacture a locking bar from sheet steel and buy some new padlocks
to help us maintain the surface structures and paintwork as they will need repair/repainting in 2014
to print out and laminate a load of archive photos and other photos for some new surface display/interpretation boards for next year, as not everyone can go down the ladder. The first display board is finished already though!
thanks also to the Wealden Cave and Mine Society members who visited on the last day who helped strip the bunker for the closed season. Lots of carrying of stuff, thanks gents!
We also hope to show some school groups around next year for educational purposes, and as always we can open at special request (by prior arrangement only) for interested groups/societies.
Also we saw something cool on a restored post in Scotland (https://www.facebook.com/28Group36post) which we may do next year rather than our unprofessional looking handwritten and laminated access sign held down with a brick that keeps going missing.
Overnight on the 29th December 1940 London was subjected to the worst raid of the Blitz. Over 100,000 incendiary bombs and 24,000 high explosive bombs rained down on the City of London causing horrendous damage and the loss of life for 160 civilians, 14 auxiliary firemen and injuring 250 people. The area heavily damaged stretched from Islington to the very edge of St Paul’s Cathedral. The firestorm that followed was known as the Second Great Fire of London and destroyed 19 Churches, 31 Guildhalls, and all of Paternoster Row (this was the centre of the publishing area of London).
All that is very interesting, but why are we blogging about it? Well, to commemorate this event TheTimeChamber traveled up to London to go on a guided ‘Blitzwalk’ to see evidence of the damage and to hear some of the stories. We were excellently guided around by Neil Bright from Blitzwalkers for some 3.5 miles and 3hours around the City of London whilst he regaled us with meticulously researched stories, anecdotes, historical facts and photos. He even had artifacts ranging from German shrapnel to an incendiary bomb for us to look at.
We saw evidence of complete destruction of buildings, scars from shrapnel on the side of St Paul’s cathedral and heard harrowing stories of bravery and loss. All delivered in an informal easy access way that was understood by all. He even provided Mulled wine and shortbread at the half way point! This really was a superb trip and we can highly recommend looking at the Blitzwalkers website (www.blitzwalkers.co.uk) for dates of further guided walks around London. It really brings to life what Londoners endured, with great humility and characteristic British spirit (one porter at Billingsgate was more worried about the price of fish than German bombs!).
Some of our photos are below
Neil, our guide for the day.
Wartime black out paint (white) on a bollard in the City – this enabled people to see it in the dark!
There are many plaques such as this around the City of London, note the date.
The modern next to the rebuilt. All over London there are buildings such as this. The brick building looks original but is actually a 1960’s rebuild on the site of a bombed out building. In some places they are surrounded by modern offices, in other areas they are surrounded by pre-war buildings that survived. This is one such building on Oat Lane, EC2, the Pewterer’s Hall.
This is Christ Church Greyfriars on Newgate Street, the garden is the interior of the church as all that was left after the roof and interior were destroyed. The rectangular wooden planters mark the areas where the stome pillars were that supported the roof. The Church was built by Sir Christopher Wren between 1677 and 1704 and destroyed by Nazi bombs in 1940. Many such historical and old buildings were lost in the Blitz.
The simple memorial to the lives lost in the blitz. It is within the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral and is inscribed ‘In War Resolution, In Defeat Defiance, In Victory Magnamity, In Peace Goodwill.
Shrapnel scars on the walls of St Paul’s Cathedral. There are many, many of these scars. To many to count. Churchill decreed that the Cathedral should be saved at all costs, and a 200 strong group of men were recruited into the ‘St Paul’s Watch’. This was a group of educated, architecturally trained men who were best placed to protect the Cathedral from the feared incendiary bomb as they best understood how and building worked, and thus how best to prevent it being destroyed by fire. Thanks to their work St Paul’s survived the blitz for us to enjoy today.
The memorial to the Firemen of the Auxiliary and Regular fire service who died during the bombing raids of The Second World War. Not just firemen that died in London, but nationwide. The man on the top pointing is facing the Thames and gesturing for people to bring more water to save St Paul’s, which is behind him.
Two screen grabs showing our path around the City of London, the top one is the modern day satellite view with out GPS track superimposed on it, and the bottom view is our GPS track superimposed onto a 1945 aerial photo – note the large areas of open ground which signifies bombed areas.
Was an excellent day and opened our eyes to some hidden-in-plain-view sites in London, as well as remembering the horror of the Blitz and WW2.
TheTimeChamber found themselves in Kent on family business and decided to check up on the current status of this site. Entry was the same, and power is still on in the bunker but it is comprehensively stripped of almost all fittings. On Google Earth it is possible to see a van parked in the compound with the doors open. As to who stripped it we arent sure. Presumably Southern Water. Why leave the power on though??
If anyone knows where the stuff went, or current plans for the bunker please let us know!
So, you might know TheTimeChamber is interested in all things Cold War. We have read a lot of books and articles on the subject, and been to lots of museums and sites. This story is one that fascinates us the most though. Most people think that the closest we have come to Nuclear armageddon was the Cuban Misile Crisis in the 1960’s. That however is not quite correct and we in fact came a lot closer in the 1980s, when Soviet paranoia was at its highest. Its only thanks to the smart thinking of a Soviet Intelligence Officer, and 2 spies from opposing sides prepared to risk their lives that disaster was averted…
Read the full story, taken from the Daily Mail:
Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant-colonel in the military intelligence section of the Soviet Union’s secret service, reluctantly eased himself into the commander’s seat in the underground early warning bunker south of Moscow. It should have been his night off but another officer had gone sick and he had been summoned at the last minute.
Before him were screens showing photographs of underground missile silos in the Midwest prairies of America, relayed from spy satellites in the sky. He and his men watched and listened on headphones for any sign of movement – anything unusual that might suggest the U.S. was launching a nuclear attack.
Stanislav Petrov may have prevented all out nuclear war between the U.S. and the USSR. This was the height of the Cold War between the USSR and the U.S. Both sides packed a formidable punch – hundreds of rockets and thousands of nuclear warheads capable of reducing the other to rubble. It was a game of nerves, of bluff and counterbluff. Who would fire first? Would the other have the chance to retaliate? The flying time of an inter-continental ballistic missile, from the U.S. to the USSR, and vice-versa, was around 12 minutes. If the Cold War were ever to go ‘hot’, seconds could make the difference between life and death.Everything would hinge on snap decisions. For now, though, as far as Petrov was concerned, more hinged on just getting through another boring night in which nothing ever happened. Except then, suddenly, it did. A warning light flashed up, screaming red letters on a white background – ‘LAUNCH. LAUNCH’. Deafening sirens wailed. The computer was telling him that the U.S. had just gone to war.
The blood drained from his face. He broke out in a cold sweat. But he kept his nerve. The computer had detected missiles being fired but the hazy screens were showing nothing untoward at all, no tell-tale flash of an missile roaring out of its silo into the sky. Could this be a computer glitch rather than Armageddon?
Instead of calling an alert that within minutes would have had Soviet missiles launched in a retaliatory strike, Petrov decided to wait.
The warning light flashed again – a second missile was, apparently, in the air. And then a third. Now the computer had stepped up the warning: ‘Missile attack imminent!’
But this did not make sense. The computer had supposedly detected three, no, now it was four, and then five rockets, but the numbers were still peculiarly small. It was a basic tenet of Cold War strategy that, if one side ever did make a preemptive strike, it would do so with a mass launch, an overwhelming force, not this dribble. Petrov stuck to his common-sense reasoning. This had to be a mistake.What if it wasn’t? What if the holocaust the world had feared ever since the first nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, was actually happening before his very eyes – and he was doing nothing about it?
He would soon know. For the next ten minutes, Petrov sweated, counting down the missile time to Moscow. But there was no bright flash, no explosion 150 times greater than Hiroshima. Instead, the sirens stopped blaring and the warning lights went off. The alert on September 26th, 1983 had been a false one. Later, it was discovered that what the satellite’s sensors had picked up and interpreted as missiles in flight was nothing more than high-altitude clouds.
Petrov’s cool head had saved the world.
He got little thanks. He was relieved of his duties, sidelined, then quietly pensioned off. His experience that night was an extreme embarrassment to the Soviet Union. Petrov may have prevented allout nuclear war but at the cost of exposing the inadequacies of Moscow’s much vaunted earlywarning shield.
Instead of feeling relieved, his masters in the Kremlin were more afraid than ever. They sank into a state of paranoia, fearful that in Washington, Ronald Reagan was planning a first-strike that would wipe them off the face of the earth. The year was 1983 and – as a history documentary in a primetime slot on Channel 4 next weekend vividly shows – the next six weeks would be the most dangerous the world has ever experienced.
That the U. S. and the Soviet Union had been on the brink of world war in 1962, when John Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev went head-to-head over missiles in Cuba, is well known. Those events were played out in public. The 1983 crisis went on behind closed doors, in a world of spies and secrets.
A quarter of a century later, the gnarled old veterans of the KGB, the Soviet Union’s secret service, and their smoother counterparts from the CIA, the U.S. equivalent, have come out from the shadows to reveal the full story of what happened. And a chilling one it is. From their different perspectives, they knew the seriousness of the situation.
‘We were ready for the Third World War,’ said Captain Viktor Tkachenko, who commanded a Soviet missile base at the time. ‘If the U.S. started it.’ Robert Gates – then the CIA’s deputy director of intelligence, later its head and now defence secretary in George Bush’s government – recalled: ‘We may have been on the brink of war and not known it.’
That year, 1983, the rest of the world was getting on with its business, unaware of the disaster it could be facing.
Margaret Thatcher won a second term as Prime Minister but her heir-apparent, Cecil Parkinson, had to resign after admitting fathering his secretary’s love child. Two young firebrand socialists, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were elected MPs for the first time.
Police were counting the dead bodies in serial killer Dennis Nilsen’s North London flat, the Brinks-Mat bandits got away with £25million in gold bullion and ‘Hitler’s diary’ was unearthed before being exposed as a forgery.England’s footballers failed to qualify for the European finals.The song everyone was humming was Sting’s Every Breath You Take – ‘Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you.’ It was unwittingly appropriate as that was precisely what, on the international stage, the Russians and Americans were doing.
On both sides there were new, more powerful and more efficient machines to deliver destruction. The Soviets had rolled out their SS-20s, missiles on mobile launch pads, easy to hide and almost impossible to detect.Meanwhile, the Americans were moving Pershing II ballistic missiles into Western Europe, as a direct counter to a possible invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact (as the Soviet Union and its satellites behind the Iron Curtain were known).
They were also deploying ground-hugging cruise missiles, designed to get under radar defences without being detected.Then Reagan, successor at the White House to Jimmy Carter, upped the ante in a provocative speech in which he denounced the Soviet Union as ‘the Evil Empire’. His belligerence rattled the new Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, a hardline communist and former head of the KGB whose naturally suspicious nature was made worse by serious illness. For much of the ensuing crisis he was in a hospital bed hooked to a dialysis machine.
His belief that Reagan was up to something was reinforced when the President announced the start of his ‘Star Wars’ project – a system costing trillions of dollars to defend the U.S. from enemy ICBMs ( Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) by shooting them down in space before they re-entered earth’s atmosphere.He saw this as an entirely defensive measure, but to the Russians it was aggressive in intent. They saw it as a threat to destroy their weapons one by one and leave the USSR defenceless.
Even more convinced of Washington’s evil intentions, Andropov stepped up Operation RYAN, during which KGB agents around the world were instructed to send back any and every piece of information they could find that might add to the ‘evidence’ that the U.S. was planning a nuclear strike.
In the Soviet Union’s London embassy, Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB officer masquerading as a diplomat, was ordered to watch out for signs of the British secretly stockpiling food, petrol and blood plasma.In the KGB’s Lubyanka headquarters, every small detail was chalked up on a board, filling it with words until the mountain of ‘evidence’ appeared overwhelming. But the problem was, as a U.S. observer noted, that the KGB, while strong on gathering information, was hopeless in analysing it.
In reality, what it was compiling was the dodgiest of all dossiers, in which the ‘circle of intelligence’ remained a dangerously closed one. Not for the last time in matters of war, the foolhardiness of fitting facts to a preconceived agenda were exposed. East-West tension increased when an unauthorised aircraft flew into Soviet air space in the Bering Sea, ignoring all radio communications. Su-14 intercept fighters were scrambled to shoot it down in the belief that it was a U.S. spy plane.
It turned out to be a civilian flight of Korean Airlines, KA-007, that had strayed off course en route from Alaska to Seoul.All 269 passengers and crew died. Reagan denounced the ‘evil Empire’ again, and Moscow detected once again the drumbeats of war.
AND THEN came the event that nearly triggered catastrophe. On November 2, 1983, Nato – the U.S.-led alliance of western forces – began a routine ten-day exercise codenamed Operation Able Archer to test its military communications in the event of war.
The ‘narrative’ of the exercise was a Soviet invasion with conventional weapons, which the West would be unable to stop.Its climax would be a simulated release of nuclear missiles. Command posts and nuclear bases were on full alert, but, as the Soviets were repeatedly told, no actual weapons were involved.
The words ‘EXERCISE ONLY’ screamed out from every message. But the Soviet leadership, with its eye on Reagan’s supposed recklessness, chose not to believe them. Andropov, in his sick bed, and his Kremlin advisers were gripped not just by current paranoias but by past ones.They were the World War II generation, forever conscious of how Hitler had fooled Stalin and launched his savage Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union in 1940 under the pretext of an exercise. In the war that followed, 25million Soviet citizens died and the Motherland came close to caving in. To allow history to repeat itself would be unforgivable. Now, the Kremlin watched and listened in horror as the West went though this drill. Top priority ‘flash telegrams’ went to Gordievsky and others in KGB stations around the world demanding ‘evidence’ that this exercise was a disguise for a real nuclear first-strike.
In Washington, the effect that Able Archer was having on the Soviet leadership was completely missed. In fact, rather than winding up for a war, Reagan was doing the opposite.At Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, he had recently had a private screening of a made-fortelevision film called The Day After, which was a fictional reconstruction of the aftermath of nuclear war.The former Hollywood cowboy was more affected by this than by any military briefings he might have had. The film predicted 150 million dead. In his diary he wrote: ‘It left me greatly depressed. We have to do all we can to see there is never a nuclear war.’The old war horse was changing course and soon he would begin to make overtures to Moscow that would lead to his first visit there, a building up of relationships and an easing of East-West tensions.
He very nearly did not get the chance. As Able Archer wound up to its climax, so too did the Kremlin’s paranoia. In the Nato exercise, Western forces were on the brink of firing a theoretical salvo of 350 nuclear missiles.
In the Soviet Union, the military went on to their equivalent of the U.S. defence forces’ DefCon 1, the final warning of an imminent attack and the last stage before pressing the button for an all to real massive retaliation.
On airfields, Soviet nuclear bomber pilots sat in their cockpits, engines turning, waiting for orders to fly. Three hundred ICBMs were prepared for firing and 75 mobile SS-20s hurriedly moved to hidden locations.
Surface ships of the Soviet navy dashed for cover, anchoring beneath cliffs in the Baltic, while its submarines with their arsenals of nuclear missiles slipped beneath the Arctic ice and cleared decks for action.
WHAT saved the situation were two spies, one on each side. Gordievsky, the KGB man in London, was really a double agent working for British Intelligence. He warned MI5 and the CIA that Able Archer had put Soviet leaders in a dangerous frame of mind.
It was the first inkling the West had had that the exercise was being viewed with such panic, and the Americans responded instantly by down-grading it. Reagan then made a very visible journey out of the country as a signal to the Soviets that he was otherwise engaged. Meanwhile, an East German spy, Topaz – real name Rainer Rupp – had infiltrated the Nato hierarchy at a high level and was privy to many of its secrets, was asked by Moscow urgently to confirm that the West was about to go to war.
Deeply embedded Topaz would know for sure, and all he had to do was dial a certain number on his telephone to confirm his master’s fears. His finger stayed off the buttons. His message back was that Nato was planning no such thing. Moscow took a step back from the brink its own fevered imagination had created. At the same time, Able Archer reached its end, the simulation over, the personnel involved stood down. The date was November 11 – Armistice Day. Only later did the West grasp how close the world had come to apocalypse. Reagan and his advisers were shocked, and more impetus was put behind finding ways to end the arms race with the Soviet Union.
The near-miss of 1983 has long been known by historians of the Cold War. But this documentary will bring it to a wider audience.Today, the West’s relations with post-communist Russia and its aggressive leader, Vladimir Putin, are strained. Bombers and spy planes nudge rival air space, testing nerves, just as they did in the early 1980s. The situation is ripe for misunderstandings.Those events, 24 years ago, are also a reminder that, for all the concerns about global warning, mankind’s greatest danger may still be its vast nuclear arsenals.
It has largely gone unnoticed that this year, with increasing fears of proliferation, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock up to five minutes to midnight, closer to nuclear catastrophe than at almost any time since the phoney war of 1983.