Excerpts from Sir Humphrey at Thin Pinstriped Line:
Chronicling the unthinkable. The history of the Central Government War Headquarters (BURLINGTON)…
During the Cold War the Civil Service found itself being asked to ‘think the unthinkable’ and provide advice to Ministers and consider planning for the continuity of the State during the transition to war, through to the point where nuclear weapons were released, and then finally how to pick up the pieces again in the aftermath of the conflict.
This is perhaps the most serious and difficult task asked of any civil servant – how does one consider the acts which may well lead to the deaths of millions, and then consider how to continue Government and rebuild in the aftermath? If anything, this is perhaps the one time when someone really does need the space to stop and think about an issue.
For decades much of this planning remained Top Secret, and it was only really with the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act back in 2004 that many files, often unseen for years, were released slowly into the public domain. These files tell the story of how the UK Govt planned to continue providing some form of government, even after a nuclear strike.
The full story of the post war planning has been covered in the superb book ‘The Secret State’ by Peter Henessey [excellent book indeed - MC]. This account looks at how the UK planners considered many issues linked to the fighting of a nuclear war, including the niceties of nuclear command and control. One site which is discussed at length is the so-called ‘Central Government Headquarters’ at Corsham in Wiltshire, often known as the ‘BURLINGTON’ bunker.
…an outstanding new website has been set up to chronicle the history of Corsham. Steve Fox, a historian possessed with considerable reserves of stamina and a willingness to keep hammering away at FOI requests has spent years compiling probably the first history of the site and its role. He played an immense role in working through hundreds of files of correspondence, often spotting tiny details hidden in a morass of trivia, which in turn has helped build a picture of how the site would have worked…
The work is testament to the power of the FOI Act, and an excellent demonstration of the level of planning and commitment by the Civil Service to seriously trying to govern Britain in the aftermath of the unthinkable, quite literally down to the provision of tea leaves. The link is below, and the site is now permanently linked on the right of this page. Steve has done an incredible piece of work, and deserves huge plaudits for his efforts in putting this all together. Humphrey strongly recommends that those of you with an interest in all things Cold War, bunkers and contingency planning, pay a trip to the following link: http://burlingtonandbeyond.co.uk/
In Canada we have the “Diefenbunker” but no proper history of the government planning of which I am aware.
Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger
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