Underground Nuclear Command Centre,
Crown Buildings, (near St Andrews), Fife, KY16 8QH
tel = 01333 310301. Fax:01333 312040.
Open from April 1, 7 days a week 10am-5pm until the End of October
Earlier this summer, my Dad came up to Scotland for a brief holiday, and we paid a visit to a fascinating place, just down the road from St Andrews, on the road to Anstruther. This place is known as Scotland’s Secret Bunker. First of all, I’ll give you a bit of background information and history… After World War II, which had ended with the first wartime example of the use of atomic bombs, the relations between the communist countries of the East, and the Western democracies deteriorated quickly. There was an unstable combination of both ideology and, more frighteningly, such devastating weapons. So, shortly after the war was over, the UK government needed to take action. It established a chain of early warning radar stations, some of which were underground. The one near St Andrews was underground, since it was thought to be in an area of great risk, being near RAF Leuchars, and relatively near the Rosyth Dockyard. It is actually one of the largest bunkers that there is. In the late 50s, there was no need for so many radar stations, and the function of this bunker changed. It became a Regional Seat of Government, staffed by the Civil Defence Corps. In the event of nuclear war, essential decisions and plans to care for any remaining civilians, would be taken down here. When you visit Scotland’s Secret Bunker, it is impossible to imagine just what is beneath the ground you stand on. The entrance is through a very normal looking farmhouse, which appears to be the same as any other. There are no signs above ground that such a massive construction is underneath. To enter, you go into the ‘farmhouse’, and after buying tickets, (which cost about five pounds for an adult), you descend underground, by means of a long sloping tunnel, which is encased in thick concrete. A warning is necessary at this point – my dad and I visited the bunker on a glorious summer’s day (rare in Scotland, I know!), but u
nderground, it was absolutely freezing, and I was shivering by the time I had made my way down the tunnel. As you go down the tunnel, historical information is provided about the Cold War, giving you all the essential background information that you will need to fully appreciate the role and purpose of the Secret Bunker. Once in the Bunker itself, I was extremely surprised by the size of it – it was massive, and there were many more rooms and corridors that were not even open to the public! There was even a large café situated down there, but the thought of eating in such a place didn’t really appeal, although I’m sure the food would have been very nice! To start off with, we saw a reconstruction of the room that the Royal Observer Corps would have used – their function was to report location of any bomb drops, and to measure the power and pressure of the detonation – not a job I would have fancied doing! There was a dormitory too which the workers would have used, which operated on what was known as the hot beds principle, meaning that each staff member would work 18 hours, then sleep 6, swapping their bunk with another worker. Didn’t sound too pleasant to me, and the bunks looked tiny, with only a small locker for them to store personal belongings. Other rooms we saw in this area included a set of rooms for the secretary of State and the military liaison staff. All the recreations seemed very accurate, with small details, such as newspapers, personal items, and magazines from the period included, which gave it a greater sense of reality. The bunker was on two floors, and downstairs was where the most interesting action would have taken place. We saw the rooms used when this was a Regional Seat of Government, staffed by the civil defence forces. One of the most important rooms was the Switchboard, since it was vital to be able to contact the Prime Minister, and gain information from a variety of sources. Origi
nal telephones, telex machines, and typewriters were there, and apparently the phone system still works, with 2800 outside lines, and 500 internal extensions. These switchboards would have been staffed 24 hours a day. Models of people were put in place, although I always find these sort of models a bit creepy – they reminded me of the people in Thunderbirds, a program I can never watch as for some unknown reason I find the models so scary!! The other room of great importance was the Central Government and Nuclear Operations room, which was were the senior ministers from Edinburgh would be evacuated to. Surrounding the main command room, were offices for the emergency services, the Met Office, scientific advisors, computer staff, and secretaries. All of these were furnished with the original equipment, computers, giant charts and maps, and more of the creepy model people! I found my visit to this room fascinating, although a scary reminder of what could have happened if nuclear war had broken out. It was a thought that stayed with me long after my visit. In the middle of the room, in bright red, were the war telephones. These would have been used to issue final warnings to any foreign aggressor before an all out nuclear war began – again, for some reason, this particular item really made me think about just what would have happened if war had broken out. The cool temperatures increased the somewhat chilling feeling there was down there. Information was provided in all of the rooms, but I found there was a lot to take in, especially if you don’t know much about any of this period, or are like me, and not very technologically minded! Luckily I was with my Dad, a good combination, as I am interested in history and he loves technology and science. I would recommend you buy the guidebook, although as with most places, I always wish I had read it before going round, instead of afterwards! Other places of interest in here were
the three separate films being shown. I would not recommend these to young children at all, as one in particular, known as the War Game, would have been far too horrific for them, as it was a film made to show what it would be like if a nuclear war had broken out. Some of the images were frightening – the boy who was blinded by the explosion, the patterns on the clothing which had transferred to the people, and the general panic stricken expression on the people’s faces. What makes it worse of course, is that this is what did happen, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Another film, with less disturbing images, but which I found equally frightening, was the collection of the Protect and Survive films, which were made during the cold war – how to turn your house into a shelter if war did break out, by taking down a door and propping it up against an inner wall, storing enough food and water, and what do with any bodies or casualties. There was also a chapel here, which would have been used by the workers, and a notice in there said that it would also be available for weddings today if anyone wanted. I personally can’t think of a worse place to be married – being married underground in a secret bunker to be used in case of nuclear war sounds very strange to me – but I guess there are some unusual people out there! Not good if your guests were claustrophobic either! Overall then, I recommend this as a place to visit, but not for young children – it doesn’t deal with the most pleasant of subjects, and there is a lot of information to take in. I didn’t however, as the guide book said, feel particularly ‘entertained’ here – entertainment seems to be too light hearted a word to use when dealing with this type of history. It was, however, a thoroughly interesting visit, and left me with a lot to think about, even if those thoughts were none too pleasant, and a little disturbing. Coming back
up into the warm sunlight was, in several ways, very welcome! Yet even though the subject matter may not always be the most cheerful, the level of information, and quality of both the reconstructions, and the films, were so high, that this is certainly a 5 star attraction, and one I highly recommend.