Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Hole in the Ground

Yesterday, the Station Manager of Seaside Radio took me to see "the Bunker." During my time traveling to Withernsea, I have repeatedly observed signs for "the Bunker." The Station Manager had promised to take me to see it, several times. So, what is "the Bunker?" It's an underground, military installation, built during the Cold War. It's proper name is RAF Holmpton and as he drove us to the location, my boss let me in on a surprise. Not only were we going to see it, we were going on a guided tour of it.
The tour didn't turn out to be a private one, just for us. It was a regularly scheduled tour. When we arrived at the location, I wasn't expecting there to be too many people desiring to go on such a tour. As my boss backed into a parking space, I observed one other vehicle, to our left. It was an old van, with a dark haired individual behind the wheel. As we were early, we stayed sitting in the car for a while. Shortly after our arrival, another car backed into the space to our right. It was a late model saloon and occupied by a well-dressed couple. I joked that the van on our left contained the Bulgarian spies, while the car to our right was MI6. My boss seemed less than amused. He entertains numerous conspiracy theories, including one where there is all sorts of secret activity going on at this base.
Once my boss had finished eating lunch in the car, we walked over to the building which houses the entrance. Looking innocuous, the building is small and almost looks like a house. My boss asked the fellow manning the ticket window for "one adult and one American." His astonishingly funny, Northern Irish sense of humor was in full effect. The old man, in RAF camouflage fatigues, wisely charged for two adults. He directed us to a waiting room and my boss asked me if he should buy an official tour guide book. My recommendation was that he should not. We joined the few people already in the waiting area, which included the Bulgarian spies. There was a TV showing a continuous loop of old fashioned TV announcements advising the public what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. This set the mood.
Before the tour started, I was surprised at how many people turned up. There must have been a couple of dozen. Our tour guide turned out to be the same old man who had sold us the tickets. He announced the beginning of the tour, then directed us down a stairwell. Down, underground, we went. Once on the lower level, we proceeded down a long corridor, designed to dissipate the pressure of a nuclear blast wave. Our guide took us to numerous rooms and displays, where we could see the facility's equipment. Included was a nuclear warhead. At several points along our path, we sat and watched short films, detailing various historical points about the base. Originally built as a radar base, RAF Holmpton later became the headquarters for managing RAF supplies in a a post nuclear attack scenario. Essentially a hole in the ground, 100 feet down, the base facility was built upon a base of shale, then encased in thick concrete walls. It was designed to withstand a near miss by a nuclear warhead. Of course the Russians learned all about it and supposedly had targeted two nuclear warheads on that very facility. Not only would a direct hit have obliterated the base, but it would have turned the surrounding area into a nuclear wasteland, including beautiful Withernsea. I learned that during the Cold War, over 100 nuclear warheads were thought to be targeted on the United Kingdom. A full scale attack was expected to kill 40 million people, which was the majority of the British population.
The final film we were shown included the portrayal of the effects of a full scale nuclear attack on Britain. A series of underground outposts around Britain would be manned by teams whose task was to measure the fallout and report conditions after an attack. In these post-Cold War times, when the threat of nuclear war has faded, it was very sobering to be reminded of how the world once lived in fear of nuclear annihilation. It's a good place to take young people, who have never lived through the Cold War, so that they can see what the world almost came to. There were several children on the tour. During the whole afternoon, the only military person we observed was the same old man who had sold us the tickets. When the tour ended, I pointed out that the base seemed harmless. Undaunted, my boss pointed out that we hadn't seen all of the underground facility. He insisted on buying an official guide book. The souvenirs were sold, of course, by the same man who was our tour guide. As we walked back to the car, my poss pointed out the Sky satellite dish on a mast sticking out of the ground, above the bunker. He took it as proof that the base was currently being used for some secret activity. My suggestion was that the old man just likes watching Sky, like the rest of us.

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