Attack Warning Red!

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By Julie McDowall

The atomic bombs of 1945 changed war forever. The awesome power of the blast and its deadly fallout meant home in Britain fell under the nuclear shadow, and the threat of annihilation coloured every aspect of ordinary life for the next forty years.

Families were encouraged to construct makeshift shelters with cardboard and sandbags. Vicars and pub landlords learnt how to sound hand-wound sirens, offering four minutes to scramble to safety. Thousands volunteered to give nuclear first aid, often consisting of breakfast tea, herbal remedies, and advice on how to die without contaminating others. And while the public had to look after themselves, bunkers were readied for the officials and experts who would ensure life continued after the catastrophe.

Today we may read about the Cold War and life in Britain under the shadow of the mushroom cloud with a sense of amusement and relief that the apocalypse did not happen. But it is also a timely and powerful reminder that, so long as nuclear weapons exist, the nuclear threat will always be with us.