Cabinet Secretaries’ notebooks – plain speaking on Civil Defence

In the Cabinet Secretaries’ notebook series released in 2010 by the National Archives, there are some interesting and cryptic comments about Civil Defence, made on 21st December  1960.

In CAB 195/19 there are some very revealing comments about official thoughts regarding Civil Defence and its effectiveness:

“S.LI” (John Selwyn-Lloyd) Says:

If we were strictly logical, we shd. conclude that none of this is worth while.  But believe it is politically impossible to scrap C.D.

This is a very interesting comment as it seems to admit at least some in government already believed there was little point in Civil Defence and this was also long before the disbandment of the CD Corps in 1968. This admission is completely at odds with the fact that the CD Corps was also just about at its highest headcount as an organisation.

An additional comment reveals that mass evacuation may never been a realistic policy:

“H.B.” (Henry Brooke):

Evacuation.  No Govt. wd. ever order planned evacuation – for it wd. start 100% rush from big cities.  On that basis, our problem is one of presentn.  The 12 m. plan is un-workable.  At 6 m. plan is possible (tho’ I believe nonsensical : because vulnerable cities wd. be proclaimed non evacuable and because area of devastn. wd. be larger than evacuation area).  On balance recommend opening discn. with l.a.’s on basis of 6 m. – w’out commitment to the plan.

Even long before Peter Watkins suggested in The War Game that evacuation might fail, many years before this government officials in this document already seemed to have no illusions about the limits of an evacuation policy. As early as 1964 in official government films the general “stay put” policy had already been made explicit.

Climatic Consequences of Nuclear Conflict – Alan Robock

Dr. Alan Robock has been one of the leading authorities on Nuclear Winter theory for many years. He maintains an excellent web site on this subject here:

He and Brain Toon (one of the original authors of the TTAPS study*) prepared a new review of Nuclear Winter for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists here (PDF) which demonstrates the danger of Nuclear Winter is still present, that the science behind the theory still stands up and that threshold of triggering climatic change from using nuclear weapons is still extremely low.

*Title: Nuclear winter: global consequences of multiple nuclear explosions, Author(s):T.P. Ackerman , J.B. Pollack , Carl Sagan , O.B. Toon and R.P. Turco, Source:Science. 222 (Dec. 23, 1983): p1283.

Threads—Select References and Bibliography by Kevin Hall

The following reference material was used in BBC nuclear war drama “Threads” either as a factual or dramatic reference. Many of the references were used to either substantiate the on-screen captions and news reports, or were used to approximate casualty, fall-out or blast effects or to simulate the events after the attack.

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“Nuclear injured would have to wait”

An interesting story from The Guardian from 1977 (page 5, Feb 5th) on the injured might be  treated by the NHS after a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom.

The story discusses a Department of Health Circular on how the NHS would deal with patients after a nuclear strike. It paints a picture of the most extreme form of triage treatment; the priority patients would only be those who would be mostly likely to survive and patients suffering radiation sickness would simply be sent home and deal with it as best they could.

The circular also discusses withholding NHS staff from areas stricken with fallout and in this sense is consistent with the Protect and Survive advice which instructs the householder to lay-in 14 days of supplies – the same time limit the circular recommends that staff should be kept from dangerous areas.

Unfortunately the story doesn’t really cover how may NHS staff might actually survive the initial attack or whether the circular covered this at all. There is no reason to suppose whether NHS staff would be in any less or more danger than anyone else so it seems likely they would make up the same proportion of casualties as the rest of the population. As the nuclear war drama Threads also made clear without drugs, water, electricity and wound dressings most medical staff would be no better prepared to help than the nearest survivor.

There is no mention of the dispersal of staff however it does mention the specific clearing of patients in hospitals for incoming casualties which leads to interesting questions on whether patients could be nursed at home, whether the hospitals themselves would survive the attack in any meaningful way, who would staff them after attack and how many of those sent home prior to attack would need extra nursing care in the aftermath.