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WEEKEND WEB: Going underground – the Holbeach bunker

Trish with Charles Parker at Holbeach ROC post.
Trish with Charles Parker at Holbeach ROC post.

TRISH TAKES FIVE: With Trish Burgess

It’s not often you get to don a hard hat and clamber down a ladder into a nuclear bunker. Last Thursday I did just that as Heritage Lincolnshire opened the Holbeach Royal Observer Corps monitoring post to the public.

I booked two places on the 1.15pm tour as my son Rory was keen to come along. We drove to Washway Road and there, in a field fenced off from the road, was the bunker. After a safety briefing, our small group had the pleasure of meeting our guide, Charles Parker, who had amassed 29 years of service with the Royal Observer Corps.

Charles spent 45 minutes enthralling us with the history of the ROC post and showing us how the equipment worked in the event of a nuclear attack.

During WWII the role of the ROC had been to identify incoming enemy aircraft. In 1955 the ROC was reformed, its new role to staff nuclear bomb monitoring posts. Over time, underground rooms, like the one in Holbeach, were constructed. Three ROC personnel would have staffed the post in time of a significant nuclear threat. In the meantime, regular practices took place.

Charles pointed out the features of the post visible above ground including the bunker hatch with the attached Ground Zero indicator and the baffle plate of the Bomb Pressure Indicator.

Underground, once the vertical ladder had been tackled, the surprisingly roomy bunker came into view as our eyes adjusted to the dimmed light. We saw where the three men worked, slept and cooked. There was also a separate area with a chemical toilet.

We heard how the government broadcast warning system would give notice of a nuclear attack and Number 3 observer would climb the ladder to start up the siren before quickly returning.

The bomb blast would be measured, with the figures radioed in to the triangulation team at HQ in Lincoln. These figures, along with those from the fall-out indicator, would be added to similar data from other posts, plus local weather forecasts, to determine where the bomb had exploded and where the fall-out was likely to land.

Each member of the team wore a Personal Dose Rate Meter and their roles would have been rotated depending on the levels of radiation exposure. In time, technology improved so this work could be done by satellites. The threat of a nuclear attack also subsided so the post was no longer required.

When we climbed up to the surface again I had a chat with Frank and Jean Saunston. Frank was the Chief Observer for the ROC in Holbeach and was delighted to talk to visitors, giving them first-hand stories of his time in the bunker.

Heritage Lincolnshire is a charity which maintains this site, as well as a number of other buildings in the county, ensuring our local heritage is preserved. Volunteers help keep the ROC post in good order. It’s thanks to them, we have this extraordinary piece of history on our doorstep.

• You can read Trish’s blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk


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