Lancashire At War.co.uk

Exploring the hidden history of War sites in Lancashire

Cold War Civil Defence

ABOVE: "1954 and Pleckgate School meals staff show their mettle at a Civil Defence exercise on the playing fields" (Lancashire Telegraph).

BELOW: Possibly the view today (courtesy of Google Earth) with Royal Oak Avenue in the background and the school playing fields to the left of the picture.

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Almost as soon as the Second World War ended, the Cold War began. The Soviet Union was now the enemy and the new threat was nuclear weapons. In the early decades of the Cold War, Britain still seemed to be expecting something akin to the previous war, if Civil Defence exercises are anything to go by. The idea of Mutually Assured Destruction was not fully formed until the early 1960s. So Civil Defence training focused on firefighting, rescuing people from damaged buildings and feeding survivors.

 

While there has been a lot of coverage over the years on the role of Civil Defence in the Second World War, its use has been somewhat neglected in the Cold War - probably because it was never used and so people are less likely to talk about it. But during the 1950's to the 1980's thousands of people volunteered to do their bit in case of war.

 

"The Civil Defence Act 1948, established

the Civil Defence Corps, a volunteer civilian

organisation intended to manage and provide

rescue services in areas affected by a major

national emergency. As the perceived Soviet

nuclear threat grew, membership of the Civil

Defence Corps expanded to 330,000 by March

1956. Recruitment continued well into the 1960s,

until the financial crisis of the mid 1960s resulted

in the standing-down of the Civil Defence Corps

in 1968." (Historic England - Civil Defence from WW1 to the Cold War)

 

As well as the Civil Defence Corps there were calls to join the Auxilliary Fire Service and surprisingly, the Home Guard, (see photo BELOW: In the foyer of the former Cinema Royal, 1954 (Lancashire Telegraph) which was reactivated from 1952-1957.

Irwell House

Civil Defence exercises took place all over the country throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Two examples we have found in Lancashire are the above field kitchen in Blackburn and a disastrous fire in Prestwich (see BELOW).

'Pestwich in old postcards' by H.B. Wilkinson and I. Pringle states: "In April 1958, Irwell House was set on fire in a civil defense exercise. The roof collapsed and the fine architectural stonework and beautiful plaster decorations of the Georgian mansion were allowed to rot until nothing remained of the grandeur of Irwell House and its park".

The ruins of the house can be seen RIGHT.

The site of Irwell House today (BELOW LEFT) where just the footings remain and how it used to look in its prime BELOW RIGHT.

LEFT: This 3DVD set entitled 'Nuclear War In Britain - Home Front Civil Defence Films 1950 - 1987' is highly recommended.

It catalogues the changing advice, fears and expectations of nuclear warfare as seen by the public via these government information films. The above Civil Defence exercises on this page will make more sense when seen in the context of these films.