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UK’s air raid signals dismantled in Nineties as bunkers ‘gone into abeyance and crumbled’

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Nigel Farage arrives at Brexit Party rally to air-raid sirens

A war in Europe is as likely as ever, with Russia currently engaged in a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. When President Vladimir Putin gave his orders for the invasion to begin on Thursday morning, missiles hit several regions of Ukraine within minutes. The danger led to authorities sounding air raid sirens across Kyiv, the capital, for the first time since World War 2.

During Europe’s last big war, these sirens were installed in cities and towns across the continent to warn of imminent bombing raids.

In the UK, they were perched on top of tall buildings to maximise their warning reach and were powered electrically and produced two signals: the first was the warning signal and is today widely recognised as a rising and gradually falling alarm sound.

The second prolonged sound signalled the all-clear, ringing out as a single note.

Late last year in Ramsgate, Kent, an air raid warning siren was sounded three times to commemorate the anniversary of 500 bombs being dropped on the town in five minutes in 1940, giving many people their first glimpse of what a real-life air raid siren sounded like.

But, by the late Nineties, the majority of these signals were dismantled after the threat of the Cold War appeared to be over.

UK air raids: The country lacks the sort of infrastructure to protect the public against air raids

UK air raids: The country lacks the sort of infrastructure to protect the public against air raids (Image: GETTY)

Air raids: The warning signals were common in cities across Europe during World War 2

Air raids: The warning signals were common in cities across Europe during World War 2 (Image: GETTY)

Today, things are different, and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with nuclear warheads fired from Moscow or Central Asia would take just 20 minutes to reach London, according to the Daily Telegraph.

This week, former British Army chemical and nuclear weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon told the publication: “In the depths of the Cold War, we were very prepared and there was a realisation an attack was a reality.”

He said he believed that the last few weeks have shown we are “closer to a Third World War than at any point since the Seventies” – the threat is tiny, he says, but one that we must be prepared for.

But, he said, the UK is very much not ready for such an event, especially when it comes to warning its public.

Mr de Bretton-Gordon said: “In the depths of the Cold War we were very prepared and there was a realisation an attack was a reality.

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Bombing raids: Air sirens produced two signals to warn and then reassure of safety

Bombing raids: Air sirens produced two signals to warn and then reassure of safety (Image: GETTY)

“We had hundreds of bunkers around the country.

“But fast forward to 2022 and a lot of the planning and infrastructure has gone into abeyance and crumbled.”

The receding threat of the Cold War meant that the UK’s nuclear defence infrastructure decommissioned.

Former nuclear bunkers have become museums with one in Wiltshire even turned into a cannabis farm.

A deep complex sits beneath the Ministry of Defence that will house the UK’s Government and military leaders in the event of a nuclear strike.

There is also a command-and-control complex at RAF Corsham in Wiltshire, as well as several others.

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York station: The aftermath of intense bombing at the station, 1942

York station: The aftermath of intense bombing at the station, 1942 (Image: GETTY)

Britain: Mr and Mrs Jack Benedy remain cheerfully defiant among the wreckage of their home, 1944

Britain: Mr and Mrs Jack Benedy remain cheerfully defiant among the wreckage of their home, 1944 (Image: GETTY)

Mr de Bretton-Gordon said: “They probably need a bit of a dust off but they would be viable.

“I don’t have any insider information but there are probably a lot of civil servants running around at the moment making preparations.”

Some of the preparations might include checking there is an adequate amount of potassium iodide tablets – an antidote to radiation — and non-perishable foods.

But while those who serve the people will be safe, for civilians, it will likely be another story: ordinary people would have to fend for themselves.

London Underground: Londoners often sought shelter in the city's deep underground system

London Underground: Londoners often sought shelter in the city’s deep underground system (Image: GETTY)

In the Seventies and Eighties, the Government devised a public information campaign called Protect and Survive.

This gave advice via a pamphlet to all households on how to survive armageddon, things like how to build a fallout shelter and what to do with dead bodies.

According to Gov.uk the Government is this year intending to launch a new service called “Emergency Alerts”.

These will take the form of notifications sent to your phone or tablet with a warning message that there is danger to life nearby.

They will also offer advice on how to stay safe.

Raid shelters: The public were often required to build their own emergency shelters

Raid shelters: The public were often required to build their own emergency shelters (Image: GETTY)

When the service is live, your phone or tablet might make a siren-like sound — even if it is on silent or vibrate, and will last for ten seconds.

The Government website urges people to stop what you’re doing and follow the instructions in the alert if you receive one.

But it states that “for most people, the chance of receiving an alert will be low.”

Today, the National Risk register lists a nuclear attack as a potential threat, alongside a chemical, biological or radiological attack.

But public information on what to do in such an event is hard, if not impossible to find.



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