Struggle for Survival

Governing Britain after the Bomb

Steve Fox


File 11 The Regional Government Headquarters back to contents
RGHQs - history - sites and organisation - Chilmark in detail  
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The Regional Government Headquarters were the final incarnation of the regional level controls that originated with the joint civil-military HQs in the mid-1950s. Although the names of these controls changed over the years and their staffs were reduced in number, their basic function changed little from the late 1950s to the early 1990s.

When “care and maintenance” was introduced in 1968, there were, in theory at least, 17 Sub Regional Controls available in the 23 sub-regions in England and Wales. In 1971 the Home defence Review found that 13 SRCs could hold their full complement although additionally Basingstoke was nearly complete. A further 7 were too small to hold the full complement including Yeadon which could only act as a communications hub. Interestingly, new premises had been acquired or were being looked for in Hexham, Loughborough and Hack Green but conversion work had been delayed by “care and maintenance”. Work would start on these 3 during the next few years after the 1971 Home Defence Review decided that the regional network should be completed by 1977 and communications links established to the county level controls. Soon after the number of sub regions was reduced to 17 but these did not tie in with the operational controls. During the 1970s, several of the existing controls such as Dover, Kelvedon Hatch, Brackla, Skendelby and Shipton were refurbished to varying degrees and planning for a replacement for Ullenwood started. But then the 1980 Home Defence Review announced that bringing these buildings; by now again called Sub Regional Headquarters or SRHQs to a useable state would be a priority (again!). However, only 14 of the planned 17 actually existed with sub-regions 1.1, 8.1 and 10.2 lacking a control. Even then, five of them needed to be refurbished and one, Southport was to be abandoned completely. As Southport was SRHQ 10.1 it meant that neither of the SRHQs planned for 10 North West Region existed.

Even where the buildings for the SRHQs existed there was a problem of readiness. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Home Office maintained a small organisation in each region under a Regional Director. This had the task of overseeing all civil defence activities in the region including arranging exercises in the RSGs, SRHQs and SRCs and their upkeep. With the introduction in 1968 of the “care and maintenance” era, this regional organisation was closed down. The Home Office retained responsibility for the SRHQs and later the RGHQs but the regional organisation was never replaced. On a day-to-day basis, the buildings were largely the responsibility of the Property Services Agency until it was abolished in 1993 and each RGHQ had one or two Custodians who acted as caretakers. By contrast, the permanent RSGs had each had up to four full time custodians, a cleaner and a telecommunications engineer to maintain and care for the building and its equipment.

The headquarters were exercised frequently in the early 1960s although this fell off by the middle of the decade. In the 1970s, they were occasionally used as part of military or Royal Observer Corps exercises mainly because of their link in the communications chain. Some were then used for the exercises Scrum Half and Square Leg but only on a very limited scale and for a short period. The condition in the 1970s was however apparently very poor. One newspaper report quoted an “official” at Basingstoke as saying “if anything was to happen now quite frankly it would not be very good”. A military report for 4 (East) Region on Exercise Scrum Half said that “…the preparedness of accommodation at sub-regional level left much to be desired and this applied in particular to 41 SRHQ”. An opportunity to test the SRHQs was lost when Exercise Hard Rock was cancelled and they were not used later in the 1980s for the various local authority based exercises such as Vireg. 

An opportunity did arise to test the RGHQs in 1989 when the army’s 2 Signal Brigade, which is tasked with providing national communication in the transition and post-attack phases of a major war devised Exercise Bright Fire. This involved army signal units operating from RGHQs and allowed the Home Office to exercise some of them albeit on a very limited basis. The exercise, which took over a year to plan, took place over a weekend in October. Only 5 RGHQs were used in the exercise mainly because of the lack of technical and administrative manpower available to the Home Office. The Property Services Agency was given 2 months notice to bring the selected RGHQs to readiness. On the day, no major problems were reported, but there were many minor problems. The biggest operational one appears to have been with the dormitory facilities that were heavily criticised despite the fact that each RGHQ had only been used by a few people for one night. The impression given is that noise, humidity and poor ventilation would have caused serious problems if the RGHQs had been fully manned for any length of time. One of this most indicative recommendations to come from the exercise was that the PSA should be given 6 months notice for any future exercise involving any of the other RGHQs. Given that one of the planning assumptions given in EPGLA was that all important plans should be capable of being implemented within 2 days this is a telling comment on the overall state of readiness.

The SRHQ/RGHQ buildings were scattered around the country. Some were in the middle of towns, others deep in the country. Their siting reflected no strategic plan, it was simply a result of finding the most suitable location in the sub-region and suitable usually appears to have meant cheapest. Many were surface buildings, easily seen but others were underground and invisible. None had outward indication of their purpose or ownership. They were generally unknown to and unnoticed by the public. They were visited by maintenance men, the occasional CND protest group but never by any politicians or even the people that would have served in them. No two RGHQs were the same but they all had the same function. They would serve as a large, self-contained protected office, albeit with accommodation of the standard of a youth hostel rather than a hotel, with at its heart a communications centre receiving and giving information to the county council emergency centres, other RGHQs and other parts of regional government. So, whilst outwardly they were all different they were set up and equipped to do the same functions and consequently their internal facilities and operations were the same. The purpose-built RGHQ at Chilmark can therefore stand as a model for its contemporaries.


The Chilmark RGHQ – a detailed description. 

The Chilmark Regional Government Headquarters served the eastern zone of the Number 7 South Western Home Defence Region, which covered the counties of Gloucestershire, Avon, Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset. It was designated as RGHQ 7.1 with the old Rotor bunker at Hope Cove in Devon being 7.2

The basic concept for the bunker dates from 1975 but design work was not started until 1979 and was done by the government’s Property Services Agency. Even then, it was not until 1982 that detailed designs were drawn up. The bunker became operational in 1985 when it replaced the former Anti Aircraft Operations Room building at Ullenwood, which in turn was taken over by Gloucestershire county council as its emergency centre. The Chilmark site was sold in 1997 by a sealed bid auction.

Text Box: Chilmark
main entrance (right) with air galleries above

The bunker is 2 miles from the picturesque Wiltshire village of Chilmark and occupies a small part of the RAF Chilmark. This was a major underground bomb store dating back to before the last war. The new bunker was however built on the surface opposite the railhead for the bomb dump and was referred to publicly as “RAF Chilmark Site F” or more usually as “Crown Building Chilmark”.

The bunker site covered 3.5 acres surrounded by a basic wire fence with was a single vehicle access gate. As usual, there were no signs to indicate the purpose or ownership of the site. The bunker was in the southern part of the site most of which was planted with grass and trees. There was a large area of “grasscrete” hard standing for parking.

RGHQs, like their predecessors, were not expected to be proof against the blast of an H-bomb and the entrances and air-vents were particularly vulnerable. A frequently quoted figure is that they were expected to withstand an overpressure of 1.5 pounds per square inch, which, according to Home Office figures would be experienced up to 5 miles from a 500-kiloton ground burst. The RGHQ building was however designed to give a good level of protection against fall-out. A protection factor or PF of 400 is sometimes quoted. This figure has been in use since at least 1964 and means that the level of radiation inside the building would be 400 times lower than outside. This is roughly comparable with a well-prepared cellar under a strongly built house with no openings. By contrast, a normal house would have a PF of only about 20 even with its doors and windows sealed. Ignoring the problems caused by entrances and ventilation openings a PF of 400 could be achieved with two feet of concrete covered by an equal thickness of soil. The RGHQ was nominally provisioned for 30 days. It was not expected that the staff would stay inside for all this time, only when fall-out levels made it unsafe to go outside. In time, its functions would be transferred to a convenient surface building that would allow more staff to be recruited but given its pivotal role as a communications centre the RGHQ would likely be used for many months at least.

The RGHQ was built on the surface, and then covered by earth and grassed over. The concrete roof was 0.5 metres thick and the walls 0.3 metres thick. The air intakes and outlets were mounted on the roof where not only were they a vulnerable point for blast damage but the intakes would also draw in and concentrate fall-out. All RGHQs had a main and an emergency entrance. At Chilmark, they, perhaps surprisingly, both opened from the northern side of the bunker and were only a few feet apart. Both entrances give access to the upper level of the bunker. The main entrance was protected by a right-angled covered entrance “porch” giving access to another blast door. Alongside this was a removable panel giving equipment access to the upper plant room. The emergency entrance was via a simple ramp to a blast door. Whilst the bunker was fitted with an extensive fire and intruder alarm system, there were no external security facilities. The RGHQs would possibly have been designated as Key Points meriting a small police or military guard but otherwise the staff would have had to look to their own protection. If disaffected survivors attacked the bunker the staff could only close the doors and call for help.

Internally the operational part of the bunker was some 160 feet long by 70 feet wide with a central corridor on the long axis of both levels and a staircase next to each entrance. At the eastern end, and integral with the bunker were the plant rooms that added another 40 feet to its length. The internal walls were mostly of simple white painted breezeblocks and all the operational rooms had large pin boards on the walls. Most rooms had ducting for the air circulation system hanging from the ceiling. There were numerous telephone extension points, particularly in the open plan office areas allocated to “government departments” or “uniformed services” ie police, fire service and the military. There were relatively few power points indicating the general lack of office or domestic equipment. There were no computers, word processors or photocopiers in RGHQs and no maps or stationary were stored there. In theory, at least these would have been supplied on manning up by the Stationary Office under dormant contract arrangements or the staffs would have brought their own. In the days of the RSGs some government departments maintained packs of maps, reference books, etc ready for use.

The first floor was largely given over to domestic accommodation. The main entrance area contained the decontamination unit. This consisted of a basic shower, without a curtain, and a bin to hold contaminated clothes. Anyone who had been outside and exposed to fall-out would shower off the contaminated dust and then remove their clothing to be stored in the bin. No stocks of spare clothing were held. The first floor had 6 dormitories, nominally 4 male and 2 female, although the sex distribution of the staff would not be an influencing factor. Dormitories were equipped with 2 tier metal bunks each of which was provided with a blanket pack and a small personal locker. Bunks and other equipment were supplied for a nominal staff of 150. Only the Regional Commissioner and Principal Officer had the privacy of beds in their own offices. Exercise Bright Fire, held in 1988 showed that this type of domestic accommodation could cause problems particularly if people were coming and going at all hours and the only lights would be the main neon strip lights which were common throughout the bunker. Sleeping may well have been difficult. The communications team would have worked on a two-shift basis to give continual manning but the rest of the RGHQ’s staff would have worked as necessary. Although there was a Common Room with a few armchairs there were no recreational facilities. There were male and female toilets on both levels with showers in the upper one. The ladies’ toilet was equipped with a gas detector.

A small sick bay was provided with a large first aid kit. The Community Physician from the DHSS would have provided medical assistance. Male and female toilets were provided together with sinks and showers for washing and instantaneous electric water heaters were fitted. Staff would be expected to bring clothing and personal kit for 30 days but there were no facilities to wash or dry clothes in most RGHQs although the Scottish site at Cultybraggen may have had both a washing machine and a dishwasher.

The canteen area occupied a large part of the first floor. The dining areas were equipped with basic tables and chairs although the Crowborough RGHQ’s canteen would not have been out of place in a modern fast-food restaurant. Crockery and cutlery were kept on site. The kitchen was well equipped with stainless steel ovens, sinks, two large fridge-freezers, a meat slicing machine and a bain marie servery. Food stocks were not permanently kept at the RGHQs. In the manning stage, some fresh food might be sought locally possibly under the direction of the Civil Service Catering Organisation but the main food source would be “compo” rations supplied by the army. A basic 30-day supply would be held together with a 15-day reserve. Once the basic 30-day supply had been used, further supplies would have been sought via MAFF or the local authorities. The draft Standard Operating Procedures copied sections from RSG instructions which suggested that toilet requisites, sweets, cigarettes and possibly even canned beer might be available but given the reality of the times, it seems unlikely that such items would have been available. There would be a restricted amount of cleaning materials available, but probably only what the peacetime Custodian kept.

The Regional Commissioner and Principal Officer had their own offices. Nearby were offices for the Secretariat, which would be the administrative hub of the RGHQ and the focal centre for handling all the major problems confronting the Regional Commissioner. Its basic function was to co-ordinate the assessment and consideration of problems with a view to ensuring that all the major decisions emanating from the RGHQ had been considered by all those concerned. This would involve, amongst other things, co-ordinating all activities within the RGHQ, issuing instructions on behalf of the Regional Commissioner either within the RGHQ or to local authority Controllers and other outside bodies, drafting scripts for regional broadcasts and preparing situation reports for the other RGHQ in the region, neighbouring RGHQs and central government[1]. The Secretariat would also maintain the Information Room that would plot the strategic position of the region mainly on maps. As most problems facing the RGHQ would involve more than one department or service the usual method of operation would be by committee. These would either be standing committees meeting twice a day or ad hoc committees established for specific purposes. A Conference Room was available for meetings.

Although not provided at Chilmark, other RGHQs had a room for Common Services, which would really be a store for stationary items, and a Typists Room. Other rooms, if available, were designated as stores. Chilmark, like most RGHQs had a Strong Room. This was a relatively small room with a security door. Its intended use is not obvious given that none of the RGHQ’s work would be secret and no high-value or secret documents would be kept. In peacetime, the Strong Room was often used to keep general equipment safe from the many maintenance workers who passed through the bunker.

The majority of the space on the lower floor was given over to communications. There was a BBC office together with a complete sound studio from which the Regional Commissioner could broadcast via local radio transmitter sites. Next to the BBC suite was the communications centre or Comcen. The main room here was the Counter Room (sometimes called the Comcen Registry) where outgoing messages were checked and prepared for transmission and incoming messages directed to the correct recipient. There were three main message systems. The RGHQ was connected to the normal public switched telephone system but this would quickly fail in wartime and be replaced by the skeleton Emergency Manual Switching System or EMSS. This would allow connection to a couple of trunk circuits which could connect the headquarters to various agencies such as ports, airfields and public utility headquarters which were not on the Emergency Communications Network or ECN. The ECN provided the main dedicated links to neighbouring RGHQs, the county council main and standby emergency centres and the county police headquarters within the sub-region and the nearest Royal Observer Corps Group Control. These “line” systems were backed up by radio and there was a Home Office Radio Room and a Military Radio Room.

All the RGHQs were connected to the normal electricity supply but this was expected to be lost in war and they were provided with two, occasionally one, diesel generators. At Chilmark, in a sound proofed area in the lower plant room were two 147 KW diesel generators which would supply electrical power once the mains supply had failed. The generators were supplied with diesel via a small daily service tank by a 48000 litre main tank. The lower plant room also contained the generator control panels, the main electrical switchboard and the heating and ventilation system control panel.   One generator would automatically start 30 seconds after the external power supply failed. The bunker’s power needs were divided between essential and non-essential loads. Normally one generator would supply each, but if one generator failed the other could supply the essential load to provide basic communications, lighting and a minimum of air conditioning and cooking. In most RGHQs, the generators were sited outside or at least apart from the main part of the building probably because of the noise they produced and their need for an air supply. If the air did not first go through the filters, it would result in the generators building up potentially high levels of radiation.

The upper plant room contained the complex air supply system. Under fall-out conditions, air would be drawn into the bunker through large vents in the air intake gallery on the bunker roof. This would then be passed through a series of filters, including High Efficiency Particulate Air filters to remove the contaminated dust. It would then be heated or cooled to maintain a working temperature of 20 degrees centigrade. During peacetime operations, the filters could be by-passed. The system could also operate in a completely shutdown mode re-circulating the internal air. Air circulated around the bunker in metal ductwork at ceiling height. When unoccupied the ventilation system maintained the internal temperature at 14 degrees. It was important to keep the air conditioning running even when the bunker was unoccupied to avoid stop the humidity rising which would damage the electrical and communications equipment and lead to the growth of mould. The air would also have to be chilled and dried because when fully manned the staff would give off at lot of heat and moisture.

The Chilmark bunker shows that an RGHQ could provide essential office accommodation for the Regional Commissioner and his staff together with the necessary communications systems. But it also shows that the bunker, assuming it was properly provisioned, could be self-sufficient providing not only reasonably good working conditions but also all the necessary domestic facilities for the staff for around 30 days should the outside conditions require it.



The RGHQ sites

Many of the 1980s RGHQs used buildings which had been used as RSGs or SRCs in the 1960s although most were refitted in the 1970s or 1980s. There were also several complete refurbishments of other bunkers and for the first time since the early 1950s completely new bunkers were built. In fact, the mid-1980s saw the biggest boom in bunker construction since the early 1950s. As well as new RGHQs, hardened facilities were built for army headquarters, communications facilities, fuel supply points, water companies, etc during the decade.


The SRHQs/RGHQs for each region were –

Region 1 Scotland

In the 1960s, Scotland was divided into 3 zones – North, East and West with controls at Anstruther in Fife, Kirknewton in Lothian and Torrance House in East Kilbride. These reported to a Scottish Central Control at Barnton Quarry in Edinburgh although it is possible that by the mid-1960s the extended control at Kirknewton had resumed its original role as Scottish central. This arrangement continued throughout the 1970s. The Zone controls were equivalent to the SRHQs in England and Wales but unlike in those countries the Central Control equivalent to a 1960s RSG would have been established pre-attack after its English and Welsh equivalents were abandoned in 1965.

 The Barnton Quarry site built as one of four R4 Sector Operations Centres in the mid-1950s as part of the ROTOR air defence scheme. Built entirely underground on three levels the bunker had internal dimensions of about 37 metres by 18 metres. The roof and walls were 10 feet thick and the entrance was through a long tunnel. The original RAF building appears to have been little altered during its civil defence usage until it was disposed of in 1984.

Torrance House was a former army Anti Aircraft Operations Room that had been built during the early 1950s. It was had two floors, the lower one being below ground level. The Anstruther Zone Control was originally built under the ROTOR scheme as an R3 two-level, fully underground Ground Control Intercept station. It was adopted in 1964 as the North Zone Headquarters, the equivalent of an SRHQ. Internally, it was little altered from its ROTOR days and still contained much of the original plant. By the late 1980s it was costing some £90000 a year to maintain. It was sold and opened in 1994 as “Scotland’s Secret Bunker”, the first of the RGHQs to become a museum to the Cold War. The Kirknewton headquarters was constructed in the mid 1950s as a Regional War Room to the standard design of a 2-storey surface built blockhouse with walls 5 feet thick. It was considerably extended in the 1960s.

This arrangement continued until 1983 when the East and West zones were merged to form the new South Zone and Scotland was designated as 1 Region. The Zone Headquarters at Kirknewton would now act as the Scottish Central Headquarters and house the Scottish Commissioner (the peacetime Secretary of State for Scotland). The Anstruther ZHQ became the Deputy Scottish Central Headquarters. In 1990, it was replaced by a new purpose built bunker at an army camp at Cultybraggen near Stirling. This was similar in basic design to the Chilmark bunker on two levels, with the top one mounded over. A mid-1980s plan to replace Anstruther was not completed.


Region 2 North East

This region was formed in 1983 by combining two English regions – North and North East, neither of which, unlike most regions had been divided sub-regions. In the 1960s, North Region would have had its RSG at the army camp in Catterick, but the region never had an SRHQ in the 1970s although by late in the decade work was starting to convert a former World War Two food cold store at Hexham in Northumberland to become RGHQ 2.2. The building, a massive rectangular windowless brick structure, was converted to give a net internal working area of 23,430 sq ft on two floors. Internally, the walls were thickened by an extra two feet to increase the protection factor and a standard aerial mast was placed on the roof. The building occupied a prime 1.37-hectare site on an industrial estate close to the railway station. It was sold in 1994 for £1.2 million. 


Hexham RGHQ - mid-1990s


The SRHQ for the North East region was at Shipton to the north of York. Like Barnton Quarry it began life as a 3 level ROTOR SOC and was taken over as an RSG in 1963. In the late 1970s, it was given a major refit that lasted several years. The guardroom bungalow was heavily reinforced internally and the windows filled in. A fourth floor, originally suggested in the 1960s, was added to the top of the bunker and earthed over. This new floor contained water tanks and dormitories. Whilst the original roof was 10 feet thick, the new one was only 1 foot with a few inches of earth on top.


Region 3 North Midland

The SRHQs for 3 Region were at Skendelby in Lincolnshire and Loughborough in Leicestershire and both were redesignated as RGHQs. RGHQ 3.1 at Skendelby was another underground ROTOR bunker, which had been adopted as a civil defence control in the mid-1960s, but unlike its sister at Anstruther, it was radically rebuilt in the early 1980s. By using a large under floor void originally used for cable runs in ROTOR days it was possible to fit a new lower floor into the existing bunker. A new fourth floor containing the tanks, generators and ventilation plant was then added on top and mounded over. It was then topped by 4 distinctive air towers. The bunker occupied part an exposed 6.75 acre site that was sold in 1995 for £150000.


Generators at Skendelby

RGHQ 3.2 at Loughborough was another former cold store like Hexham which was taken over in 1973 for conversion into an SRHQ. The local council bought it when it was decommissioned and it was demolished at a reported cost of £200000.


Region 4 East

East Region was rather spoilt for choice when it came to protected accommodation. In the 1960s, the Regional War Room at Cambridge was extended to become the RSG for the region. With the end of the RSG system this building remained unused although in the 1980s it was refitted to accommodate the Easten Branch of the Nato Wartime Oil Organisation, the Nato Defence Shipping Agency and latterly the Eastern Region AFHQ when it moved from the old Rotor bunker at Bawdsey.

In the 1960s, the region had been divided into 3 sub-regions with SRHQs at Bawburgh near Norwich, Hertford and Kelvedon Hatch near Brentwood. When London was redesignated as a wartime region in 1971 it gained control of Kelvedon Hatch. This left 4 Region with Bawbugh as SRHQ 4.1 and Hertford as SRHQ 4.2 both of which were redesignated as RGHQs.

Bawburgh was another underground R4 ROTOR bunker. Like Shipton a fourth floor was added which was used for tanks and dormitories. The bunker was in poor condition and was being refurbished at the time when all work was stopped on civil defence projects in 1990. The main weakness of Bawburgh was its reliance on a single generator, which at the time the site was sold in 1994 was not in working order.

The diagram below shows a cross-section through the Bawburgh R4 Rotor Sector Operations Control with the new floor added to increase the available accommodation. It graphically shows the thickness of the reinforced concrete used in these buildings.



The Hertford bunker owed its origins to a mid-1960s plan to incorporate SRHQs into new government buildings. This resulted in a single storey bunker being built under a multi-story office block and its car park in the centre of Hertford. The main entrance was through the office building that had an aerial tower on its roof. The bunker was effectively abandoned by the Home Office on decommissioning and is used as a store by the government departments in the office block.

When the Royal Observer Corps was stood down in 1991 its parent government department, the Home Office, which was also responsible for the RGHQs found itself with several surplus ROC Group Controls. These had been built in the mid-1950s to a standard design with a large two level operations room surrounded at first floor level by an open gallery. They also contained a small amount of office and dormitory space. More importantly, they were equipped with the same communications equipment as the RGHQs and were all connected to the Emergency Communications Network. They had also been regularly used and maintained. They were therefore ideal to be taken over as RGHQs except for their size, having been designed for a staff of around 60, about half the complement of an RGHQ. Nevertheless, the opportunity was taken to replace the unsatisfactory Hertford bunker with the former Group Control on the outskirts of Bedford. The “well” which allowed people on the first floor to look down onto the ground floor was covered over to give additional working space but little else was done to alter the former Group Control before the RGHQs were themselves stood down.


Region 5 London

During most of the 1960s, the London region would have been divided in wartime between East, South and South East Home Defence Regions. But when it was established as a full region encompassing the Greater London area, it was not sub-divided into sub-regions and therefore only needed one SRHQ. The SRHQ, later RGHQ 5.1, for London was at Kelvedon Hatch near Brentwood, which is actually several miles outside the region’s boundary. It was sited in the fourth of the ROTOR R4 SOCs that originally controlled the RAF’s Metropolitan sector. This was taken over for civil defence purposes in the early 1960s as a Sub Regional Control and then a SRHQ. In this early period, it was also still used like the other former SOCs as a Sector Control for the ROC before these were relocated to ROC Group Controls in the early 1970s.

At one stage it was planned to put a fourth floor onto the bunker but this was never built. Instead, it was refitted in the mid-1970s when new tanks were installed on the roof (and then earthed over), new generators installed and the communications facilities upgraded. The bunker is entered via the standard ROTOR guardroom “bungalow” through a tunnel that unusually, because the bunker is built into the side of the hill, enters at the lower floor level rather than at the top as in other R4s. At the time of stand down the bunker was scheduled for a much needed major refurbishment. In 1994, the farming family from whom it was compulsorily purchased in 1953 for £2410 bought the site in the sealed bid auction for £150001and it was subsequently opened as a museum.


Region 6 Southern

In the 1960s the south eastern corner of England was still divided as it had been during World War 2 between 12 Region in the east with its RSG at Dover Castle and 6 Region in the west with its RSG operating from Warren Row which used thee old Regional War Room at Reading as its communications centre. When the two regions were merged they were each redesignated as sub-regions with their SRHQs at Dover and Basingstoke.

RSG12 was housed in the tunnels under Dover Castle which dated back to Napoleonic times although the operational heart of the RSG was in the lowest level of tunnels named “Dumpy”. This area consisted of a series of high rooms dug out of the chalk connected by a series of narrow communications tunnels. The main conversion work for the RSG was completed in 1964 and some remedial work was done in the 1970s but overall the accommodation and facilities in the tunnels were poor. Plans were made in 1982 to rebuild the SRHQ and to move the canteen and dormitories to the Dumpy level. The cost was however prohibitive and the plan was abandoned. In 1984, the Home Office gave up the site to English Heritage, which owns the Castle, and the upper two levels of tunnels were subsequently restored to their World War 2 condition and opened to the public.


Domestic facilities at Dover

The closure of Dover left what was now Region 6 covering the whole of southern England with only one RGHQ. This became apparent for Exercise Vireg when the counties previously attached to Dover found that they had no way of accessing the Emergency Communication Network. This lead to them hurriedly being patched into the remaining RGHQ at Basingstoke. Plans were however in hand. In 1988 the Home Secretary replied to a question in Parliament that asked about “the alterations to the radio station at Kings Standing” by saying “…part of this site is being developed as an administrative centre for use in a possible emergency. It is not the practice to give detailed information about facilities of this kind. The building is not intended for use by the general public.” This was the first public announcement of what was to become the flagship of the RGHQs. It occupied a historically interesting site on high ground in Ashdown Forest near Crowborough in Kent. During the last war the site had been used to broadcast “black propaganda” into occupied Europe and two massive bunkers – one to house the studio and transmitting facilities and the other the power plant were built under the code name Aspidistra. After the war, the BBC and the Diplomatic Wireless Service used the transmitters until 1982.

The original main bunker was completely rebuilt to become the new RGHQ 6.1. When it was completed in 1987 its three floors were impressively equipped. Some of the furniture would not look out of place in a city boardroom, there were pictures on the walls and plastic pot plants and the canteen resembled something from a fast-food restaurant. The bunker occupied only a small part of the site, most of which was used by the police for training. After stand down the bunker was eventually also acquired by the police for training.


Crowborough RGHQ - Government Department's room


The second RGHQ in the region was at Basingstoke, and like Hertford, was built under a 1960s government office block. The bunker was on two floors under the car park but it always suffered badly from water ingress. After stand down it was initially used as a nightclub before being demolished along with the building above it.   


Region 7 South West

South West region had its RSG at another former ROTOR site at Bolt Head near Kingsbridge in south Devon. This was a two-story Ground Control Intercept station but unlike the Anstruther bunker this one was built completely above ground. Some conversion work was done in the 1960s but most of the domestic accommodation was in a nearby building. This was demolished in the mid-1980s and some of the upper rooms of the bunker were converted into dormitories. However, the space would have been extremely crowded. Whilst the bunker had been rewired and new communications and telephone points had been put in the washing and canteen arrangements were not updated from the original ROTOR days and were totally inadequate. Much of the air conditioning plant dated from the early 1950s and was still painted in the original drab green standard ROTOR colour scheme. The site was sold in 2000 for £200000 to a communications company who were interested in using the site’s tall aerial mast and left the bunker to decay.

Bolt Head’s companion SRHQ was at Ullenwood to the south of Cheltenham. This began life, like the Kirknewton Zone Headquarters, in the early 1950s as an Anti Aircraft Operations Room. In the 1960s, it was used by the Civil Defence Corps before becoming an SRHQ. As SRHQ 7.1 Ullenwood would have been very small for its role and was replaced by the purpose built RGHQ at Chilmark.


Region 8 Wales

Under the SRHQ scheme there was never a headquarters for the northern Wales sub-region. A 1970s plan to install a control in the basement of a government building being built in Ruthin fell through and in 1985, a site was found at Llandudno Junction at another former World War ll cold store like those used at Hexham and Loughborough. But in December 1986 it was announced that construction on what was termed “…this type of administrative centre” was unlikely to start within the next two years and in the interim temporary accommodation was sought to install the MSX message switch that were being installed in the RGHQs to link their subordinate county council emergency centres to the Emergency Communication Network. In practice, it was found that the cold store site needed too much work and the plan was abandoned. North Wales eventually acquired an RGHQ when the Royal Observer Group Control at Wrexham became available after the Corps was stood down. This was of the standard two-storey construction with both levels above ground providing some 2700 sq feet of internal space. The site was on the edge of a housing development and was sold in 1994 for £42000. The absence of a site for RGHQ 8.1 left the old tunnels at Brackla to cover the whole country as RGHQ 8.2.


Region 9 West Midland

The RSG for the Midlands region was sited in an underground factory at Drakelow near Kiddiminster. The factory consisted of a series of tunnels dug into the sandstone hillside in a gridiron pattern. When the RSGs were abandoned Drakelow was redesignated as an SRHQ and later an RGHQ before being sold in 1993. The bunker was refitted in the early 1980s with new generators, canteen, etc but its levels of habitability were always poor. In 1990, a feasibility study was made into building a new surface blockhouse on the extensive site but this plan came to nothing. Instead, in 1992 another former Royal Observer Corps Group Control at Lawford Heath near Rugby replaced Drakelow.

Drakelow’s companion SRHQ was another example of civil defence planners modifying existing accommodation to meet their purposes. RGHQ 9.1 occupied part of an army training area at Swynnerton near Stafford. The site was formerly a Royal Ordnance Factory one of its magazines had originally been converted in the 1960s as a civil defence Group Control. When it became an SRHQ an adjacent magazine was converted and the two linked by a tunnel some 200 feet long. One bunker contained the operational and communications areas and the other the domestic accommodation. The magazines were single storey structures that were earthed over providing a total of 2500 sq feet of floor space. After the RGHQs were stood down the site was returned to the army.


Region 10 North Western

Region 10 was poorly supplied with suitable bunker accommodation. The RSG would have been sited at the barracks in Preston. In the late 1960s, accommodation for a large, single storey SRC was provided under a new government office block in Southport that became SRHQ 10.1. However, it suffered severely from flooding and was abandoned in the early 1980s.

 RGHQ 10.2 at Hack Green in Cheshire used another former ROTOR bunker. The site was first considered in 1969 and had been acquired by 1971 but, probably due to lack of funding work did not begin until the early 1980s and then the extensive refurbishment took several years. The bunker was originally, like the one at Bolt Head, a two storey semi-sunk R6 Ground Control Intercept station. But when it was rebuilt, like Skendelby, extra space was found to accommodate a new lower floor and a new generator house was built onto the side of the bunker. The site was sold for £151000 and subsequently became a museum.

In theory the two RGHQs for the region were located at the Hack Green site although this only really applied to the provision of the communications links to the county emergency centres as there would not be enough room at Hack Green to accommodate two RGHQ teams. Eventually, the gap was filled when the Royal Observer Corps was stood down by redesignating the UK Warning and Monitoring Organisation’s wartime headquarters at Gossnargh near Preston as RGHQ 10.1. This large bunker was subsequently sold for £110010.


Region 11 Northern Ireland

It is not clear if Northern Ireland had an operational regional control in the 1970s and early 1980s although both Gough Barracks and the former Regional War Room in Belfast were available. However, in 1985, it was announced that 3 purpose built civil defence centres would be constructed in Northern Ireland. Each would accommodate two teams. Four teams, each operating under a senior civil servant, would cover one of the four civil defence areas that would be co-terminus with the health and social service areas. The main team would constitute the RGHQ staff under a government minister as the Northern Ireland Central Control with the sixth team forming a reserve. Work was due to start on the first centre at Ballymena, which was based on the Chilmark design in 1987 but was delayed until the following July. It was completed in November 1989 but it appears that the other two sites were never started.


Staffing at the regional level

In the 1970s, the Sub Regional Commissioners would have been senior civil servants but, possibly following the 1981 review this role would have been taken by “junior ministers”. The Regional Commissioner would still be a “senior minister”. When the RGHQs were introduced combining the sub-regional and regional tiers the Regional Commissioner would have been a “Government minister” with “another minister” as his deputy based in the second RGHQ in the region. Unfortunately, the term government minister covers a wide range of the governing hierarchy and need not be an elected Member of Parliament. Exercise Regenerate in 1981, which perhaps assumed a single-tier at regional level, had a Minister of State in the Foreign and Colonial Office (second in the department to the secretary of State) as the Commissioner with a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as his deputy[2].

These ministers would have been appointed when necessary by the Prime Minister probably on the advice of the Cabinet Secretary with little advance warning of their role and no specific training. They would have taken up their posts when the crisis had reached a point where war was seen as possible, if not probable, although they would have no role until regional government was implemented after a nuclear attack. However, the absence from Whitehall of some 20 ministers and possibly some cabinet ministers would hardly go unnoticed by the media and would need to be carefully managed if it was not to be taken by the public as a warning that nuclear war was imminent.          

As well as ministers, providing officials to staff the decision making posts and then junior staff for communications and domestic duties in the SRHQs and RGHQs was always a problem. During the 1960s and at least into the 1970s government departments maintained lists of designated staff although generally these people were not told that they had been earmarked for a war role. From the early 1970s the designated principal Officers who would head the SRHQs were told of their potential appointments and some communications staff were sought. Senior staff were designated by the Treasury whose responsibilities for civil service manning were later taken over by the Civil Service Department. But when this was abolished in 1981 it appears to have left a vacuum. It is possible that some of the lower level staff were designated in 1982 and informed of their roles and there are some suggestions in the literature that the Regional Emergency Committees should meet to appoint some RGHQ staff. In the late 1980s, an inter-departmental committee was set up to address the staffing issue but it was over-taken by events when the system was abandoned. Most of the staff would be appointed by individual departments or other bodies such as the BBC and British Telecom. The departments knew how many people and of what grades they would need to appoint.  some But it is probable that most were never designated because it was announced in 1982 that 35% of SRHQ staff had been “identified” as opposed to only 5% 2 years before. The use of the word “identified” does not sound very positive and both figures are lower than the 50% or so who were designated by their departments in 1972.

The MAFF Civil Defence Manual, published in 1988, made passing mention of its RGHQ contingent although without indicating how they would be chosen. It said of them that “It is essential that staff for regional government should be those people likely to make the most useful contribution. In particular, people selected for these appointments should -

      a)       Not be liable to recall in an emergency to the armed services or other duties of national importance;

b)       Not suffer from claustrophobia or require special diets and medications;

c)       Be able to stand up to working for long hours under heavy pressure.”


Deputy Principal Officers for the SRHQs had to be specially appointed for Exercise Scrum Half in 1978 but other staff were not needed for the exercise. In the early 1980s the Principal Officers, Deputy Principal Officers and Assistant Principal Officers were appointed for the 3 regional teams. In East Region, for example, they were all civil servants and came from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Health and Social Security, the Building Societies Commission, Customs and Excise and HMSO.

Although, senior designated staff were sent on Exercise Regard the recruitment problem continued. In the late 1980s the College was actively looking for delegates but was told by the Department of Transport that it was difficult to find people who were interested. Some staff may however have been designated following earlier practice without being told as the College suggested that a letter nominating some one for the course would be a good way of telling them about their role. 

Exercise Regard only gave delegates a general introduction to the role of regional government and the delegates did not role-play specific tasks. In 1986 F6, the Home Office Department responsible for civil defence issued a small booklet to designated staff called “Briefing Notes for Designated Regional Government Staff”. It was only 25 pages long and simply reproduced sections of the Emergency Planning Guidelines for Local Authorities. It gave no practical direction as to the roles of staff at the RGHQs although a rather pompous note from the Cabinet Office at the time stated “…in a real life situation the Zone HQ would be staffed by experts in their respective departments who would be expected to know exactly what information they needed, what they could realistically expect to get and its source.”. The booklet confirmed the hostilities-only nature of RGHQ staff saying that the role of the “designate officer” i.e. someone who had accepted designation as a member of staff for wartime regional government “ very much a contingent one; apart from the need to assimilate the scope of civil defence arrangements... and to attend where called upon training courses and exercises, there will be no requirement for the officer to undertake any specific functions in time of peace.”. The “hands on” procedures explaining how an RGHQ might operate were not drafted until 1988 and were possibly never completed.

The largest contingent in the RGHQ would have been the “counter room staff” manning the communications equipment. In the 1960s the army would have largely provided the communications staffs but from the early 1970s each SRHQ and then RGHQ had a communications team of local junior civil servants who would attend at the RGHQ every 6 weeks to test and train on the communications equipment. In practice, not all the headquarters had such a team. The members were told they were testing the equipment but in reality they would be the first people called on had the communications systems been manned for real.

In the late 1960s, the nominal staff for a Sub Regional Control (later Sub Regional Headquarters) had been reduced to about 200 from an original 280 partly because of security reasons but mainly because of the abandonment of all their civil defence roles. When the staffing for RGHQs was considered the numbers were further reduced to 134 reflecting a reduction in the numbers of support staff considered necessary or available. Even so, they would need over 3300 people spread through the RGHQ and reserve teams in the 11 regions and this ignores the many civil service in central and regional offices of government departments and other organisations who would have designated wartime roles. The Regional Emergency Committees would also need to be staffed which would require say another 300+ people, although there have been some suggestions that the REC teams would be ideally placed to form the core of the regional reserve team. In total, some 4000 people would have to be quickly recruited, organised and despatched to places they had never been to before to prepare to perform a role that they were probably not physically or mentally prepared for. This is asking a lot for a system that according to EPGLA should be ready at 48 hours notice. An added difficulty would be that, as in previous eras, no provision would be made for families who would be left at home to fend for themselves. The RGHQ staff would have to be volunteers as there would be no realistic way of coercing people into such a role.

The expectation or hope was that those who were nominated, whether before or perhaps at the last moment, without being warned in advance would simply leave their families at very short notice and at a time of great tension for an unknown destination and an unknowable future.


Regional controls – staff complements

                                           SRC           SRHQ                 RGHQ      RGHQ

                                                              (1964)          (1970s)             (1980s)     (reserve)

 A. Common Services Staff

Commissioner (or Sub)                         1                 1                           1                     1

Commissioner’s Office[3]                     16               10

-          Principal Officer                                                                      1

-          Deputy Principal Officer                                                                               1

-          Assistant Principal Officer                                                     1                    1

-          Legal Adviser                                                                          1

-          Finance Oficer                                                                                               1

-          Secretariat                                                                                7                   6

Scientists                                                13                   9                           5                  2

Communications Staff                           70                  40                        29                 4

Housekeeping Staff                               28                  17                        11

Common Services Staff                        10                    6   

 B. Government Staff[4]

Central Office of Information                  2                     2                         2

Dept of Employment                               2                    1                          1                   1

Dept of Energy                                                                                           6                   4

Dept of Environment                              12                 13                          7                   5

DHSS                                                        8                    7                          3                   3

HMSO                                                                                                                               1

Home Office                                            3                                                  3                   3

Lord Chancellor’s dept                                                                               2                   1

MAFF                                                       6                    8                            8                   8

Dept of Trade & Industry                        1                    1                             2                  3

Dept of Transport                                   13                 10                            8                  7

Treasury                                                                                                                             2

 C. Non Government Staff

Civil defence                                             5                  5

Armed Services                                      20                18                            20                1

BBC                                                                                3                             5[5]               2

British Telecom                                          2                  3                            4                   1

Fire Service                                              33                21                            2                  1

Police                                                        24                19                            5                  5


Totals                                                      267              192                         134                65


[1] 2 examples of situation reports are shown in the appendix.

[2] A Parliamentary Private Secretary is an unpaid assistant to a minister chosen from the Parliamentary backbenches. Most of these junior ministers would be unknown to the survivors who they would claim authority over.

[3] Breakdown not available for SRC and SRHQ.

[4] Using approximate 1980s equivalent Departments.

[5] Excludes 23-33 staff at transmitter sites.


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