After walking ourselves silly on Saturday, we explored what we could of the Cotswolds by car.
Bidding adieu to Julie and Paul, we drove to Broadway, based on Tripadvisor reviews that the Tower was a worthy way to spend an afternoon.
The Tower was much smaller than I was expecting based on the pictures, kind of like the photos on rental websites (#househuntinginLondon). When we reached the top of the lookout, the surrounding countryside was blanketed in thick fog (#storyofmylife) so I didn’t get a chance to see the Westbury White Horse. In any case, I’m not sure how good my eyes would have been at spotting a horse silhouette in a field 40km away.
Personally, I found the interiors of the Tower more interesting, as each floor was dedicated to the building’s patrons and users through the decades.
The history of the Royal Observer Corps was especially fascinating. Incredibly, Britain’s first line of homeland defense after the early warning radars failed, was a volunteer-led and entirely civilian affair! Both men and women could sign up to the corps, although military history buffs were some of the most enthusiastic enlisters. Training involved scrubbing up on the differences between various fuselages and rehearsing what to do if you saw a German plane coming towards you.
After the war, a lot of the Royal Observer Corps monitoring posts were converted into nuclear bunkers. Classified SECRET, there were 1,600 in total scattered across the country. Their main purpose? In the event of a nuclear attack, volunteers would gather enough information to help triangulate the blast site, calculate what direction and distance the irradiated air would travel, before telling the authorities.
It’s bizarre to think of a non-military man or woman going off into the countryside for “training” but not being able to tell their loved ones what they were up to for three hours every week. In fact, the bunkers were so well protected until the Ministry of Defence decommissioned them in 1991, that even a woman who had worked as a codebreaker for GCHQ had never even heard of them!
The real highlight was meeting Tony, who had been a volunteer for 30 years. He took a lot of pride in the gravity of the role (in the event of an attack, volunteers were under no circumstances to inform the public to avoid causing mass panic), and the high-tech equipment used at the time (apart from the telephones, which were used because they apparently still worked after the bomb blast in Hiroshima).
Tony was, we were told, very put out when the Ministry of Defence pulled the plug on the corps and the bunkers without warning or recognition of service. The Royal Observer Corps clearly meant a lot to the people who volunteered their time and it would play a huge role in any nuclear contingency planning. I’m not even sure what the backup plan is now: anti-ballistic missiles and crossed fingers?
Tony’s passion and his sense of belonging were so endearing. His diorama of the bunker, which he created for visitors who are too frail to clamber down the 20ft ladder, was painstakingly assembled. Even the mechanics on the miniature-hatch matched that of the real thing. We were regaled with trivia on medal mounting, “court style versus regular”, and the documentary about Stanislav Petrov, “the man who did nothing and saved the world”.
All in all, we had a fabulous weekend which was made even more entertaining by the lovely and warm people we met along the way.