As the threat of a nuclear strike against the UK became a reality, the Government undertook the huge task of updating the country's defences. By 1951 construction had begun on a chain of concrete bunkers around the country to act as command centres for the deployment and firing of our anti-aircraft defences. These were called Anti Aircraft Operations Rooms (AAORs). However, the rapid development of the jet plane and the advances of science meant that these operations centres only had an active life of three years and, by 1954, most of the sites had fallen redundant. The AAORs had originally received their command instructions from the national defence early warning system, 'ROTOR', which comprised a chain of vast underground radar stations along the coastline. This system also became redundant due to the increased power of radar, new missile technology and the development of the jet engine.
During the 1950's and 1960's, therefore, although a number of sites were retained by the Ministry of Defence and other Government departments, many were sold off. In the case of 'FURZE HILL' (Mistley), the centre was purchased by Essex County Council and became their Emergency Headquarters for the whole county in the event of a nuclear war. The bunker had cost some £500,000 to build in 1951 but, in 1963, the county purchased the site from the War Office for just £5,250. (The cost of building it today would be about £18 million). Every county was required by central government to have such an HQ so Essex County Council were very fortunate, being able to take over this heavily protected site at little cost and thus save themselves vast amounts of money which other less fortunate counties were having to spend.
However, by 1993, with the ending of the Cold War, the government decided to lift the requirement for each county to maintain such an HQ and Essex County Council were able to close their Emergency Centres. The Council, however, wished to see the site preserved and in early 1995 the building was renovated and refurbished prior to opening as a public tourist attraction. This work was undertaken by the same team that was responsible for the WWI 1 war rooms at Dover Castle - 'Hellfire Corner', the Liverpool 'Battle of the Atlantic' war rooms and the central government 'Secret Bunker' in Scotland.
Over 80 tons of original equipment was returned to
the site, much of it being donated by the Home Office, the MOD, the Defence
Forces, the Police, BT, local councils and other groups. As a result,
the FURZE HILL bunker is a fully authentic exhibition, displaying the
HQ as it would have been in full readiness for a nuclear war. In 1998
'The Bunker Preservation Trust' took over the management of the site,
preserving it as a Charity for future generations to visit.
During a time of tension the UK would be divided into 18 regions, each with it's own Regional Government HQ (RGHQ), to carry on the business of government up to and after an attack. All these headquarters worked on the principle of an escalation of international tension, leading up to a nuclear strike, giving them a few weeks or months to prepare. In the event of a sudden unpredicted attack there would have been literally no defence.
Each of the RGHQs would have a senior civil servant (Regional Commissioner) in charge. They would control the whole region and be in constant touch with the UK Combined Headquarters, the Military and all other relevant HQs. As their only function was civilian government, they would report to and take their orders directly from the Cabinet War Office and the Prime Minister, who would be located along with the joint Chiefs at either the UK Combined HQ or airborne in a flying command centre. These national HQs are all 'state of the art' facilities and remain operational today.
Volunteers would go out from the regional centre to take radiation readings throughout the county and civil defence staff would undertake the tasks of evacuation, rescue and warning. All this vital work for the county of Essex would be co-ordinated from the County Emergency HQ. Their prime purpose was to ensure that, in the aftermath of a nuclear strike, as many lives as possible were saved and to make life as acceptable as possible for local people, until things started to return to normal and the central services could take over again.
Fortunately, the system was never put to the test and with the ending of the Cold War in the early 90s it is hoped that FURZE HILL, and places like it, will never be needed again.