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Monday, 1 January, 2001, 00:07 GMT
Scotland's holocaust fears
A nuclear mushroom cloud
The Cold War was at its height in the Swinging Sixties
Sixties Scotland may have been swinging to a heady brew of sex, drugs and rock and roll, but the country's civic leaders were grappling with weightier matters.

The somewhat apocalyptic question of how to bury all the dead after a nuclear holocaust, and who would be responsible was at the centre of a flurry of memos and meetings.

But officials in town halls and the then Scottish Office never reached a firm conclusion, mainly because no-one knew how many people would be killed.

One study speculated that 952,000 Scots could be the victims of a nuclear attack, with 2,000 deaths a day in Midlothian alone.

RAF Vulcan bomber
The Vulcan bomber was a potent symbol of the times
So earnestly was the question addressed that Scottish Office files include blueprints of makeshift mortuary body racks and photographs of emergency coffins.

Cremation would use too much fuel and sinking the bodies at sea in the hulks of ships would involve too much handling, officials said.

One solution appeared to be mass burial pits, dug with the aid of "the unemployed".

The macabre files are included in Scottish Office documents made public on New Year's Day at the National Archives of Scotland after 30 years.

The keeping of official records on the subject began when civil servants researched an answer to a parliamentary question in 1961 from an MP who wanted to know about the "designated burial officer" for the West of Scotland.


Records covering matters such as death registration stemmed from wartime experience, but a "secret" Ministry of Health memo in 1950 admitted: "It is not considered likely that the bodies of persons killed in mass destruction attacks, whether with atomic bombs or HE (high explosive) could be dealt with by ordinary methods."

Documents from 1948 on the likely requirements for emergency mortuary work specified 950 trucks, 75 of which would be for use in Scotland.

A Ministry of Health document in 1950 also detailed how civil defence burial regulations should be implemented at local level.

Officials worried about nuclear devastation like that in Nagasaki
This should include mortuaries capable of holding 100 bodies at a time, with supplies to include labels, hurricane lamps, five pairs of strong rubber gloves per attendant, carbolic of lime and shrouds.

Another Ministry of Health document that year admitted no casualty figures could be given because this was "highly speculative".

And a 1957 document records "disquiet" amongst officials in London at the lack of instructions to local authorities on the identification and disposal of the dead.

The first estimated casualty figures appear in a "restricted" Scottish home and health department note of 1964, which bore the civil service health warning: "This by no means represents departmental policy, but contains some interesting material."

'Disposal in pitshafts or hulks'

This recalled that post-war procedures for burying the dead laid emphasis on identification and "seemliness", but the nuclear age had changed that.

There was a suggestion that as many as 2,000 people could die in a large county like Midlothian.

Also in 1964, officials attended an event organised by public health and hygiene experts which included a talk by Dr Neil Reid.

A nuclear Mushroom cloud
The era was in the shadow of the mushroom cloud
They took notes as he suggested that in the areas of heaviest damage, the dead would either have been incinerated or buried in rubble, and these zones would be merely closed off.

Dead in the areas of lighter damage would be collected to remove the risk of disease, and tracked vehicles and special squads would be needed.

"It has been suggested that bodies should be disposed of in pitshafts or loaded in hulks which would be towed out to sea and sunk", said the notes of Dr Reid's talk.

The disadvantage of both those methods was that they would involve a great deal of handling of bodies.

"Mass cremation had also been suggested, but this would require the use of great quantities of fuel which would be needed for other purposes.

"Probably the best method of disposal would be by mass burial in pits dug by earth-moving equipment.

Nuclear bomb silo
Many nuclear bombs are still deployed
"This might be undertaken by the rescue section of the civil defence corps with the assistance of the unemployed."

In 1970, the matter came up again when John Gorman, Dundee's chief defence officer, wrote to Edinburgh for guidance after Dundee's parks director had raised the question.

An official noted to colleagues that several meetings had been held where "this difficult subject" had been mooted.

"I don't believe we ever got beyond the sort of useful but inconclusive thinking expressed in (the 1964 document estimating casualties)," the official noted.

Officials agreed to tell Mr Gorman no official guidance had ever been issued but that "common sense principles that he will have heard discussed from time to time" still applied.

A note in the 1970 file, apparently from army Brigadier Buchanan-Dunlop, informed officials: "There are no Branch Two data for Dundee, but they advise that the worst and most extravagant bomb on Dundee might result in 90,000 casualties (dead and dying, excluding wounded)."

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