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AHOTW: Cold War nursing badge
Cold War nursing badge
This Cold War nursing badge was given to those who took part in special training to prepare for a possible nuclear attack

This tiny badge from Doncaster symbolises a bleak time in the history of the world.

Post 1945, a battered Britain was trying to recover from World War II while facing a new and frightening threat from the Soviet bloc.

Fears of an atom bomb attack were very real during the height of the Cold War in the 50s.

Armed forces and emergency services across the country were told to prepare in case the worst happened.

The National Hospital Service Reserve (NHSR) was one of those organisations, along with the police and fire service, who would be called into action in the event of a nuclear attack.

Lyn Wilkinson from Doncaster was part of the NHSR:

"I remember vividly the evening that this badge was given to me. In the 1950s a cloud hung over the world, The Cold War. We were told a nuclear attack was possible.

"The mood was grim at the NHS Reserves meeting and we were given details of the carnage caused by a nuclear explosion.

"If the red button were pressed in a mad moment, it would be catastrophic - we were filled with dread."

Civil Defence Committee Minutes
These minutes from the Civil Defence Committee provide an insight into Sheffield's plans to deal with a nuclear attack (Sheffield Archives CA-CDC/2/2)

It was a threat that was taken very seriously by the government of the time. The Civil Defence Act of 1948 had called on local authorities to set up a Civil Defence Corps.

Minutes from Sheffield's Civil Defence Committee provide a fascinating insight into what was going on during the Cold War period and how the city had a leading role to play.

In 1952, AL Dawson, Sheffield's Assistant Civil Defence Officer and HJ Reynolds, Chief Fire Officer with Sheffield Fire Brigade, were part of a Civil Defence Tactical School Pilot course.

The course was a prototype for training which was intended to be rolled out across the country.

It was based around an imagined attack on Sheffield, as the city was considered most suitable for studying civil defence tactics.

The course lasted for 18 days and no expense was spared to make it as realistic as possible, as Dawson and Reynolds told the committee in their report:

"It is said that one model of the centre of Sheffield, constructed to represent the scene after an atomic bomb has dropped between the Wicker and Norfolk Bridge, has cost £3,250."

We should assume a net reduction of approximately 8% of the city's population in the event of war
Sheffield Civil Defence Committee Minutes

That equates to about £65,000 today.

Sheffield was also innovative in its recruitment of members of the Civil Defence Corps. In 1953 it commissioned a film from Anglo-Scottish Pictures Ltd of Shepperton, Middlesex at a cost of £922 16s 3d, (£18,000 in today's money).

It was shown to the Home Secretary and Home Office staff when it was finished in 1954 and they were considering its use for other local authorities.

Other measures taken to protect people in the event of attack included identifying locations for air raid shelters in Sheffield.

And among the cold facts and figures of the planning for this, the human impact can also be read, as the minutes noted:

"It was agreed with the Home Office, we should assume a net reduction of approximately 8% of the city's population in the event of war."

In reality, with the development of the more powerful hydrogen bomb the casualty figure was likely to be much higher.

In 1955 the government commissioned the top secret Strath Report. The information it contained was only made public in 2002.

It estimated that one attack using ten bombs on the country's main population centres would kill 12 million people outright (nearly a quarter of the population) and seriously injure 4 million.

Many more would fall victim later to fallout.

But while the government concentrated on plans to deal with the effects of an attack, others were focussing on greater co-operation with the communist bloc.

Pablo Picasso
Artist Pablo Picasso was invited to Sheffield for the World Peace Congress

In November 1950 Sheffield was to have been the venue for the Second World Peace Congress.

The first had been held in Paris in 1949 with 2005 delegates drawn from the artists, politicians and great thinkers of the day.

But the idea frightened Britain's Labour government who only had a narrow majority. It was concerned the Congress was viewed as Soviet-backed and a platform for communist policies.

Foreign delegates, who included US singer Paul Robeson and Russian composer, Dimitri Shostakovitch, found they could not get visas.

In the end, two-thirds of the delegates were denied entry to Britain so the Congress was transferred at short notice to Poland.

A smaller scale meeting with speeches did take place at the City Hall and one delegate who did make it was artist, Pablo Picasso.

While in Sheffield, he sketched a small dove of peace on a napkin.

That is now kept by Weston Park Museum - another small object symbolising this turbulent time in our history.

With thanks to Sheffield Archives and the Bill Moore Collection for the information for this article.




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