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1962: Back from the brink of war

For two weeks in October 1962 the globe appeared to be teetering on the edge of World War III.

The Cuban Missile Crisis began when US President John F Kennedy announced on 14 October 1962 he had received intelligence Soviet nuclear missile bases were being built in Cuba.

It was the start of two weeks of tension between the Kremlin and the White House as they went head-to-head in a dangerous game of brinkmanship.

All over the world people were terrified a nuclear holocaust was just days away, and it was a massive relief when the crisis was finally defused on 28 October.

Your stories:

I was a US military dependant who had just moved to Germany in September of 1962.

As a teenager, I liked running around with my friends, but that came to an abrupt halt when the crisis started.

We had to stay in sight of the apartment because if war did occur, we had to evacuate immediately.

Don't know where we would have gone, but I remember being mad that I wasn't allowed to go out to the teen clubs and local gathering places with my friends. I couldn't have cared less about the thought of war - flirting with girls, playing pool and sports were far more important.

To me, it was all bluster between two nations. A year or so afterwards, there was another incident that almost brought us to war. I don't recall the details, but again we could not leave sight of the apartment, but I decided life wasn't that exciting to be caught up in a war zone and knew that nothing was going to happen.
Robert, USA

I was 14. I remember that my friends were talking about nothing else that day at school.

Everyone was afraid of Nuclear War and we were wondering what things would be like in a week's time, or even if we would be here at all.

It was all very sombre and we didn't much bother about whose fault it all was.
Alan, Scotland

I remember this quite well because at the time I was serving aboard HMS Troubridge stationed in the West Indies.

Our position at the time this event took place was on passage to Key West and Florida. Many things happened because of this and the blockade of Cuba had gotten underway.

All ships then had to close down their sonar due to the Russians being able to monitor working freqencies. The blockade went on for several weeks before the situation was resolved between Kennedy an Khrushchev. We were on full alert at the time.
Robert Hackett, UK

I was working at the Ford Motor Company in Oakville, Ontario and we were listening to the radio on what was happening.

We left wondering if there would be a nuclear attack that would affect the entire eastern seaboard of the US and Canada.

We were all very much relieved when they reached an agreement.
Janet Hendry,Canada

I remember this period very well and was living at RAF Northwood.

The RAF camp was on full alert and we were closer to world war than people realised.

One of my friends was very upset because he was worried that he would not live long enough to learn to drive. I was very relieved when Russia backed down.
Chris O'Donnell, Barbados

I was six-years-old, and I remember the tension. As an officer in the naval reserves, my father was called to active duty. While he served in World War II, Korea and the reserves until the late 1960s, it was the only time I ever saw him in uniform.

In school we were taught to take cover under our desks in event of an attack. It strikes me as incredibly naive now.
Dwight Morrow, USA

I remember catching the bus to school, and asking the conductor for a return ticket. He told me to buy a single, and spend the change on sweets. He said, "If President Kennedy pushes that button today, you won't have a home to come home to."
Sheila Dasilva, Canada


" We were as close as it is possible to come to disaster without actually encountering the apocalypse "

Graham Paterson, USA

I was 16 and was half-way through my first term in the Lower 6th at Middlesbrough High School. We all read the newspapers in the Lower 6th form room that week with a mixture of real but semi-concealed fear and with rather false black humour.

Nevertheless, I certainly did not appreciate at the time we were as close as it is possible to come to disaster without actually encountering the apocalypse. Seeing the recent film "13 days" brought it all back. Well done the Kennedy brothers!
Graham Paterson, USA

My 9th birthday fell on October 17th 1962, in the run-up to the crisis.

I was aware that "Cuba" was in the news a lot, but unaware of its significance.

My birthday list to my grandparents that year contained three choices. Imagine my delight when I received all three, not just one. I couldn't understand their generosity at the time, but now it's perfectly understandable!
Nicholas Gill, UK

I was nine at the time and staying overnight with my grandparents in Battersea.

My memory is of a warm day, like summer, and my grandmother dressing in the morning with the sash window of her bedroom thrown open to the day while the radio played.

There were voices on the radio and a lot of tension and I clearly remember the words "missile crisis" and the pospect of war.

I remember that I had a great, great longing to be with my parents at the time and was very disturbed but did not tell my grandparents that because I loved them too.
Helena, USA

I was only about six-years-old when this story broke and I don't remember much about it. I do however remember seeing a fire engine which struck me as unusual because it was green.

I asked my Dad, who was with me at the time, why the fire engine was green, as I had assumed in my childish innocence that all fire engines were red.

"It's an Auxiliary Fire Brigade engine," replied Dad.

I learned much later that the Auxiliary Fire Service appliances were intended for use in such an emergency as a nuclear war and the engine I saw must have been out on exercise, preparing for the worst scenario which thankfully never came.
Sean, UK

I was 17 and thought it all very exciting. I was born too near the last war for it to be in my history lessons at school and the reasons it came about were a mystery to me at that age.


" I seem to remember the three minute warning on TV being broadcast to let us know what it sounded like "

Brenda Woods, UK

During the Cuban Crisis I remember everyone was very serious, whispering and then being quiet when you entered a room. It was endlessly in the press, on the TV and radio.

My parents still talked of the last war and this next one would be even more terrible. My friends and me used to meet and talk about what our parents were saying and sharing the terror. It was a very dramatic time.

I seem to remember the three minute warning on TV being broadcast to let us know what it sounded like, and everyone saying, "I would rather not know than run round in panic for my last three minutes".

Or articles in the press asking people to write in asking, "What would you do in that three minutes?"
Brenda Woods, UK

I was 12-years-old at the time and was petrified, yet all the other children in my class seemed totally oblivious to the situation - maybe I was a bit too well read up for my own good
Alan Boden, England


" We were told to paste brown paper over the window panes to avoid the flash effects from a nuclear strike "

Robert Jonsen, Switzerland

I was 16 at this time, and living in Glasgow (where I grew up). I remember clearly even today the worry and fear of my mother that a nuclear war would start.

In the newspapers we were told to paste brown paper over the window panes to avoid the flash effects from a nuclear strike - in the last few days before the crisis was defused, we and our neighbours all had brown paper blocking the windows. Today we know better, it would not have helped at all, but then I think everyone was grabbing at straws!
Robert Jonsen, Switzerland

Two of my teenage friends and I went out for an evening meal in Finchley. We were convinced that a nuclear war was just round the corner - so much so we almost persuaded the restaurateur that it was pointless paying for our dinner!
Howard, UK

I was barely 30 months old - but it must have been bad. My father always came home from work at lunchtime and listened to the news on the radio. I got my head bitten off for interrupting and turned to my mother confused.

Later in life I discovered she was a near-miss survivor of the Clydebank blitz, but at the time her ashen face and whispered "there might be a war" made a powerful impression I will always remember.
Graeme Smith, US ex UK

I was only four-years-old at the time but I remember watching the news broadcasts and feeling totally petrified and concerned about the situation. My parents tried to reassure me that everything would be OK but the news suggested otherwise.
Bill Sanderson, England

I was 10 when the crisis took place - I well remember one of our teachers saying that in the event of attack we should put our hands over our head and get under a desk or table. He would have been thinking back to World War II - no doubt in a nuclear war this would have had little effect!
David Mullen, England

I was only seven and off school with chicken pox during the crisis so remember a lot about it. I think it was listening to the news at 1pm on the Home Service on our creamy coloured Rediffusion box that sticks in my mind.

It may have been the voice of William Hardcastle introducing the news and the possibilty of a nuclear war etc. I remember the news on television too, particularly the time when the Soviet ships turned back. A frightening period to go through but some excitement about it too.
P Brannan, England

The crisis was just another scary day. Every week in the news there was another incident which seemed would trigger off a nuclear war. We lived in constant terror.

I was 16 and convinced I'd never reach 20! At school we counted down the last ten seconds to the ultimatum deadline. I even had a bet we'd survive. (He failed to pay up). It had a profound effect on us all.
Tony Armitage, UK

I was in San Diego, working for a firm that sold hobby supplies during the Cuban missile crisis. I and a co-worker drove a truck up to a military checkpoint to make a delivery to a naval ship.

The co-worker and I were having a conversation in Spanish (many people in San Diego speak Spanish as it is right on the USA-Mexico border). Some young marines with accents placing them as having come from a rural part of the USA well away from Latins pointed their rifles at us and ordered us out of the truck.

Our carrying on a conversation in Spanish was a suspicious activity, it seems, and they searched our truck for what seemed like hours before letting us proceed. They said we were on the brink of war.

There were lots of armored personnel vehicles and army convoys on the freeways during those days, and the city seemed like a military garrison.
Alan Stancliff, USA

I was still at school and studying for my A levels. An elderly man who lived in the same street as me told me to not bother with school work but to get out and enjoy myself.

He told all my friends not to worry about being called up as we would be blown to bits before we got the letters. I was scared before I spoke to him, I was shaking all over when he had finished.
Peter Barber, England

I was 16. I had just emigrated from England to California and started Junior College.

When the problem was announced, a lot of my young American classmates went down to enlist while the non-Americans talked of travelling to Canada so they would not be expected to fight.

I remember sitting on my bed, listening to the radio and thinking that I was going to die before I had really lived. John Kennedy has been a lifelong hero and an inspiration to a generation, not least because of his handling of this crisis.

All the revelations about him have not tarnished my memories of this great man.
Michele Edwin, England

I was in the second year of Priestlands Secondary school, Pennington, Lymington in Hampshire.

I distictly remember swinging round and round a netball post waiting for the bell to signal the start of school. It was 8.40.

I was sharply reprimanded by our sports teacher (who was also deputy head - a Miss Watts) for destroying school property. Usually devastated by any reprimand by any teacher, I distinctly remember thinking this reprimand did not matter at all as by the end of the day there would be no school, no property and none of us left to tell off.
Stella Sorensen, Denmark


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