Going down a hole in the ground

A “prepper” to me would have been someone who prepared people for surgical procedures, or perhaps someone at boarding school who completed what other schools would set as homework.

“Prep” is preparation and it seems a “prepper” is neither a member of a medical staff nor a school student. A prepper, according to the BBC, is someone who prepares for a “worst case scenario.”

The scenarios for which people “prep” are diverse: environmental and natural disasters, civil unrest, the collapse of law and order. Situations where mere survival is a challenge demand considerable preparation.

For two years, I was among people who were preppers. During two years at Sixth Form College, I was a volunteer with the Royal Observer Corps.

In the Second World War, the Royal Observer Corps were the people who kept watch for enemy aircraft. Members learned to identify the planes that passed overhead, reporting the types and the numbers to command posts.

By the 1970s, there was no possibility of ground-based observers spotting enemy aircraft. If there were to be an aerial attack, the planes would have been at a high altitude and would have been tracked on defence radar when far distant from British shores

Observers in the 1970s were prepping for a nuclear war, preparing for the measuring of the impact of Soviet missiles as they landed on targets in Britain.

The missile strikes would bring bursts of radioactivity that would be measured on photographic film mounted in boxes at ground level. The film would give information such as whether the atomic explosion had been “touching” or “clear.” “Touching” meant the burst had gathered up countless tons of earth that would be part of the extremely radioactive fallout. “Clear” meant there had been an air burst; not good, but not as bad as it might have been.

The people who were to periodically check the film were members of a crew of three who spent shifts in the fallout shelter.

At this point, the preparations lost some of their credibility.

The shelter to which we were to go was in the middle of a field on a hill above Langport. Perhaps it is still there. It was a dozen or fifteen feet underground, and was reached by a path from the end of a track. The hatch, beneath which there was a steel ladder, was surrounded by a small square of concrete, perhaps eighteen inches high. The shelter had some survival packs of supplies and some basic furnishings.

It was the communication with the command post that used to cause me to doubt. There was no radio set. Instead, there was a telephone. Wooden poles carried the line across the field to join the GPO lines. We were to respond to a nuclear war with an old black telephone.

Looking back, it did not seem much preparation. Looking at preppers now, you might wonder how effective their preparations would be.

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