Head deep underground with us as we explore a bunker that was one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets for decades during the Cold War.
Let’s step into our Wee Walking Tours time travel machine and journey back to the period just after World War II. It’s a time of horrible uncertainty and tensions with the Soviet Union have started to ratchet up. With the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan during WWII, the threat of nuclear war has become a real possibility.
Therefore, the UK government decides that they need to set up a ‘chain of early warning radar stations along the east coast of the UK’. Some of these stations are built underground- especially those deemed in high risk areas. This was the case for the bunker they decide to build in Fife as it is near the Royal Navy’s Rosyth dockyard.
The bunker that was built was one of the largest and required a massive feat of engineering. They had to dig down 40 metres and build a building that was ‘constructed with an outer shell of 3 metres of solid concrete reinforced every 15cm with 2.5cm thick tungsten rods...the whole structure was lined with brick, covered with netting and soaked with pitch to form an outer casing, then any spare earth from the excavation was piled on top for added protection’. It was quite an incredible underground space to create! However, you would not even know this huge underground complex exists as, above ground, it appears to just be a typical Scottish farmhouse.
Unfortunately, by the 1950s, the radar technology installed in the bunker- now known as the Troywood Bunker- quickly became obsolete and the bunker sat unused for a few years. From 1958-1968, it took on a new role as Regional Seat of Government staffed by the Civil Defence Corps. However, it took on its most famous role in the late 1960s as ‘Regional Government Headquarters’. This meant that, if there was a nuclear war, the decisions on how to care for the civilian population would be made from the Troywood Bunker. With this knowledge in mind, we will now head into the bunker to explore and learn a bit more of its setup.
Inside the Bunker
Of course, today, the Secret Bunker is a museum (the bunker came off the secrets list in 1993) and a testament to its previous life. There is a fantastic tour, and we highly recommend that you purchase the accompanying audio guide so that you can learn more about what you are looking at as you walk through. There are many fascinating rooms to explore in the bunker, but we will just highlight a few. Therefore, when you come to Scotland, be sure to visit in person so that you can get the full experience.
The logistics of running a bunker during the Cold War- with the potential of nuclear war breaking out at any time- involved a lot of moving parts. As I previously mentioned, the bunker's first role was that of a radar station and it was operated by the Royal Airforce (RAF). The bunker now has a RAF operations room on display that is a rebuild of the 1950s centre. In the picture below, you can see the ‘Tote’ board which shows aircraft and anti-aircraft gun status. Below that, is the radar room.
Once the bunker transitioned into its role as Regional Government Headquarters the logistics greatly increased. So, you might be asking yourself- what exactly is a Regional Government HQ? Well, the idea was that if there was a nuclear strike against the UK, the government would split up into regions and ‘carry on the work of Government from protected sites, until it was safe to return to the surface’. Therefore, the Scottish HQ would oversee coordinating the local authorities on various matters such as where to evacuate people, as well as how to distribute food, medicine, and water.
According to the Secret Bunker, ‘the office of the emergency services, scientific advisors, the Met Office, and computer staff would surround the main command floor' in the nuclear operations room.
The bunker also had designated rooms and spaces for ministers as they would be evacuated to the bunker in the event of a nuclear attack. Accordingly, down on the floor you would find staff from different major ministries whose job was to ‘keep in touch with the outside world and up to the minute status information would be shown on the giant map displays and wall charts’. It was a bit surreal to look around the command floor and see signs for the Ministries of Transport and Treasury.
The Minister of State had overall authority for all wartime operations and had an office looking out over the main command floor.
Being able to communicate with the outside was a crucial aspect for everyone in the bunker. First, the tour points that the entire bunker is enclosed in a ‘Faraday cage’. This ensured that the communications set up would continue to work in the event of a nuclear bomb detonation as it protects from the electromagnetic pulse given off. Speaking of the telephone system- there is a switchboard room on display where you can see the original telephone switchboards (which had to be manually operated). There are 2,800 outside lines and 500 internal extensions and they are all still in full working order!
Related to important communications, one particularly fascinating room in the Secret Bunker is the BBC sound studio. The BBC would issue all emergency broadcasts from this tiny soundproof room.
So, we’ve covered various operational aspects of the bunker, but what would it have been like to live in the secret bunker? First, there were six dormitories that could sleep up to 300 personnel. There is a room set up to show what one of these dorm rooms looked like.
Furthermore, the tour points out an interesting but harsh reality. Each staff member would work for eighteen hours and sleep for only six- swapping bunks each time with another staff member. Of course, the more senior personnel had separate sleeping accommodations.
An important aspect of living in the bunker was the ability to feed the 300-plus personnel members. This would take place in the mess hall/canteen and, fortunately, the original has been preserved. It now serves as a café and is a great place to get a cup of coffee, lunch, and dessert while you take in the Cold War-era surroundings.
For those looking to meet their spiritual needs- the secret bunker also has a tiny chapel.
Here are some more photos from our visit to the Secret Bunker for you to scroll through:
Well, there you have it- Scotland’s Secret Bunker. It is a bit of a strange experience to walk around an underground bunker knowing that it was all created in the horrible circumstance of nuclear war. At the same time, it is fascinating to see the complex systems that were put in place to deal with such an event.
The staff at the Secret Bunker have done a fabulous job, and it was one of the most unique museums we have been to. If you come to Scotland and the Kingdom of Fife, we highly recommend a visit to the Secret Bunker. This article is just a wee glimpse, but it truly is a site to see firsthand. Be sure to go to the Scotland’s Secret Bunker website to best plan your visit.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!