While reading Surviving in a Nuclear War, I couldn’t help noticing how similar the messages were to those delivered during the Covid-19 lockdown. Even the phrases sounded familiar: “Stay at home” and “do everything you are told by the authorities,” the book advised. “The danger will not be apparent to you and will be all the greater for that reason,” it warned, before reassuring us that “these restrictions will be eased and eventually they will end altogether.” All that was missing was a couple of modern-day hashtags.
I had read the book before as a child. When the Irish Government issued it to every home in 1965 my parents tucked their copy away in a drawer where it remained for the next 20 years. When bored, I would often pull it out to look at its colourful illustrations and wonder how real the threat was.
I wasn’t frightened, but I know many who were – usually friends from families who took it seriously and did all the preparation work, including stockpiling tinned food. But most families dismissed the book as pointless and believed the only option would be “put your head between your legs and kiss your arse goodbye.”
The Government didn’t share this negative view and believed that “in spite of the appalling destruction and loss of life which such a catastrophe could cause, it would still be possible for people to do a lot for their own safety and survival.” When the book reissued again, in 1971, the Government warned that even if Ireland avoided a nuclear attack, “our neighbours might be a target and we could receive some after-effects.”
The attack never came, but the book, like ours, remained in homes for decades. Your family may still have a copy – try looking under the stairs where it might be hanging from a piece of string. If you can’t find one, fear not, I’ve summarised the protocol and steps involved. Cut this out, stick it on your fridge and listen out for the alerts from Raidió Teilifís Éireann. Lockdown lasts only two days. We’re ready for this.
ADVANCE PREPARATION: (Do this now)
- Decide which room will be your refuge room.
- Have an old bin or bucket ready to act as a W.C.
- Stock up with water and 14 days of tinned food.
- Have a transistor radio that can tune to Raidió Teilifís Éireann.
NATIONAL ALERT: (Initiates when nuclear war has started)
- Leave what you are doing and return home immediately.
- If you are a long way from home and unable to get back within a few hours, make up your mind where you are going to take cover and go there immediately.
ADVANCE WARNING: (Initiates when radioactive fall-out is approaching your area)
- Complete shielding of the windows and doors of your refuge room
- Restrict your phone calls so as not to interfere with essential Civil Defence communications.
FINAL WARNING: (Initiates when fall-out has started or is about to start)
- Turn off the water supply at the stopcock.
- Go to your refuge room.
- Make sure the radio can be heard.
- People away from home and caught in the open will have to appeal to the nearest householder for shelter.
- Householders should help such people and allow for this in their preparations.
LIVING IN THE REFUGE ROOM:
- You and your family will live here for at least two days.
- Do not leave the room within the first 24 hours for ANY reason.
- Use the bin or bucket you brought into the room as a toilet.
- After 24 hours you may make brief visits to other parts of the house.
- Keep your radio tuned to Raidió Teilifís Éireann.
- Wipe food tins thoroughly before open
- Do not use the public water supply.
GETTING BACK TO NORMAL:
- About two days in refuge may be expected but this period may have to be extended if the authorities think it wise to do so.
- You will be told when it is safe to go out.
- Do everything you are told by the authorities.
- Later on these restrictions will be eased and eventually they will end altogether.
Words: Brian McMahon, Brand New Retro