Update from Willenhall History Society
19th August 2019
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Now, can I ask you a question about something not quite so recently gone. What is the connection between an apparent manhole cover situated in a quiet corner of the former Willenhall Comprehensive school on Bentley common and Armageddon. Answer, 3 minutes if you were one of the three lucky ones for this is the entrance of a Royal Observer underground monitoring post where in the event of a nuclear attack three members of the Corps. would lock themselves inside for up to 2 weeks and continually report by phone or radio to the 'powers that be' the state of the area after one or more atom bombs had exploded. This would of course coincide with a squadron of our 'V' bombers taking off within the same 3 minutes to reap havoc on presumably the Soviets.
 
Fortunately this never happened, but at times it may have come close though we would never have been told about it. Certainly the Government had been taking steps to try to protect us over the years from air raids that started during WW1 when Zeppelins first lobbed out small bombs, some on Walsall, killing the Mayoress.
 
To this end, in 1925 the Observer Corps.was formed and observation posts were set up on the east side of the country in case the Germans might do it again, as in deed they did in 1940, though these posts were all above ground whereby the direction, height and numbers of enemy aircraft could easily be established. However next time it was 'the cold war' and the nuclear threat from the Soviets meant that all such monitoring posts had to be underground along with much larger underground seats of Regional and Central Government.   To this end between 1955 and 1991 there were 1593 such posts constructed throughout the U.K.of which half,including ours at Bentley (officially Walsall) closed in 1968 due to defence cuts with the remainder being decommissioned in 1991 following the break-up of the Communist Bloc. So Bentley had a very short life having only been constructed in 1963 when it's location would have bee considered rather remote being before the school was built.
 
The site is described as 'demolished and beneath a grassy mound' with all evidence of surface features including ventilation shafts removed. I recently visited the school which is now entitled the E-ACT Academy and found they had no knowledge of the installation, so using an aerial photograph and accompanied by ground staff member Wendy Speed we soon located it behind some temporary class-rooms.
 
It was as described with a large amount of concrete surrounding the entry hatch beneath which would have been a 15ft. shaft giving access to a small chamber with 3 bunk-beds, a toilet, basic food facilities and a host of equipment to measure bomb blast, radiation levels, outside temperature and wind speed. All this information was to have been reported to the 'powers that be' by way of landline telephones with radio back-up if the 'poles were down'. Much of this required batteries which were charged by way of generators run  by Villiers powered engines. The outside temperature was taken with something resembling a football rattle called a 'psychcrometer' which required the operator to wave around at least 10 times, presumably via a hatch, to get a reading.    I'm sure all of this will remind readers of the real concerns of the period with T.V. Public Information Films and home delivery of 'Protect and Survive' leaflets. They were never needed but the consequences were real with many public buildings such as all emergency services and hospitals equipped with alarms that were routinely tested. I recall one being situated in the charge office of Willenhall police station with its little pulsating red light being openly visible to anyone who called into the enquiry counter but visitors had no idea what it was for.
 
The horror of the consequences of atomic war-fare was brought home to me some years ago when I went on a tour of Drakelow Tunnels, a former WW2 shadow factory converted many years ago into a Regional Seat of Gov't. Our guide  explained to us the way in which the many thousands of casualties would be coped with. Those with less serious injuries from which they could recover would be treated. However, for those that were so seriously injured that they would not be able to survive, coupled with the unimaginable pressures placed on medical services, there was only one way. The government had already recruited SLAUGHTERMEN.   Let's move on to our appeals. This time we have an enquiry from Ruslan Pashayev, a wrestling fan who lives in Ohio, U.S.A. Ruslan is trying to find the results of a one night wrestling tournament held at Willenhall baths on the 11th.March,1960. This was organised by Wryton Promotions who no longer exist. The wrestlers taking part were T.V. favourites, namely Bert Royal v.Tony Vallon, Steve Logan v.Vic Stewart, Reg Williams v.Eric Taylor and Tibor Szakas v. Ernie Riley. Surely there is a wrestling fan in Willenhall that can answer Ruslans query. So contact me on 01902 843006 or e mail bobrushton1945@yahoo.co.uk    Our open meeting on the 13th.August attracted 20 visitors as well as our members.  Our 10th.September meeting was a talk by Mary Bodfish entitled 'The Baby in the Locket'                  Our 8th.October is when we welcome a new speaker, but one with a lot of experience, Alan Thornton who's talk is entitled 'Make Do and Mend' Usual meeting time 7.15pm at the CHART Centre, Gomer St, Willenhall. £2 per visitor.
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Ian Henery

Member since: 4th February 2019

Managing Director of an award winning law firm
Ian Henery Solicitors Ltd
www.ianhenerysolicitors.co.uk

Award winning poet and playwright
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