Protect and Survive: Armageddon advice guide to be republished

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Imperial War Museum to reissue 1980 pamphlet advising people to brick up windows after a nuclear strike

A nuclear survival guide which earnestly advised people to brick up windows and remove handles from toilet cisterns in the event of Armageddon is to be republished by the Imperial War Museum.

Not, curators stress, because they know something we dont. But to coincide with the opening of the first major UK exhibition exploring the anti-war movement.

The Protect and Survive pamphlet, produced by Margaret Thatchers government during the cold war in 1980, advised people on the safest way to protect themselves after a nuclear attack.

The cover of the guide, produced by the Thatcher government. Illustration: Imperial War Museum

The exhibitions curator, Matt Brosnan, said it was a fascinating but also deeply unnerving document.

It is quite a chilling thing and shows how close the world seemed to be to a possible nuclear war.

The pamphlet was not ideal reading for those of a nervous disposition, warning on its first page: Read this booklet with care. Your life and the lives of your family may depend upon it.

Over 30 pages, the pamphlet advised householders on how to make a fallout room and within that an inner refuge, possibly the cupboard under the stairs.

Families would be there for at least two weeks, so there are tips on what foods to stock up on and what sanitation arrangements to make.

People were urged to store three-and-half gallons (16 litres) of water each, keeping it in the bath and basins, and to remove toilet chains or tape up handles so clean water could be stored in the cistern.

If people were not at home during the nuclear strike, they were advised to lie flat (in a ditch) and cover the exposed skin of the head and hands.

In the event of someone dying in a fallout room, place the body in another room and cover it as securely as possible. Attach an identification.

The pamphlet was published as world tensions were rising. In 1980, nuclear war seemed closer than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

The Soviet Union was installing SS-20 missiles in eastern Europe and the Americans were successfully persuading European countries, including the UK, to host its Pershing II ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles.

Advice from the pamphlet: Lie flat (in a ditch) and cover the exposed skin. Illustration: Crown copyright

At the same time, CND was undergoing a revival and mass anti-nuclear demonstrations were taking place across western Europe, while the womens peace camp at Greenham Common would begin in 1981.

The threat of nuclear war featured in popular culture, ranging from Raymond Briggs 1982 graphic novel When the Wind Blows to Frankie Goes to Hollywoods Two Tribes single (1984) and the BBCs docudrama Threads (1984).

Protect and Survive was very much part of the wider context, said Brosnan, and encouraged the historian EP Thompson to write his pamphlet Protest and Survive.

Protect and Survive, available to buy in hardback for 6.99, is of its time but still relevant, said Brosnan.

Obviously that level of consciousness of a global threat of nuclear weapons is not the same today but they still exist, it is still a live issue.

People Power: Fighting for Peace is at the Imperial War Museum, London, 23 March-28 August.

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