When Newcastle’s former secret Cold War underground bunker briefly unlocked
The war in Ukraine has once again focused minds on Russia’s potential threat to peace in Europe.
This perceived threat is of course not new, as anyone who lived through the long years of Cold War apprehension will remember. After the Second World War, the emerging threat of a nuclear-armed Soviet Union became a major concern for the British government, leading to a former secret underground bunker dating back to 1940 – RAF Blakelaw – becoming operational again for a time in the 1950s.
In the event of war with the Soviets, the Kenton Bar base in Newcastle would have become one of the regional sites from which the United Kingdom would be governed. Fortunately, with the Cold War thaw, the bunker, which has now been closed for many years, would no longer be needed.
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However, there have since been calls to reopen the site as a museum or a place of historical interest. Twenty-five years ago, in April 1997, retired Northumberland-based Air Vice-Marshal Sandy Hunter visited the largely forgotten site, sitting on the border of Kenton and Blakelaw amid housing modern, and requested that it be transformed into the RAF. museum and education center.
Although this aspiration did not come true, new interest in the bunker was created. It had opened in March 1940 as hostilities between Britain and Nazi Germany began to seriously escalate six months after the outbreak of World War II.
The site’s original name was RAF Blakelaw, headquarters of 13 Group Fighter Command and Region One Regional War Room. It was chosen as one of four centers of operations in the UK as it was roughly central to a wider area including Scotland and Humberside.
Located 15 feet underground, it comprised a maze of corridors and rooms sealed off by airlocks, and was manned by around 150 people, as the RAF fought heroically in the skies to fend off Hitler’s bombers. Under the command of Air Vice Marshall Richard Saul, the bunker was operational from March 1940, its role was to protect northern England from the Luftwaffe.
The North’s response to the defining Battle of Britain was coordinated from here in August 1940. Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons which were scrambled by Kenton Bar inflicted heavy casualties on incoming German aircraft.
Did you know this bunker in the Northeast? Comments below
In 1997, following a call in the Chronicle, some of those who had served at RAF Blakelaw in the Second World War got in touch to recount their memories. Pat Logan, 77, of High Felling, who enlisted as a youngster and worked as a nighttime teleprinter operator at the secret base from 1940 to 1942, recalls: “We called it ‘going down the hole’. “. I think it’s a wonderful idea to recreate the spirit of those days. Haven’t been in the hole since 1942 – would love to go back and see it again.
Meanwhile Doreen Renaut (née Young), 74, of South Shields, joined the WAAF aged 17 and was a telex operator in Kenton Bar, sending coded messages to fighter bases in the North. “Even though it was wartime, they were happy days,” she recalls.
Twenty-five years later, the Grade II listed building remains locked up, but the bunker is considered intact and in reasonable condition. Councilor Stephen Lambert, who represents the ward of Kenton, said: “Many locals are still unaware of its existence, but the bunker played a crucial role in identifying and mapping enemy aircraft above the northern skies. England during the Second World War.
“It would be fantastic if funds could one day be found to convert the site into a museum or visitor center celebrating its important and fascinating history.”
A spokesman for Newcastle City Council confirmed that although the building is not owned by the council, it retains an interest as the bunker is a listed building.
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