Friday, May 18, 2012

Get the stretcher!

The 1950s might be called the "Duck and Cover" decade.

The first Soviet atomic test took place in August 1949, years earlier than Western intelligence agencies had expected, and Soviet acquisition of the Bomb made the prospect of a global atomic war suddenly seem shockingly real.

Urged on by the movie "Duck and Cover" (released in January 1952) and other efforts to encourage preparations for atomic attack, concerned citizens turned their minds to the question of civil defence from nuclear war.

As I documented earlier here, volunteer civil defence enthusiasts at CBNRC responded by carrying out at least one evacuation exercise at the agency's Rideau Annex headquarters, although with somewhat farcical results:
Some of the entertainment [at the Rideau Annex] was unscheduled, like the evacuation demonstration of the building on behalf of the Emergency Measures Organization (EMO), when the demonstration smoke bombs were found to be toxic and inextinguishable too late, as the entire building was filled with smoke that would not go away and the entire staff choked and gasped their way outside. Fortunately, there were no real casualties except for a few inhalers who felt they needed oxygen at a local hospital, and the hapless and luckless demonstration casualty who had been strapped to a stretcher preparatory to being lowered from the fifth floor by ropes, and couldn’t escape the toxic smoke. Next day it was business as usual, even if your clothes smelled funny for the next few days and fellow passengers in buses eyed you oddly. (Tom Chadsey, Tillian, Spring 1980, p. 24.)
But this was not the only civil defence exercise carried out by the Rideau Annex crew.

On at least one occasion they took part in an exercise in downtown Ottawa (“Roof-Top Rescue By Civil Defence Team,” Ottawa Citizen, 17 March 1953):
“Wounded” in a “bombing attack” on Ottawa, a “victim” was removed from the roof of the Rideau Theater last night on a stretcher.

Of course it was all make-believe, but a Civil Defence team from Rideau Annex made it look real.

The rof-top [sic] rescue was the feature of a CD exercise held late last night on Rideau Street.

Maj.-Gen. F. F. Worthington, federal co-ordinator of Civil Defence, Maj. Robert Bingham, Ottawa CD director and Col. Percy Cawdron, chief administrative officer of CD were present at the exercise.

Operation A Success

General Worthington told The Citizen after the simulated rescue that he felt the affair was successful.

He pointed out that all personnel involved in the operation were volunteers, not fully trained CD members.

Leader of the rescue team was Bud Mayhew. Laird Lawton was deputy leader.

The operation attracted the attention of hundreds of Ottawans, who stood by to see the roof-top rescue of a real-looking “victim,” complete with a nasty head wound.

A team of five policemen directed traffic during the rescue, but there was no hold-up of cars travelling along the downtown streets.

A CD truck with twin searchlights provided illumination for the lowering of the “victim” strapped in the tightly-blanketed stretcher. He was lowered by ropes, held by men on the roof and other held [sic] by men on the street.

Second “Victim”

A second “victim” was rushed from inside the Rideau Theater and treated outside before being rushed away in a St. John Ambulance vehicle, as was the roof-top “victim.”

Following the exercise, members of the Civil Service CD corps attended a complimentary showing of the film “Invasion USA” by courtesy of Don Watts, manager of the Rideau Theater.

General Worthington spoke briefly in the theater on the subject of the importance of civil defence training.
Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but my immediate response to these two anecdotes is to ask, "What the [redacted] is the deal with the stretchers?! Ottawa is about to get nuked and your response is to train people to strap casualties to stretchers and lower them from tall buildings?!"

With the assistance of a searchlight truck?

By coincidence, or perhaps not, on the day after the downtown Ottawa exercise, the U.S. civil defence authorities conducted a major civil defence test of their own, Operation Doorstep, in conjunction with the "Annie" nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site.

Annie was a 15-16 kiloton nuclear test, about the same size as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, but it was puny by the standards of the weapons then under development. The U.S. had already tested an experimental (non-deliverable) thermonuclear device with a yield of 10 megatons in 1952, and it was just a year away from testing a deliverable 15-megaton bomb one thousand times as powerful as the Annie device.

Operation Doorstep produced some of the most famous images of the entire nuclear era of houses, cars, and other things being demolished by a nuclear blast (see image above or view the footage here).

Maybe it's just me, but when I see those images I think, "And that was a small nuclear bomb."

I do not think, "Get the stretcher!"

It was a very different time.


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