THE idea of stockpiling supplies in case of the breakdown of society may sound like it comes from the realms of dystopian fiction but for many people worried about our withdrawal from the European Union (EU) it is quickly becoming reality.

Brexit survival kits, including essentials like tinned food, a water filter and fire starter gel, are now on sale costing about £300, while website forums across the country are full of nervous shoppers discussing the best way to ‘prep’ for the incoming chaos many believe will follow us leaving the EU.

A government spokesman has said there is “no need” to hoard any of the items in the box, but as one secret site just outside Mold reveals, the idea of stockpiling food and supplies is something the establishment has been planning for decades.

It was 80 years ago this year, that the Treasury approved a £546,000 development of a top secret chemical weapons plant in the Flintshire village of Rhydymwyn.

More than 100 specialised buildings were constructed across the site, linked by an extensive rail network established around a spur off the Chester to Denbigh mainline, and excavations began on a complex system of interlinked subterranean, rock-cut tunnels and caverns.

During the Second World War the plant produced ordnance containing mustard gas, and was associated with the development of the Atom Bomb.

In the immediate Post-War period the site was used to store German nerve gas, and it was not until the 1950s when Britain relinquished its chemical weapons (CW) capability that the site as a chemical storage facility was defunct.

From the mid-1960s, and throughout the ensuing Cold War, the site was used by various governmental departments, with its major function being a buffer storage depot to supply emergency rations and foodstuffs, and associated facilities such as mobile bakeries and canteens.

“It was all to do with the ‘bolt from the blue’ scenario,” says Colin Barber, chairman of the Rhydymwyn Valley History Society, describing how Britain feared a surprise Soviet attack involving hundreds or thousands of nuclear weapons that would compromise our ability to retaliate.

“We were vulnerable and there was this fear we would be caught with our trousers down.

“As a result we built a number of underground storage spaces that would protect the great and the good - there were around 10 or 11 in total, and Rhydymwyn was one of them.”

It was thought that a nuclear strike would not only have a devastating effect on the nation’s food supply but that imports would cease, the loss of gas and electricity would curtail production, shortages of fuel and labour would disrupt distribution and the loss of fertilisers would reduce farm output.

Planning for such a disaster was the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) and after a strike MAFF would transform itself into the Food and Agriculture Organisation, responsible for supplying food.

Systems were developed where producers would increase their output if war seemed likely and would introduce a rationing system for tinned and other long-life foods.

Bulk food stocks would be moved away from ports and an increased number of food ‘buffer depots’ like the one at Rhydymwyn were established.

These depots would store a reserve of food under the control of a ‘Regional Commissioner’ who would organise the feeding of survivors until a more normal system of food supply could be re-established.

The food would be released by the Regional Food Officers to the County Food Controllers, who would be responsible for its collection and distribution to the emergency feeding centres.

“We stockpiled basic supplies all around the country and it was a major operation,” explains Colin. “In Building 45 we know that they kept sugar and rice and they rotated the stock in these buildings on an ongoing basis.

“In some of the smaller buildings there would be things like cookers and equipment and it was all here to supply the country in case of emergency.”

The stockpiles held a very limited variety of food and was certainly not intended to provide a balanced diet or even feed the survivors for any length of time with flour, yeast, sugar, fat and biscuits the priority.

During the 1960s tinned meat and cake mix were also held, and at their peak it is thought these strategic stockpiles were enormous - about 582,500 tons all together.

Much of the details of what exactly was kept or how much, are still shrouded in secrecy but all the food stocks and buffer depots had been disposed of by the end of 1995.

“As well the nuclear threat there were worries about ‘civil contingencies’,” says Colin, who doesn’t rule out the possibility of the tunnels being used again in the future.

“This is why people are concerned about Brexit and this continued for many years and there was always worries about things like anthrax attacks from renegade states or terrorists.

“There are still people now in the council who will be connected to people in the Cabinet Office and food storage is still something which goes on and there are still places all around.

“If the Government are going to hoard why shouldn’t the people? Look at what happens whenever we get told there’s going to be a petrol shortage? People rush to the petrol station.

“These tunnels are an asset - it’s secure, it has road and rail links and it would be east to convert. There’s nothing been in them for years but who knows, they may be needed again.”

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