Saturday, August 30, 2008

Royal Enfield workers played role in Cold War

Underground factory. Royal Enfield workers in an underground factory in England played an unwitting role in the Cold War when they were exposed to a test of germ warfare. It is a chilling story, told in a 2004 English television documentary.

The Enfield factory in the former mine shafts of Westwood Quarry was a left over from World War II. The wet, cold tunnels were transformed by air conditioning into a temperature and humidity controlled workspace, safe from German bombing. In a space next to the Royal Enfield factory, precious paintings from Buckingham Palace and the British Museum were secretly stored to protect them.

After the war, the art treasures were returned, leaving a large, perfectly air-conditioned space. In 1950 and 1951 the military's Chemical and Biological Warfare department secretly used this space to confirm American tests showing that air conditioning systems could be used in a germ warfare attack on an office building or subway.

The spores used in the test were meant to mimic deadly anthrax. The variety used was thought harmless at the time, but today is considered a threat to anyone with a vulnerable immune system.

The air conditioning system at Westwood Quarry was common to the Royal Enfield factory and the germ warfare space. All the air drawn into the quarry was eventually exhausted into the surrounding neighborhood, much of it through a tunnel the Enfield workers used to come and go from work. Logically, they would have been exposed to the spores, but the documentary presents no evidence that anyone fell sick.

According to the documentary, the underground Royal Enfield factory was engaged in the production of motorcycles. Perhaps this was so by 1951. But it is hard to believe that flat head motorcycles for use by couriers were important enough to the war effort to protect their production from the German Blitz. It is a stretch to put those iron lumps in the same category with the Crown Jewels, rumored to be in safe keeping next door.

What were the skilled Royal Enfield machinists really making in those underground work spaces during World War II?

The answer may be on this list of Royal Enfield wartime products.

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