Your environment editor’s report on how chickens face a painful fate following the weakening of animal welfare guidance by the British Poultry Council (“Chickens will die in pain after welfare rule change, “ The Times, April 6) reminds me of a gruesome fate engineered for chickens during the Cold War.
Twelve years ago this month a blood curdling exhibition opened at the National Archives at Kew, called ‘Secret State,’ crated by former Times Whitehall correspondent, Professor Lord Peter Hennessy.
The exhibition revealed that British boffins working on an atomic land mine - meant for deployment underground in Germany’s northern plains to destroy advancing Soviet tanks - realised that it could fail in winter if vital components become too cold, so they explored ways of keeping the inner workings warm.
One proposal put forward consisted of filling the casing of the mine with live chickens, which would give off sufficient heat - prior to suffocating or starving to death - to keep the delicate explosive mechanism from freezing.
Despite the potential importance of chickens to the project, the mine was codenamed ‘Blue Peacock’.
This story was mischievously revealed on 1st April – but it was true!
[Ministry of Information poster (Hydrogen Bomb) Document reference: INF 13/281/7]