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SZ/OEMU - Ministry of Home Security, Oxford Extra-Mural Unit

Reference code
Level of description
Ministry of Home Security, Oxford Extra-Mural Unit
Quantity & Format
60 boxes
Oxford Extra-Mural Unit
Oxford Extra-Mural Unit
Administrative/Biographical history
The Oxford Extra-Mural Unit of the Ministry of Home Security (OEMU) came into existence in late 1939 when the Ministry’s newly-created Research & Experiments Branch (later to be the Research & Experiments Department) commissioned research from the Department of Anatomy, Oxford University, on the physiological effects of ground shock waves and blast. The ensuing experiments were conducted by SZ and the findings published as a Civil Defence Research Committee (CDRC) paper The Effects of direct concussion on monkeys in underground shelters, RC 65, December 1939 (OEMU Report No.1).

OEMU was one of a number of groups in research institutions that carried out investigations on behalf of the Ministry. It is likely that the choice of the Department of Anatomy at Oxford to carry out the necessary physiological research was influenced by SZ’s friend J.D. Bernal, already a member of the CDRC and advising MOHS on aspects of air-raid shelter design.

The Unit was directed by SZ under the general direction, until 1944, of the Professor of Anatomy at Oxford, Wilfrid le Gros Clark. At the Research & Experiments Department end direction of OEMU’s research was in the hands of the Physics & Engineering Research section, RE.2, the head of which was Professor W.N. Thomas. The staff of the Unit were university personnel, with the exception of some members of the Casualty Survey field teams who were, from 1941, employees of the Research & Experiments Department.

The work that SZ and Bernal was doing, both separately and collaboratively, on the physiological, physical and psychological effects of German air raids on Britain led them into the new discipline of operational research, and both were appointed to the Advisory Group of the Research & Experiments Department’s operational research wing, RE.8, established in June 1942 (see in particular Sub-series SZ/OEMU/50). Two months earlier, in April 1942, they had been recruited by Combined Operations to provide scientific advice to planners (see Sub-series SZ/OEMU/48).
Scope and content
The Oxford Extra-Mural Unit (OEMU) of the Ministry of Home Security specialised in the study of the physical and biological effects of air raids. Includes administrative records, working papers, reports and correspondence of the Unit, 1939-1946. Also includes papers relating to scientific advisory work by SZ and Prof. J.D. Bernal for Combined Operations Headquarters, 1942-1943.
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