A.F. WEBB’S KEITH & NO. 94 (2021) is comprised of a 15 minute film and accompanying photobook. the work re-visits the life of keith eldred and how he purchased 94 maintenance unit (94mu), raf barnham, suffolk, a large area of land with many purpose-built structures. now known as gorse industrial estate, the land was originally purchased from the ministry of defence. the primary use of 94mu was to house britain’s first nuclear weapons. shot on the land concerned, the photographs and film reference episodes from keith’s life prior to his acquisition of the estate.

the work uses the land as an adhoc film set, reimagining it as the many different locations that played host to events from keith’s life, from  goalkeeping in mill hill, town planning in hong kong, to growing mushrooms on the estate. the work weaves these episodes together with the land, oscillating between background and foreground, both character and archive in itself. excerpts from NO. 94 are presented here alongside THE BLUE DANUBE, an essay from WILL REES.

far from the black forest 
you hurry to the sea
giving your blessing
to everything.
eastward you flow,
welcoming your brothers,
a picture of peace
for all time!

the rainbow codes were a set of code names given to military research projects that took place throughout the second world war and in the early years of the cold war. the codes were constructed by taking a randomly selected colour and pairing it with a randomly selected noun. this system had the advantage of masking the true nature of each project; other forces, such as the german military, regularly gave codenames for projects that revealed their intention to enemies.

blue danube had been named after the danube river. born of brigach and breg at donaueschingen, she begins her flow, from west to east, through the black forest and ends it at the black sea. she had had many names. strong, swift. the bringer of luck. born from dew drops. some called her the great river; others, just river. danu may derive from the celtic mother goddess of irish myth; or from the welsh don, the vedic danu. in latin, he was danubius, ister, hister, danuvius. and as he flows eastwards, dauvius becomes donau, dunărea, doana, dunaj, donava, danubio, tuna and danubi.

blue danube was also the name given to britain’s first operational nuclear weapon. the bomb went by other names too - smallboy, special bomb, or.1001 and mk.1 atom bomb - yet something about naming the device after a river flowing from west to east, across the continent, reflects british military psyche in the early years of the cold war. developed in the early 1950s, it was the result of testing and research derived from britain’s first fission device, hurricane. in total, 58 blue danubes were produced by 1958, yet deficiencies in the design and the development of red beard - a weapon better suited to the demands of service - meant the bombs were decommissioned in 1962. the bombs were stored at two sites, including raf barnham in suffolk, where the buildings used to store and maintain blue danubes still stand today.

the mermaids from the riverbed,
whispering as you flow by,
are heard by everything
under the blue sky above.
the noise of your passing
is a song from old times
and with the brightest sounds
your song leads you ever on.

kiritimati is located on the equator, in the centre of the pacific; roughly 2,000 kilometers from hawaii, 13,000 kilometers from britain. captain cook had visited the island on his third voyage, landing there on christmas eve in 1777; however, the island was nicknamed christmas because of the pronunciation of kiritmati in gilbertese. for the young men of the british army, it was as though all their christmases had come at once when they were told to board a boat in 1957. no whats or whys - they just did as they were told.

paradise was promised for no questions asked. but kirimati was no day at the seaside. here, the beaches teemed with geckos and hermit crabs. sharks were spotted lurking amongst the coral. on clear days, when the water was still and crystal blue, the horizon bled into the sky. one disorienting blue expanse. thousands of birds filled the air- circling around the white hot sun.

it was when the generals left the island that the men began to ask questions. against a soundtrack of hawaiian music, the countdown started over the tannoy. t minus 30 seconds. a voice instructed: “shut your eyes, put your hands over your face.” 10 seconds. they were told to face away from the explosion. 5, 4, 3...

the flash came early - and when it came, it penetrated through skin and bone. their fingers were visible through closed eyes. white, flashing digits. and with the light came a new kind of heat that they could feel it in their cells.

they were told to turn around and look. the guinea pigs witness the creation of a new supernova. the sun was outshone by this new light. it pierced the horizon, a white pupil focusing in on them, bearing witness to their terror. surrounding this was a storming iris, flashing bolts of green janet and indigo hammer; orange cocktail turned to yellow hammer. pink hawk and violet mist. a hellish opera of colour and fire. the birds now spiralled, falling balls of flame into the blackened sea. the mushroom only continued to spore upwards.

the pressure wave followed, rattling skeletons in the afterglow. then came the rain. not like in england. here it poured black raindrops. and the impossible cleanup - an attempt to hide the evidence, rather than return eden to its prior state. they waded through the once crystal blue water, now feet deep in incinerated birds. none of them were given protective gear.

operation grapple had, in fact, been a failure. orange herald, green bamboo and green granite all detonated far below their desired explosive yield. and yet the men who left kiritmati could not help but think that what they had witnessed was something far greater than had been designed. hell on earth.

therefore let us be united,
joined brothers, in strong ranks,
happy even in troubled times;
brave, when danger threatens us,
home on the beaches,
are our hearts bound,
to thee for all time
good and blood are consecrated!

when the end of days came, we were prepared. we’d been through the drill dozens of times. cities were expected to go first. civilization would be rebuilt in rural pastures. it would be as if the bombs had ripped something open - sending us flying backwards in time. britain’s new home front would resemble a radioactive era of feudalism. we heard some villages wanted to surround themselves with barbed wire to keep people out.

so we made plans for going underground. this is where the war games were played. we had heard of the large bunkers, filled with machines the size of houses, ready to detect any sign of attack. we heard of lead lined chambers filled with our armoury - bombs with names like red rose, green

apple and yellow sun. nursery rhymes for the rapture.

we were told that, when the bombs detonated, they looked like mushrooms. imagine the sight of all those bombs exploding... a waltz of dancing earthstars, earthballs, inkcaps and puffballs, as though it were the floor-bed of an autumnal forest. and then we imagined having to scavenge for food, if we survived. and so we cast our minds elsewhere.

when would the end of days end? nobody knew. that was what ate us up inside - the constant hum of catastrophe, like tinnitus. it pervaded everything we did, and still does. to this day we still question where it all went, and whether it was even there to begin with.

danube so blue,
so bright and blue,
through vale and field
you flow so calm,
our cities greet you
your silver stream
through all the lands
you merry the heart
with your beautiful shores.