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Secret tragedy of Britain’s nuclear bomb tests

ground crews who washed down planes that flew through the cloud soon began falling sick and low levels of radiation were detected all over Australia.

In 2007 it was found nuclear veterans had the same DNA damage as Chernobyl survivors.

Wives had three times the normal numbers of miscarriage and children 10 times more birth de­­­fects. 

The secrets behind Britain’s first atomic bomb – and the heartbreaking aftermath The detonation of the plutonium bomb in 1952 was hailed a national success, but many of the servicemen involved were left permanently damaged by the fallout BY SUSIE  BONIFACE, MIRROR UK, 6 OCT 2017 

A blinding flash, an eerie silence, and then the sky cracked.

The sound reached those wat­ching at the same time as the blast – a scorching 600mph wind carrying with it the long, grumbling roar of the worst weapon known to humankind.

It was 65 years ago this week – 9.30am local time on October 3, 1952 – that Britain detonated its first nuclear bomb .

Winston Churchill was jubilant, the scientists bursting with pride. But on a tiny island off Australia the cost of the radioactive fallout from Operation Hurricane had yet to be counted.

Many of the servicemen present that day went on to suffer heartbreaking consequences.

Royal Engineer Derek Hickman, now 84, was there. He says: “We had no pro­­tective clothing. You wore shorts and sandals and if you remembered your bush hat, that was all you had.” The blast took place on HMS Plym, an old frigate anchored 300 yards off Trimouille, one of the Monte Bello islands. Troops and scientists lived and worked for months on a small fleet that accompanied her on her final mission.

Derek remembers: “They ordered us to muster on deck – I was on HMS Zeebrugge – and turn our backs to the Plym. We put our hands over our eyes and they counted down over the Tannoy.

“There was a sharp flash and I could see the bones in my hands like an X-ray. Then the sound and the wind and they told us to turn and face it. We watched the mushroom cloud just melt away. They gave us five photos as a memento.

“All that was left of the Plym were a few pieces of metal that fell like rain and her outline scorched on the sea bed.”………

In 1951 Aus­­tralia agreed the blast could take place at Monte Bello.   ….

Thousands of UK and Aussie servicemen saw the mushroom cloud dis­­perse before dozens of planes flew through it to collect dust samples.

The press had been given a viewing tower 55 miles away. The Mirror announced: “This bang has changed the world”.

No official statement was made until October 23 when PM Churchill told the Commons: “All concerned are to be warmly congratulated on the successful outcome of an historic episode.”

But ground crews who washed down planes that flew through the cloud soon began falling sick and low levels of radiation were detected all over Australia.

James Stephenson, 85,remembers being given an unexplained posting to Aber­­­gavenny. The former Royal Engineers soldier says: “We went for train­­ing and they started weeding us out, re­­­moving lads they thought were Communist sympathisers or not up to it.

“Nobody told us what it was about. When we embarked in Portsmouth we had to load machinery ourselves, they wouldn’t let the dockers do it.”James left with the first wave of vessels in January 1952. They were fol­­lowed six months later by HMS Plym carrying the bomb.

Derek explains: “It was a plutonium bomb – the dirtiest. A few years later I went to the doctor and mention­­­ed Monte Bello.

“He asked if I was mar­­ried. I said ‘Yes’ and he replied ‘My advice is ne­­­­v­­­er have children’. He wouldn’t say why.”

It was a warning Derek, now living alone in Crediton, Devon, couldn’t ignore. He says: “My wife wanted children and in the end I walked away from the marriage.

“She never blamed me but it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done. Since then I’ve discovered my friends’ wives suffered many miscarriages and their children had deformities.

“It’s given me a small comfort that at least we avoided that.”

In 2007 it was found nuclear veterans had the same DNA damage as Chernobyl survivors.

Wives had three times the normal numbers of miscarriage and children 10 times more birth de­­­fects. James, from Taunton, Devon, had two healthy children. But he was lucky.

He says: “I know people whose children were born with organs outside their bodies. It made me worry about my grandchildren. Thank God they’re fine.”

Hurricane had an explosive yield of 25 kilotons – 15 kilotons had flattened Hiroshima and killed 126,000. But less than four weeks later the US detonated a hydrogen bomb 400 times more powerful than Hurricane.

The UK was back out in the cold and would not be accepted at the nuclear top table until 1958 when it finally developed its own H-bomb.

In all 22,000 servicemen took part in Britain’s nuclear tests which ended only in 1991. Derek and James are among the 2,000 or so who survive and are still coming to terms with the chain reaction unleashed at Monte Bello.

James says: “Nobody really knew what they were doing, not us or the scientists. It was just a job we had to do.”

The Monte Bello islands are now a wildlife park but visitors are warned not to stay for more than an hour or take home the fragments of metal that can still be found – radioactive pieces of a long-forgotten Royal Navy warship that unleashed a hurricane. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/secrets-behind-britains-first-atomic-11300935

Thousands of UK and Aussie servicemen saw the mushroom cloud dis­­perse before dozens of planes flew through it to collect dust samples.

The press had been given a viewing tower 55 miles away. The Mirror announced: “This bang has changed the world”.

No official statement was made until October 23 when PM Churchill told the Commons: “All concerned are to be warmly congratulated on the successful outcome of an historic episode.”

But ground crews who washed down planes that flew through the cloud soon began falling sick and low levels of radiation were detected all over Australia. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/secrets-behind-britains-first-atomic-11300935

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October 9, 2017 - Posted by | health, Namibia, Reference, UK, weapons and war

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