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No acknowledgment, no compensation, for a British nuclear test hero

Nuclear veteran who died alone is buried with honour by pals days after he was refused medal
A Cold War hero, who believed he was rendered infertile by radiation experiments, got the send-off he deserved, Mirror UK  By Susie Boniface, 27 DEC 2020  

Ken Miller’s death went almost unnoticed, but his funeral was conducted with the pomp and ceremony due a war hero, Ken had died alone and childless, aged 82, after taking part in three radiation experiments which he believed left him infertile. He had hoped for at least a medal to acknowledge his service. But just days before he died the government refused, saying men like him had faced no risks.

Without a family to mourn him, his funeral was going to be an impersonal, standard service organised by officials.

But after the Mirror publicised his story, his fellow veterans pulled out all the stops to honour him at a humanist ceremony on Christmas Eve.

Ken’s coffin, draped in the flag of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, was carried into the crematorium by six ex-military pallbearers to the theme tune from A Bridge Too Far, a film that exemplifies the courage of servicemen and the madness of their generals.

The chapel at Morriston Crematorium in Swansea had expected no mourners, and planned a brief ceremony attended only by local officials.

Instead, the seats were as packed as they could be under pandemic rules for social distancing after Ken’s fellow veterans rallied to give him a proper send-off.

The service heard Billie Holiday’s version of Blue Moon, which was released in 1952, the year of Britain’s first nuclear test. And as the Gerry & The Pacemakers classic You’ll Never Walk Alone was played, the standard of the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association was dipped over Ken’s coffin.

Then a veteran played a poignant Last Post on the bugle and, after a two minutes’ silence, the Reveille………

Ken was one of 22,000 men, many on National Service, who were ordered to take part in Britain’s Cold War bomb tests. Fewer than 1,500 are still alive, and one of them dies, on average, every week.

Born in Oxford, Ken ran away to join the navy and was a junior rating on HMS Warrior when he was ordered to watch three atomic explosions as part of Operation Grapple, at Malden Island in the South Pacific, in 1957.

The biggest, at 720 kilotons, was 35 times more powerful than the blast which levelled the Japanese city of Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War. It was still ruled a failure by scientists, who went on to detonate much larger H-bombs the following year.

Fellow nuke vet David Taunt, 78, of Swindon, began talking to Ken on the phone during the first lockdown as a BNTVA project to help its members.

He said: “He was one of the guys who stood on the deck with his back to it and then turned round and watched the mushroom cloud rise. He said the ship they were on sailed a lot closer to the blast zone than they should have done. And of course, like all the sailors, he used distilled seawater to drink and wash in.”………

on their regular talks, he discussed memories of the nuclear tests with David, who never met him in person and was unable to attend the funeral in Wales because of travel restrictions.

David said: “I was at Operation Dominic in 1961, when the Americans used British troops to help test close to 30 nuclear bombs at Christmas Island………

David was able to get compensation from the US government due to his cancer, because that nation agrees that service at their tests was the most likely cause. But the UK still refuses payouts or any other recognition, and fights every bid for a small war pension.

He said: “Ken would have been quite happy with a medal. It would be confirmation something happened. He appreciated what the BNTVA and the Mirror were doing for us.”

The medal decision is to be reviewed in the New Year, and 10 Tory MPs, including former ministers and influential backbenchers, have written to Boris Johnson demanding he personally intervene.

December 27, 2020 - Posted by | health, weapons and war

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