Oldham man wants recognition for nuclear test veterans.
Friday 24th August 2018 @ 09:16 by Anna Fletcher
Community Events News

Terry Quinlan and his daughter are working hard on behalf of nuclear test veterans and their families to get them a medal and the recognition and support they deserve.

Terry, 79, was originally from Royton but now lives in Kent. He was stationed on Christmas Island in 1958 at the height of the Cold War. He was a B3 Specialist in the Army working with the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) and was there to move the equipment for the bombs back and forth.

Terry, along with the other 109 men in his unit, was witness to five nuclear blasts on the island. He was dressed only in a pair of shorts, boots, puttees and a jungle hat. The only thing he was told before an A Bomb was set off was to sit in the sand, nine miles from the blast, and put his fists in front of his eyes. It was 22 miles for an H Bomb.

Terry said: “It was terrifying hearing that countdown and then when the bomb went off it was so bright I could see through my hands, I could see my bones and the blast pushed us back along the ground. The blast and radiation flattened the palm trees in front of us and tossed the boats out of the water, it was terrible.”

In the aftermath of the blasts Terry remembers dead fish for 50 miles in the ocean, the incredibly thick coral that they had driven heavy trucks over had been turned to mud and sand in parts of the island was scorched black and made like glass. Some men were asked to search the island to catch and kill birds so they wouldn’t fly away and spread radiation and they found the animals lying on the ground where they could easily pick them up.

The British veterans of Christmas Island and other nuclear test sites in the Pacific and around Australia have never been awarded a medal for their service or compensation for their ill health afterwards. It is thought around 21,000 British servicemen witnessed the tests.

Terry said: “So many died from radiation and cancer and more than that when they had children they were effected too. So many were born with unexplained ill health and some with congenital deformities, all kinds of diseases and we are now seeing that is being passed on to their grandchildren. It’s dreadful.

“The MOD is insistent to this day that we had protection and that the bombs were exploding so high that they wouldn’t bother us, but there were no safety measures. We were living in these areas in tents, pilots were flying through the mushroom clouds to collect samples with no protection whatsoever and they died. I believe we were guinea pigs really.”

Terry was contacted by the British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association who told him there were not many from the island alive anymore which prompted him to try and find his colleagues. So far he hasn’t been able to locate a single person in his unit. He is now working with the charity to raise awareness and get recognition for the veterans and their families.

Terry continued: “Other countries who had people stationed at the nuclear test sites have compensated and recognised their veterans. New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, America, but not us.”

Terry has suffered health problems since the tests too.

He explained: “I was always a very fit and healthy man, but a couple of years after I left Christmas Island a swelling came up on my side. It got harder and more painful and grew so large I could rest my arm on it. I went to Oldham Royal Infirmary and they operated on me straight away. The doctor described it as a tumorous growth like bunches of little berries and he cut it all out. I can’t say for sure, but I believe it is a result of what happened on Christmas Island because I found out later so many of my colleagues were dying of cancer.”

Terry also described an injury he received from one of the bomb tests saying: “I was hit in the soft part of my throat during a blast. I thought it was a piece of coral or something, but years later I was having pains and they discovered a foreign body. In 2004 during my triple heart bypass they took out a piece of 8x4mm steel shrapnel, pointed at both ends, which was only an inch away from my heart.”

After the nuclear tests on Christmas Island were over, the Duke of Edinburgh visited the island and Terry was asked to be his escort.

He remembers: “They didn’t take him to any of the radioactive sites. He came on the Royal Yacht and we were allowed on it in parties of 12. We had to wear white plimsoles and there were musicians onboard and drinks and nibbles. They were playing dance music, but there were no women so there were a lot of soldiers and sailors just looking at each other. When he left some of us were given certificates to commemorate our time on the island.”

Terry, along with the British Nuclear Veterans and his daughter Anne Quinlan are speaking out about the experiences of the veterans and their families and asking people to sign a petition to allow it to be debated in parliament so people involved in the tests can receive recognition and a medal for their service. Terry, an avid artist and musician, has even written and recorded a campaign song telling the story of Christmas Island.

Terry said: “We have been totally ignored and yet it is still effecting families to this day. It feels like they want to sweep it under the rug until there are none of us left, but there will always be voices and they won’t be quieted. We were young when we went out there and we trusted what we were told. We have been let down and it needs to be put right.”

Historian for the British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association, Douglas Hern, 81, was also on Christmas Island. He flew out on his 21st birthday in 1957 and left in 1958 witnessing five bomb tests, one atom bomb and four hydrogen bombs.

He said: “We weren’t told anything until we got to the island. 87% of personnel there were national serviceman. I was drafted as part of the Navy, I didn’t have a choice in where I was or what I was doing and I was just a number out there.”

Douglas worked on fishing boats catching fish for testing and was part of the clean-up groups collecting animals. He described his time on the island as ‘horrendous’ saying there was ‘no fresh food and no sanitation.’

He along with his wife, who is Vice President of the association, work out of their home supporting nuclear veterans and their families while also campaigning to get a medal for those involved with the tests.

Douglas said: “Over 18,000 of our colleagues have died, a lot before they were 50 and we maintain our illnesses and the legacy that our children have inherited are due to radiation from those tests. I have a catalogue of problems, I’m currently seeing four specialists. I have skeletal problems, bone spurs, kidney and heart problems, lymphatic gland issues to name a few from a very long list.”

In 1977, Douglas also lost his daughter, which he believes is due to the radiation he was in contact with on Christmas Island.

He said: “My youngest daughter from my first marriage suddenly became very ill. At 11 her body shape and features changed and she spent two years in hospital in Nottingham. Two years later she died of a cancer which has never really been identified even on her death certificate. We estimate 160,000 children have been affected, but the government don’t want to admit what they did to us. We deserve to be acknowledged, we served out country. It’s just a very sad state of affairs, it sometimes makes you wish you weren’t born British.”

To sign the petition click here.

For more information visit www.bntva.com.