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Nuclear tests soldiers 'deserve a medal'

By Alan Smith

A Kent man is urging people to support a nationwide campaign to gain recognition for the 22,000 or more ex-servicemen who assisted in Britain's nuclear bomb tests of the 1950s.

Terry Quinlan from Leybourne near West Malling was himself one of 4,000 servicemen based on Christmas Island in the Pacific in 1958 and endured five nuclear bomb explosions - one less than nine miles from where he and his colleagues were stationed.

The servicemen were provided with no protective clothing, and indeed in the blistering tropical heat, most were wearing nothing more than shorts. When the detonation was due, they were told to sit on the beach with their backs to the blast with their eyes closed and their fists covering their eyes.

Terry Quinlan: "We deserve some recognition."
Terry Quinlan: "We deserve some recognition."

Mr Quinlan describes a tremendous flash of light like an X-ray. "I could see the bones in my hands," he said.

Shortly after came the blast wave which shuffled them forward in the sand, felled coconut trees in a nearby plantation and knocked down their tents.

"The noise was horrendous," he said. "Several landing craft from HMS Narvik were tossed out the water."

Mr Quinlan was a 19-year-old National Serviceman attached to the Royal Army Service Corps.

In recent years, the British Nuclear Tests Veterans Association has been fighting for justice of those who served at Christmas Island and the other test grounds of Monte Bello Island, Marlinga and Emu Field in Australia, and Malden Island.

The association says that many of the servicemen involved in the tests, which included the Army, Navy and Air Force, subsequently developed cancers and leukaemias brought on by the radiation.

It also says that the children and even the grandchildren of some of the servicemen had been born misformed, with limbs missing and other defects.

The Government insists that the instance of congenital abnormalities and early deaths among the ex-servicemen and their descendants is no greater than the average recorded in the population.

Recently the BNTVA's campaign has won the support of the Daily Mirror which is running an online petition to force Parliament to debate whether it should give the veterans a medal.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is supporting the medal campaign
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is supporting the medal campaign

The campaign has been backed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who said: "The UK government put these men in harm’s way by asking them to take part in nuclear tests with little to nothing by way of protection. The veterans have had to live and die with the repercussions ever since.

“A medal is the least thing we can do to right the wrongs these veterans and their families have endured since."

Mr Quinlan himself suffered an unexplained cancerous growth in his side two years after leaving the Army. Fortunately after surgery, he has been all right since.

Now aged 78, he said: "I know what we were doing was very important for the country's safety in the Cold War with Russia, but we have never had any recognition.

"The very least they could do is give us a medal."

He urged everyone to sign the online petition at petition.parliament.uk/petitions/220170

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