I was a naive young serviceman, serving in the Royal Air Force when I was posted to Christmas Island in the Pacific to take part in operation GRAPPLE which was the task force name for the British nuclear weapons tests.

Terry Brown
CPL Terry Brown (RAF) Christmas Island during the tests 1956 to 1957

Christmas Island is in the pacific ocean, an atoll in the Northern Line Islands part of the Republic of KIRIBATI, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

The whole operation was given top priority because of the time factor involved, we had to be up and running within six months to drop the first megaton nuclear bomb which was launched on the 15th of May 1957 by a Valiant Aircraft of 42 squadrons. 

It was a deadline that was very difficult to achieve because of all the problems that we encountered during the workup period. All that could go wrong went topsy-turvy, the main hindrance was that the weather was against us causing us some major problems such as flooding, vehicles breaking down and getting stuck in the mud and various illnesses. 

There was a major outbreak of Dysentery, this caused Diarrhoeas which was incredibly debilitating. The epidemic was because the sanitation in the camp and hygiene was wholly inadequate, conditions left a lot to be desired. They had built the refuse waste tip too near to the base camp where all the other ranks were billeted and when we had an outbreak of millions of flies landing on our cookhouse infecting the food and poisoning it there was an outbreak of Dysentery. This was not aided by the complete lack of any greens in our diet, which consisted wholly of compo rations. 

At one time I had become light-headed and was burning up I went to the sickbay where my temperature was recorded at 104 degrees. I was lined up outside the sick quarters with many others in a special one-man canvas cubical and spent eight days recovering but was off work for a further two days to get my strength back before I returned to the Equipment Stores. 

So in the interest of our well-being, they decided to use an Auster aircraft to spray the domestic camp area with Malathion and Phosphorodithoate OP insecticide this turned out in later years to be harmful to human beings and was banned.

The weather was another reason for our plight as conditions were appalling we had never experienced anything quite like these tropical downfalls it rained all night non-stop. As an R.A.F. supplier, I was responsible for handling all the equipment coming from the Port of London to the Airfield Stores Department. Unpacking all the wooden crates and putting the contents into large marquees onto racks, because it was so hot inside these marquees, we could only stay inside for a limited period otherwise we would suffer from heatstroke. 

Because of all the rain that we had received the area that had been designated was now underwater, and all the wooden cases were floating and the aircraft spares were getting wet. So all the stores in their special crates had to be moved to higher ground away from these ponds. But if the authority who selected this storage area, had taken a good look around them, they would have seen numerous derelict bamboo huts built on stilts. And they should have picked a suitable area for a store’s compound and would have saved us a lot of unnecessary work and the forklift would not have got stuck in the mud. 

I never in my whole service career come across such a hard-working bunch of military personnel working so hard to achieve the same goal and get this special operation done and dusted. We all seemed to be on the same wavelength. It was like no other military unit or camp that I have served in. the working atmosphere was like working in a civilian workplace. 

All the Officers, N.C.O,s and other Ranks all worked together as a solid team to get the difficult job done. There was no military discipline like cleaning boots polishing badges or parades, I cannot even remember saluting an officer. The officers gave you a word of encouragement and the combined morale was very high. It was like we were on a war footing and we all pulled together as a team. 

We British Nuclear Tests Veterans are some of the very few people who have experienced a megaton nuclear bomb explosion, It’s a lifetime experience that I shall never forget. 

I believe we all deserve recognition not only for the work we achieved but also for the appalling health conditions we have all suffered since.

Terry Brown