Former Chair and Treasurer Jeff Liddiatt reflects on his time serving the Nuclear Community

I joined the BNTVA in the late 1980’s as a result of a piece written in our local paper. I was only an ordinary member until I volunteered to edit the newsletter.

A copy of which was sent to me by the then vice chairman Peter Fletcher MBE. I reformatted it and sent the final copy to Sheila Grey for printing. Having no control over the content of the copy I was not really an editor. This went on until my health deteriorated and I was unable to continue.

The next event I was able to attend was the dedication of the new BNTVA National Standard in 2003. My wife Annette and I travelled to Chichester by train from Bristol as I was still using my wheelchair. The dedication took place in Chichester Cathedral, and was carried out by the Dean, the Very Reverend Nicholas Frayling BA LLD, BNTVA Chaplain. The colour was carried from the Cathedral by Derek Heaps who was to become a very close friend over time. 

This was the first time I was able to put faces to the voices I was familiar with. John Lowe was the Chairman at that time (2000 to 2010) with Derek Redfern as his vice chairman. Again a bout of ill health took over.

The magazine /newsletter which it now became was edited by the Reverend John Walden who decided that he wanted to give up so I was asked to take over by John Lowe. This time as editor I had full control over the magazine and we took it from being a church newsletter/tabloid type publication to a full colour magazine.

Pictured above from left to right Jeff Liddiatt, John Lowe, Derek Twigg MP. and Doug Hern (BNTVA Archivist)

During my time as editor I became like an ADC to John Lowe working with him on letters, statements, and especially going to meetings at the MOD with the then Veterans Minister, a sort of apprenticeship which served me well in the coming years negotiations. 

Also during this time, the executive committee asked me to look into the BNTVA becoming a Registered Charity, the application and submission took me a few years. The proposal was put to the members with a postal vote in 2009 and the result was a staggering 98% in favour.

The BNTVA had to find a new venue for the AGM due to Blackpool council deciding to withdraw the funding which had been in place for many years. I negotiated a special price with the council for the 2009 AGM, but after that a new venue needed to be found. I took over as secretary after the AGM in 2009. We stayed in Blackpool for the 2010 AGM using the Norbreck Castle Hotel conference facilities. The board decided that we should locate the AGM around the country in future. 

John Lowe stood down as Chairman in early 2010 and Nigel Heaps was asked to take on the role.

The Next major event was the Miles & Green Health Audit in 2011, the complete membership was contacted, many attended group meetings around the country. The results were accepted by the MOD and referenced for the future.

During this time the future direction of the BNTVA was developed and “Going Forward Together” was launched, without this distinct shift in the direction and activities of the charity I do not think it would have survived until today.

Another significant event which took place in October 2011 was the laying up of the BNTVA National Standard in Portsmouth Cathedral. The laying up took place during Choral Evensong. In the colour party was again my friend Derek Heaps in what was to be his final duty for the BNTVA before he passed away. 

I wrote these words for the service

“Reverend Sir, I ask you to receive the National Standard of the British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association for safe lodging in this house of God until such time as it shall pass to dust like those whose courage and devotion are enshrined in its history”.

The Dean replies

“We receive this Standard into the safe keeping of God’s house, here to hang for all time as a reminder to those who pass by of our duty to God, and of the men and women of the Association whose memory is enshrined in the Standard”.

We took our campaign for recognition and funding to Parliament with the help of John Baron MP the BNTVA Patron. On Wednesday 2nd July 2014 our recognition Campaign took a historic step forward when, in response to a PMQ from our Patron John Baron, David Cameron became the first British Prime Minister to say this from the dispatch box “First I pay tribute to my Hon Friend, who has campaigned consistently on this issue in the House and outside it. He and I have discussed the matter. I am Happy to tell the House that the Government recognise and are extremely grateful to all service personnel who participated in the nuclear testing programme. We should be in no doubt that their selfless contribution helped to equip the United Kingdom with the deterrent it needs” 

John Baron MP continued with the claim for funding in the House of Commons. Eventually the Aged Veterans Fund was announced with £25 million to be used across all veterans.

After a number of meetings with the chancellor and at number 10, John Baron and I were invited to the cabinet office for a meeting where the details of the funding was confirmed. I negotiated the broader political scope for the wider nuclear community, which has enabled the fund to help all the nuclear family. Hence the name Nuclear Community Charity Fund (NCCF).

Nigel and I worked on the first application for £1 million to start the first phase of the Research by Rhona Anderson at Brunel University, also our project with Combat Stress together with the NCCF Care and Wellbeing fund for our community. 

I first met Rhona at the cross party inquiry lead by John Baron and Ian Gibson in Parliament in 2008. It became both our aims to promote further research into the nuclear veterans’ community.

Dr Rhona Anderson, Brunel University London

The Launch of the CHRC

Nigel had resigned as a trustee to prevent a potential conflict of interest and I was invited by the trustees to become Chairman, a role I undertook for the following year. During this time we were introduced to Alan Owen, At the Stoke Rochford Hall AGM he agreed to shadow me for one year and then to become Chairman. It turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment.

Rekindling the Flame
Jeff Liddiatt, rekindling the flame at the tomb of the unknown solider – Paris 2016
Arc de Triumph
The Arc de Triomphe
Jeff Gateshead AGM
Jeff at the Gateshead AGM & Conference

An even more important event was held in 2016. I had been invited to join Jean-Luc Sans, President of AVEN, to join him on the 2nd July at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to help re-ignite the eternal flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier. The invitation was made by the Committee of the Flame. This was a very poignant thing for me, not only representing the British Nuclear Veterans, but also the fact that my Grandfather was killed in action on the Somme in August 1916 almost 100 years to date when I would carry out the rekindling of the flame. 

The most moving part, which I learned at the end of the ceremony, was in relation to the only British people to have rekindled the flame, they were Her Majesty the Queen and four British Prime Ministers. I am very honoured to be in such company. 

Later in the year the board considered the proposal to split the BNTVA and the NCCF, and this was put to the membership at the AGM in Gateshead, which was carried unanimously. The BNTVA and the NCCF became independent Charities (Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) in their own right.

I remained as Chairman of the NCCF, with a board of trustees made up of old and new members. The time came for the application to be made for stage 2 of the AVF funding. Nigel and I put the case together with the support of the board, for £5 million to fund the phase 2 research at Brunel University and our other projects and to provide an endowment fund for the NCCF to invest for the future, to provide the CW&I fund for the next 15 years. 

A restricted fund grant was awarded to the NCCF in 2017. The project to be known as Nuclear Community Charity Fund – Making That Difference. The funds were invested with Blackrock.

Rhona Anderson invited me to become the Chairman of the Advisory Board to the research being carried out at Brunel University. The NCCF partly funds the Centre for Health Effects of Radiological and Chemical Agents (CHRC) with Brunel University

The NCCF publishes its own magazine called Exposure with contributions from individuals, Brunel University (CHRC) and the editorial staff of the NCCF. This is published three times a year.

National Atomic Veterans Awareness Day (NAVAD) 2018. 

On the 3rd October over 100 members of the nuclear community gathered at the BNTVA Memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum Alrewas to remember those who has passed as a result of the British Nuclear Testing Programme. This was a very special NAVAD as the new BNTVA memorial was unveiled. 

Bob Smith a long standing activist within the nuclear community had embarked on a campaign to erect a memorial to all British Nuclear Test Veterans following the passing of his great friend Peter Williams. Bob, together with Mrs Gron Williams, Peter’s widow, unveiled the first memorial in 2006. Due to the ravages of time the memorial began to crumble and had to be replaced.
On the 3rd October 2012 Bob was asked to unveil the new memorial to carry the heritage forward. Bob said after unveiling the stone:

I wanted to make sure there is a permanent reminder of our lives and struggles, they can’t just airbrush us from history

Bob Smith
Bob Smith at the new BNTVA memorial stone

The new stones unveiled in 2018 were to replace the old benches which had been removed. The plaques from the benches were added to the rear of the new stones. The new stones were unveiled by Derek Hickman, Royal Engineers, and Terry Washington, Royal Navy, during a moving dedication ceremony carried out by the Very Reverend Nicholas Frayling BNTVA Chaplain. Again I was unable to attend due to ill health. Bob was also unable to attend due to poor health.

Unveiling the new Memorial
The memorial with the new stones

I stood down as Chairman of the NCCF in December 2018 and Tony Jeffery took over. I continued as treasurer until the annual meeting in December 2019. I continued as a trustee until June this year when I retired completely. I shall miss my daily contacts with my colleagues and friends. I have on the whole enjoyed my time both in the BNTVA and the NCCF.

I wish to express my delight in being made Honorary life President of the NCCF, in recognition of my long service to the Nuclear Community. Jeff Liddiatt