In 1958 the U.K. government needed to demonstrate to the U.S.A its independent thermo nuclear capability so nuclear cooperation could resume. This is an account of the part my regiment contributed and the effect it had on servicemen involved.
I enlisted in the Royal Engineers in 1956, and trained as a field engineer, (military construction explosives demolitions ordinance and mine clearance). I was then posted to 61 SQN 38 CORP Engineer Regiment Osnabruck B.A.O.R.
I returned to the UK in late 1957 prior to posting to Christmas Island, when I embarked on the troop ship Dunera on the 30th December 1957. We were informed no overseas allowance en route and only half-pay. My comrades and I were not impressed.
On arrival Christmas Island the regiment was tasked with completing the main airfield. We were to lay an emergency runway, clear and tarmac over forty miles of double track roads, install fifty miles of power pumped drainage, construct power stations and pumping stations, erect a network of communication masts each between 150- 250ft high, install blast protection and blast blocks, cookhouses and messes for the incoming garrison and maintain existing buildings and services.
A big problem was the island had no sand or gravel, so coral was crushed and ground to produce the thousands of tons of concrete and tarmac needed. There was a shortage of basic construction tools but we made what we could.
Most of the craftsmen’s specialist tools arrived via the British Forces Post Office (BFPO) (from family and friends). My troop consisted mainly of National Servicemen with up-to-date building skills their practical ability would overcome any problem during construction. I worked closely with a Yorkshire lad Trevor Butler. After our next posting, it would be fifty-two years before we would meet again, the same amount of time it took the M.O.D. to carry out a health survey on any nuclear veterans that could be located.
After initial construction was completed at the main camp, my troop was moved to the forward area B site at the far end of the island.
One of our tasks was to erect the network of communication masts and rebuild them after each detonation, but again no tools or safety equipment. Our tower crane was a World War Two barrage balloon attached to a ground winch, some very hairy moments.
Most of the work had been completed when medics arrived and began taking blood samples. Myself and several members of my troop were told to return to main camp as we had low blood counts. On arrival I was ordered to the Adjutant’s Office and stood to attention. I will quote his exact words. “Corporal, if you want to stay in this man’s army you will keep your mouth shut, got it”.
All of the work the regiment was tasked with was completed in ten months, and most of us were flown home for Christmas of that year. Medals were being handed out to aircrew but the men who had made it all possible, nothing, no General Service Medal or even a thank you for the hundreds of millions of pounds we had saved the then Conservative government.
We had travelled halfway around the world to serve our country, some to give their lives never to return home, all to be buried at sea.
On returning to the U.K our SQN was given the task of building a road through a disused artillery range, we seemed to get all the good jobs.
In late 1959 I refused promotion and left the Army returning to the building trade, but I missed the comradeship I had experienced, so in a career change I joined the Royal Air Force Department Fire Service (now the Ministry of Defence Fire and Rescue). Promotion and an A.O.C commendation followed rising to the rank of Station Officer.
In 1980 strange lumps began appearing all over my body within two years I was forced to retire as not fit for operational duties, my health quickly deteriorated prostate lymphomic and lung cancer followed, I am still receiving treatment.
I am convinced the five nuclear detonations are the cause of my ill health.
American, French and even Russian servicemen who participated in their own nuclear testing programmes were honoured, decorated and compensated. But for over fifty years British governments have paid millions to lawyers to obstruct and delay rightful recognition and compensation to the nuclear veterans, their plight and suffering ignored. No other country has treated its servicemen with such contempt.
A number of years ago the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA) became a charity and adopted the Forget-Me-Not flower as its logo for NAVAD. I will end with a soldiers verse.
Forget Me Not
Forget me not we can say
With each and every passing day
Hard work and courage was the norm
Within our ranks self-pride was born
We salute our comrades past and present
Who gave this nation its own deterrent
So once again we can say
Forget me not in every way
D.J. Luck Served Royal Engineers.
Christmas Island Jan 1958 -Dec 1958.
Present at five nuclear detonations.