Nuclear test veterans sank to the bottom of the political agenda when a video of their experiences on Christmas Island was shown to Parliament.
Instead of the momentous day they planned before the British Government, veterans like Douglas Hern, from Moulton, saw only a handful of MPs as politicians packed the Commons for Prime Minister’s Question Time – because David Cameron’s appointment of disgraced former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was the hot topic that day.
For Douglas (77) – and men like him – the fight for recognition goes on.
Some 18,000 to 19,000 of the 25,500 home and overseas military personnel who witnessed nuclear tests around the world died from illnesses like cancer as a result.
Cancer – and other disorders like heart problems and Spina Bifida – still plague their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Douglas says: “My daughter Jill was 13 when she died from cancer in my arms.”
He witnessed five tests on Christmas Island – one atom bomb and four hydrogen bombs.
Douglas said: “They tell you it’s 1,000 times brighter than the sun. I think the first one was anticipation and from then onwards it was sheer dread.”
Douglas is seeking public support as the British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association (BNTVA) campaigns for an official statement from the Prime Minister and a single non-liability payment of £25million into a benevolent fund for veterans and their descendants.
Access to the fund would be on the basis of need, not entitlement, as the association says “this is a campaign of recognition, not compensation”.
Douglas said: “It’s too late for apologies. What we need is the same sort of recognition that any other military force would have received when they were part of an operation where personnel died.”
Some nuclear test veterans died in their 30s and 40s. “We have records of people that were so ill afterwards they committed suicide,” said Douglas.
Countries like America and Canada compensated troops with lump sums, but successive British Governments have all but ignored the men it sent off to watch the nuclear tests with no protection from radiation.
Douglas and wife Sandie work tirelessly on the BNTVA’s campaign for Government recognition. To back the campaign, write to Douglas Hern, 36 Bell Lane, Moulton, Lincolnshire PE12 6PH or email firstname.lastname@example.org